Lessons In Cooking Economics.

This is a great column from Chef Ambarish Lulay — this is the kind of piece all our chefs should be sharing via the blog.

We may all remember the amicable bickering in our households around mealtimes. The lack of variety, the repetition, the inexpensive cuts of products, the ever escalating prices, etc. The “you need to finish what’s on your plate because it costs me x$ a pound” was a common piece of communication around dinner times. Despite the circumstances and the family income, the parents still managed to put food, good or not, on the tables and somewhere down the line inspired people like us to become cooks.

There was a whole piece of economics and pricing involved in this activity that I find is not much different than what we do today on a bigger scale. I remember shopping for vegetables as a kid for the household at crowded markets. The okra had to be the freshest, the green beans had to have a nice snap and not be limp, the stalks of the eggplant had to be the rich green and not brown, and the cucumbers had to have some weight to them.

I could go on and on about these household “specs” that I was required to follow. Then there was the price per pound and the math. You had a certain amount of money and had to fit a certain amount of food stuff at certain quantities within that money. This is not any different that what we do now.

The bigger challenge was what the mothers and the grandmothers did with these products to turn them into meals for their worst critics – the family. They always had an understanding of the “budget” and somehow knew the quantities to produce. To make something special for their family, they sacrificed somewhere else. After all the income wasn’t going up! How they juggled this is perhaps something the can share on this blog. In the end, they made it work.

As chefs in tough economic times, we are faced with these challenges daily. I have tried to look at all menus and evaluate if they can be executed with less people or running – bar style, tapas style, flex or tasting menus, etc. I have tried to evaluate all menus in the building to streamline cross utilization and included concession in the process. We make marinara, salsas, chili, nacho/taco meat and such products on cleanup days at the end of the home stand to utilize all possible waste.

The trim from the pristine pieces of short ribs used in suites becomes short rib pot pie in another restaurant. The chickens that would have normally been carved become chickenWellingtonsand take on a graceful form. They come together with leftover vegetables and miscellaneous cheeses and other friends to give us an old classic. Leftover seafood becomes an appariel for a seafood cake sold as a special or a seafood burger. The list can go on and on and perhaps we could write our next Delaware North cookbook – 101 Pathways of Transforming Leftovers.

The point that I am making is that we know this stuff. We are all doing it at our units. We have seen some form of it in our households growing up. It took me some time to see some of the same principles in action as we continue to run our kitchens efficiently in today’s climate. It is a full circle.


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