Becoming the Next Cookie Cutter in the Chef World
-Chef William Giordano hails as a Brooklyn chef living in Florida and holds his craft at the highest standard!
Today most chefs need one or two knives, a box cutter and a can opener in their tool kit. The skills that most chefs have spent years acquiring are no longer known, or necessary. Ask any young chef how to make stock. Their reply will be "mix base and water." How do you make a demi-glace? Oh, I know that one, you mix powder and water.
I like to be a teacher in the kitchen and ask younger chefs questions to see if they know the answer and hopefully teach them something, but many times it is just a depressing moment in my life. Most of them think mis-en-place is Mickey Mouse's vacation home in France… Mise En Place! Literally meaning "everything in place" Is the concept for every single successful restaurant or banquet service. It is the setting up your section or area with all of your food products and all of your tools. Having everything that you need to work your station and never run out of things, and never having to leave your area. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
What is a basic Mirepoix? 50% Onion, 25% Carrots, and 25% Celery. What are the percentages for making Stock? 100% Water, 50% Bones, and 10% Mirepoix. Then I get the reply, but all you have to do is mix base and water, to which my first thought is please keep my knives away from me before I plunge one into my heart.
Fish and meat cutting is an art like an ancient language ready to go extinct and disappear forever. We used to have to break down whole fish and sections of meat. Now we just order it pre-cut, usually frozen to the sizes we need.
The pastry chef is an endangered species. Proof and bake bread and rolls are now the norm in most restaurants. Every kind of bread and roll is available par baked or fully pre-baked. Cookies are rarely made from scratch. Just buy your favorite flavor cookie dough and bake. Want a cake? Grab some cake mix, add water and bake. Ice it up with some pre-made frosting, and sprinkle on some decorations. I think the Spotted Owl is going to be around longer than most pastry chefs. Why hire a pastry chef when you can hire a minimum wage employee with a box cutter to get the same results.
I have to be honest. I am just as guilty as the next person today. I buy so many pre-cut, pre- made, and prepared items because they have become so good. You can make it better from scratch, but the quality of many of the prepared foods today are so close, it is just not worth the time.
I am a Brooklyn, New York born Italian Chef. I was next to my Mom making sauce every Sunday since I was eight or nine years old. I honestly can't remember the last time I made marinara sauce from scratch I just use the canned. Need Alfredo Sauce? Just mix powder and milk and you will have Alfredo sauce out in minutes.
I just read a great article written by Chef Jonathan Nelson on how to properly make Hollandaise Sauce. Most four-star restaurants and hotels just use Hollandaise base and water. It is quicker to make, holds better, and is safer to hold for service than Hollandaise sauce made from scratch. Want Béarnaise? Just add Tarragon.
So, you know what they say, "If you can't lick ‘em join ‘em". I have an upcoming banquet and I need to prepare for it. I will use my computer. Ok, chopped lettuce mix, cherry tomatoes, Ranch dressing, Italian dressing. chicken breasts, salmon, boil in the bag mashed potatoes, frozen vegetables, liquid butter, Hollandaise sauce mix, dried dill, chicken gravy powder, and dinner rolls. Oh, I almost forgot dessert… Fourteen cut cheesecake, and whipped cream. All set for my banquet now, and it only took me a few minutes.
My advice to young up and coming cooks and chefs is to latch on to every old timer/old school chef that you can. Pick our brains, ask us questions, learn from us. We have decades of experience and mountains of knowledge that we have acquired over the years. Once we are gone, it all goes with us.