Over my years in the catering trade, my clients would often ask “What’s your secret to putting out great tasting cuisine?” So let me share some of my kitchen catering secrets with all of you catering professionals, owners, managers, chefs and cooks. The foundation to excellence always comes BACK TO BASICS – whether it’s in team sports or your kitchen.
Back to Basics – Part 1
SEASONING: I am talking salt and pepper – pretty basic. But you would be amazed at how many cooks and chefs don’t use these correctly. Whether you’re about to grill a filet of beef, oven roast a chicken, or pan sear salmon, you should lightly coat your entrée with oil and lightly salt and pepper each piece before cooking. Also, salting the finished product appropriately is just as important. Use pepper mills when you can, for it adds a little more zest to your dish. You may want to explore different salts and textures. The following salts are a creative way to finish a dish to get a different texture, flavor and crunch. Himalayan pink, sea, black Hawaiian, smoked, flake, and Kala Namak are just some of the choices in salts.
HERBS: Use fresh herbs when you can. Most of the country can get fresh herbs year round. They are more expensive, but I believe your clients will pay the little extra it costs to use fresh herbs. As a finishing touch add the featured herb to your sauce 15 minutes before serving and it will add the extra flavor your cuisine deserves. Fresh herbs get big results when it comes to improving the taste of your food.
STOCKS: House made chicken, veal, vegetable or fish stocks are easy to prepare, and have a high impact on your food, jus and sauces. They do take a bit more time and effort, but in my experience, the quality can’t be replaced using a base stock or pre-made concentrate. Your clients will taste and appreciate the difference. Base stocks can have a place in the kitchen depending on price and volume of your event.
INGREDIENTS: This is a big one. The better and higher quality ingredients you use, the easier it is for your chef and his brigade to make your company’s cuisine shine. Of course the challenge here is to make sure you are getting the right price for the quality you are serving. Cook with local products and seasonal ingredients for best pricing.
TASTING: Writing this down just seems foolish. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times I have tried a dish that a cook or chef made and asked them… have they tasted the dish? And they haven’t! I explain the importance of carrying tasting spoons in your pocket as well as having them set up at the kitchen work stations as part of the daily mise en place. If the person making the dish doesn’t know how it tastes, then how can you serve it with confidence. The same philosophy should hold true at events and client tastings. This usually only happens once to a team member before they understand the importance of it. Is the dish seasoned correctly? Is the acid balance correct? Does it taste fresh?
Everything I just stated is VERY BASIC. But these Back to Basics cooking skills will be a great tool for your sales team to use in selling clients and explaining company’s culinary philosophy. Sometimes we need to be reminded of how important the fundamentals are in our kitchen. When we go Back to Basics, we can build on that foundation and elevate our clients’ dining experience. They will keep coming back for more and help with the bottom line!
Beyond Basics – Part 2
How can you impress your clients with some simple additions that not only add flavor but increase presentation impact? Infused oils, flavored foams, trendy purple vegetables or creative garnishes can do the trick. Know what is indigenous to your region and how you can use it in a new and creative way.
FOOD TRENDS: Farm to table, Gluten free, vegan, paleo, comfort food, small plates…OH MY! Trends, they come and go, but good tasting food is never out of date. This is why your Chef and kitchen crew are so important! With your talented culinary team, they should be able to listen, understand and adapt to what your clients are requesting. The communication between your culinary team and sales team is key in this area. Your sales team knows what the customers are asking for!
STAYING CURRENT: Chefs need to be able to produce more than just fabulous food. Ordering, scheduling, food safety, manager of people, food cost, labor cost, etc. Sometimes they get caught up with the day-to-day operations. That’s why a Chefs’ second is so important, whether it be a Chef de Cuisine or Sous Chef. You need a creative person in the kitchen that has dedicated time to keep your kitchen current. It may be the Executive Chef who is the creative culinary person. They may manage their team and spread various day-to-day operations amongst their staff. Alternatively, it may be his/her Sous Chef or Chef de Cuisine that is the creative one in the kitchen. A good time to update your menu is the off-season, when there is time to research, test and be creative. It’s also a great time to have your clients in for a tasting of new dishes. This is a tremendous tool to use for customer loyalty! FOOD PRESENTATION: When you display your food, it is important to display it with high impact vessels, such as dishes, plates, glasses, platters, pans, and other various items. I cannot stress enough the importance of this. Check what’s in with your local rental company, industry suppliers, or go to catering trade shows like Catersource. Small plates, live stations, family style, buffet, served dinner, hors d’oeuvres, the options are endless. The way you display or present your cuisine is just as important as the flavor. I know this from my experience with my catering firm. Most people eat with their eyes, so half of the plate is presentation and the other half is taste. You must find the marriage of the two to stay on the top of your market!