In the February issue, I mentioned that many bartenders are creating cocktails they apparently did not drink from beginning to end before putting them on the cocktail menu. If they had, I suggested, they would have determined that the ingredients they used to make the cocktail did not hold up. Some cocktails may taste perfect at first and second sip, but become cloying or simply tiring, I wrote.
Tasting the food you serve is also important. I’ve mentioned before that Michael Symon, one of America’s great chefs, once told me the difference between a professional chef and an amateur is that chefs know how to properly season food. The same can be said for bartenders who know which ingredients work together perfectly.
I bring this up because I was on the road recently checking out a new restaurant in Chicago. I sat at the bar, which gave me a clear view of the open kitchen. On the night I was there, the executive chef was expediting and so was the chef/owner, who has several other restaurants in town.
I ordered an appetizer and then another, and both were underseasoned. Well, that’s a matter of opinion, you may say. And it is. Nevertheless, I’ve been eating around the country in restaurants for more than 30 years and I am pretty sure when a menu item is flat. I can’t rule out that the chefs of this restaurant wanted their food this way, but positive reviews of the restaurant suggest that’s not so.
So here’s a question: Who was cooking in the kitchen and not properly executing the food as it was intended? More importantly, why are the two top chefs who created the menu letting improperly seasoned food go out to tables? There they both were, examining and wiping down plates, but neither of them had tasted the food being served that night.
Maybe the cook in charge of appetizers was having a bad night, I thought. So, I ordered an entree, hoping that perhaps another cook was responsbile for that part of the menu. Probably not. Once again the food was dull and underseasoned.
You know you’re in a “better” restaurant when there is no salt or pepper on the bar or tables. This was a better restaurant so I had to decide whether to ask the bartender/server for some salt. This is always a tricky proposition because if the chef sees you asking for salt, there may be trouble to pay. I subtly made the request without being spotted as a provocateur, and just a pinch of kosher salt did the trick.
So, if you’re in charge of food leaving the kitchen, make sure you do some spot checks to determine if things are properly seasoned. If you’re serving dull food, customers might as well stay home or, worse, go somewhere else where the professionals know how to use seasoning. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please email me at [email protected].