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Old 06-28-2016, 12:31 AM   #1
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Restaurant vs. Home cooking

Hey friends,

So the point of this post is that cooking at home is very different than in a restaurant. A home cook has some advantages, a chef in a restaurant has others, but they are very different.

So I'm a writer, and a teacher. I have a BA in Lit, and two MA degrees, MA in lit, and MFA in Creative Writing. If you know anyone that doesn't come from old wealth with multiple lib art degrees, you must know, I have spent more time than I would like in the restaurant biz. It is that combination of allowing a decent income, flexible hours (work lots of hours, but you can sort of choose them within reason), and mobility that artists, writers and students take advantage of. I've worked back and front of house, and in situations ranging from fine dining to diner.

The other day we had a couple over for dinner who are academics, and also are a little more old money, they didn't work their way through school, but have expensive tastes. One of the things that they said upon being fed, and were serious and it was a compliment, was 'This is awesome, you should open up a small restaurant."

I appreciate this as the compliment it was, they were basically saying, 'heck this food is good enough I'd pay money for it', but it also represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between home and commercial cooking.

The line chef is constrained by the fact that she has to produce, not four portions of a dish, but forty over the course of a night, at the same quality. Usual in a restaurant setting, the protein and sauce are prepared separate and combined at plating. Makes sense, right, you can have one guy making up the chicken, another tending the sauces. In the brigade generally you have one person working on one part, and then they are all put together and served.

The dish they liked was a beef tenderloin with an acid chilli sauce. And that, well, the sauce was prepared with the beef, and it was slow cooked together for several hours. Now at home I could do that, I was working on a project, just had to set a timer to poke it every half hour or so, and adjust the spices or temp, and I knew just about when I'd serve it. That would never happen in the restaurant.

So this is the advantage of the home cook, you have time to develop a dish. I can (and have) spend a day reducing and messing with a sauce, or slow cooking something, wrapping it with bacon, and cooking it a bit more.

The ideal for a main dish in a restaurant though is something that can be prepared in 15-20 minutes. You cheat a bit by making sauces ahead, pre-prep, etc... but you don't have time to give an hour or so to a dish.

Now the chef has some advantages too to a home cook, well hopefully one on training. and that is huge. I often have industry people over for dinner and involve them in the food prep (we have an open plan kitchen), and heck sometimes someone says, no, you need this sauce, and just makes it.. wow. Respect there. I then will improvise a sonnet just so I don't feel inadequate being a lit type... I am not yet good enough that I know all the mother sauces, to begin to make variations. A good chef is playing an instrument much more complicated than my idea of, ..butter is good, heh.

The other is more ingredients and more hands. If a recipe for the restaurant calls for Himalayan lama poo, and a chef can find it, and get it prepped, well, it is then there. How many times as a home chef am I stymied by the fact that I am indeed out of cloves (again?) And I don't have prep cooks to peel and deseed the poo.

Which leads into the last advantage of the pro, planning. A main menu recipe gets worked over many times. All the ingredients are there, all the tools are there, otherwise it wouldn't be on the menu. That is what gets the magic of delivering 100 of them in four to five hours, easy peasy like.

Home cooking is much more messy, and imperfect. Yeah sometimes you don't have a lemon zester, and you get the zest off with a kind of rusty cheese grater that was in that drawer with the batteries and extra screws, and maybe leave a little blood in the recipe ('cause that rusty thing is sharper than it looks) and should think of a tetanus booster (not that I have ever bled in cake mix, it all sterilizes at 140 degrees though, right?).

I hear good pro chefs, who I respect highly, often talk about the compromises necessary from going from what they cook to what ends up on the menu, and it is because you have to make a lot of them, pretty quick.

So home cooks like me? Enjoy the time you have. Work the long bets. Don't try to get complicated with sauce unless that is your thing. Try not to cut your finger off with the cheese grater, and happy cooking.

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Old 06-28-2016, 12:58 AM   #2
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Nicely written. Having worked in both worlds, I find being a home cook has one major advantage, I can cook what I want, how I want, and if I want to change a recipe, that's ok too.

As a line cook, as you stated, you have to make the exact same recipe over and over while maintaining quality and portion control. Unless you are the owner or the head of the kitchen, you also cook what you are told too.

Having Been a home cook for over 40 years, I admit I pretty much have all the tools I may require. I always plan my meals ahead to make sure I have needed ingredients and a way to do nything special.

Mark
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Old 06-28-2016, 01:00 AM   #3
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Holy cow erehweslefox, what a well thought out and well written post. I enjoyed every word of it - from the humorous parts to the humble, and the reality of restaurant cooking - which I am totally unfamiliar with. Thank you for taking the time to post this!
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Old 06-28-2016, 02:53 AM   #4
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Well I did say my main job is writing, I see this a bit, particularly as I'm not in the biz anymore and tend to see restaurants more because I am a customer than one of the guys in the back.

I also see a lot of very good home chefs, that have no idea what the press of a line is like. And I know, yes, Gordon Ramsey made a show about it.

Would love to hear from some actual chefs on this topic.
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Old 06-28-2016, 12:24 PM   #5
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Awesome read! Thanks!
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Old 06-28-2016, 12:32 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erehweslefox View Post
Well I did say my main job is writing, I see this a bit, particularly as I'm not in the biz anymore and tend to see restaurants more because I am a customer than one of the guys in the back.

I also see a lot of very good home chefs, that have no idea what the press of a line is like. And I know, yes, Gordon Ramsey made a show about it.

Would love to hear from some actual chefs on this topic.
There is a wonderful read that you might be interested in. The book is "Heat" by Bill Buford, and it really opens the home cook's eyes to the realities of restaurant cooking. It's available on Amazon HERE

I found it interesting, informative, and funny.
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Old 06-28-2016, 04:21 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by erehweslefox View Post
... Would love to hear from some actual chefs on this topic.
We are pretty much all home cooks here. A few exceptions are a deli owner, a caterer and a food-truck owner.

I second the book "Heat." It's really good read.
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Old 06-28-2016, 05:20 PM   #8
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Spot on! I recently made restaurant-style Salmon Bonne Femme, with fresh Alaskan salmon curled into fancy cooling towers holding oodles of fancy French sauce. We ate it but also derided it as "restaurant food."

Here is , that I basically stole.

I walk into a well-rated Thai restaurant and see the usual rainbow-curry offerings: choose your sauce; choose your protein. What you get is (likely canned) curry sauce poured over a lump of separately-cooked protein: why would anybody pay to eat that?

I've worked the line, in a soup kitchen where we arrived, found what the supermarkets had delivered that day, came up with a menu, and served 150 covers three hours later. It's a totally different environment (and a complete blast!)

There are GREAT advantages to not being on the line, and only cooking for six or so. Fermenting barely exists in the restaurant business, unless you're a hideously-expensive Japanese place making those astonishing pickles, but they're not hard to make!

I go to restaurants for lazy soul-food, to steal recipes, and for the occasional OKCupid "interview" (sigh...) I have little other use for them.
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Old 06-29-2016, 01:38 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Cheryl J View Post
Holy cow erehweslefox, what a well thought out and well written post. I enjoyed every word of it - from the humorous parts to the humble, and the reality of restaurant cooking - which I am totally unfamiliar with. Thank you for taking the time to post this!
Honestly Cheryl, you said that perfectly! Meee too.
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Old 06-29-2016, 06:13 AM   #10
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I have been lucky when I've worked BOH. I have been given free rein to make one-off soups, daily specials, etc. When my friends come for a meal, the usual comment is "this is better than anything I could get in a restaurant." My dad is loving it that my folks have a personal chef. He just has to mention he wants something, and I make it. We've had Scotch Broth, salmon tacos, lemon chicken, caramel rolls, molasses-orange cookies, Rommelgrot (too lazy to get the diacritics), and other dishes. Mom is eating something besides cottage cheese and fruit/tomatoes. The breakfast roll ups in taco shells are a big hit. She can hold those and feed herself. And, my dad is loving the oven-roasted potato wedges I make about once a week. Bergen fish soup with walleye stock is today's project. I have scaled a lot of the things I learned to make to four servings. The places I have worked BOH focused on "from scratch" so I was able to add to my arsenal.
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