In the April issue, editor Michael Sanson wrote about an experience in a Chicago restaurant where two top chefs were expediting and allowing unseasoned food to leave the kitchen. There’s no excuse for professional chefs to serve bland food, he argued. Here are excerpts from letters we received.
An excellent chef I had the pleasure to work with many years ago, Mark Chayette, said it best and most succinctly: You can’t intellectualize about salt and pepper. The topic came up when we were discussing people who arranged food and made it pretty; selecting rare, exotic and even strange ingredients; and arguing over the esoteric, but ignoring the most basic tenets of cooking. Mark was no stranger to high-end food; he also understood the importance of the basics.
We see it every time we hire a new cook, even one with a great deal of experience. We have to tell them that it’s important to taste and make sure every step of the way that things are seasoned properly.
Reward comes when we speak to our customers at the table. Perhaps not used to food that is properly seasoned, we often hear guest comments about how great the food tastes. More often than not there is an element of surprise in their voices.
A long time ago, in a kitchen far, far away, I had the pleasure to work under the best mentor chef I could have ever had—
Michael Orlando. It was my first job some 25 years ago while in culinary school. He made me a saucier and a kitchen manager and, among other things, he taught me to season food.
I made soups under his guidance and I likened seasoning to making music. There has to be a harmony to the flavors that ultimately produces a flavor that is complex without having one taste or seasoning dominate and overpower the dish. That is the magic part. When it all comes together, you produce a “wow!” To achieve that end, a helpful read is The Flavor Bible by Karen Page.
It takes time to teach, but take the time to teach. Tasting and seasoning are an art like drawing, sketching or playing guitar. It takes time and practice and a few errors before you start to get it.
I have been humbled by cayenne pepper, kicked by white pepper, scared by anise and tormented by the endless combination that can be made by the seemingly simple flavors of sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
Great Wolf Lodge
Traverse City, MI
It’s a shame when chefs let their reputations do the cooking instead of getting into the kitchen themselves. You’ll find that I am at my restaurant, City Tavern, seven days a week. That makes for an exhausting schedule, but it also makes for delicious cuisine.
I often test the foods we serve, from soups to the sauces on the entrees. We have an excellent pastry department, as well, but I absolutely test our breads, biscuits and desserts regularly to ensure they are up to my high standards of freshness and good flavors.
The most popular items on our menu are the turkey pot pie, lobster pie, crab cakes, and beef medallions. Those dishes could easily be bland or boring if not carefully prepared and seasoned.
As you stated, this gets back to the basics. Fusion food, foams and frippery on the menu are fine for some, but I rely on well-thought-out, classic flavors that are consistently prepared.
City Tavern Restaurant
My brother-in-law, a certified master chef from Munich, Germany, was the best chef and teacher of seasoning I have ever known. He explained that you don’t season for those who don’t want seasoning. You season food for those who want to experience the best the ingredients have to offer. There is no reason a truly qualified chef should ever let unseasoned food leave his or her kitchen.