It doesn’t take a culinary degree to tell when a restaurant makes a mistake, but there’s no one more familiar with the common kitchen fails than the folks who struggle not to make them. With the promise of anonymity and infinite gratitude I reached out to a group of chefs and industry professionals to find out nineteen of the most frequent pitfalls faced by restaurant cooks. Restaurateurs, please take note, and learn to cook a burger correctly.
19. Going too broad in ‘ethnic’ food categories
Although it’s a reality that many ethnic restaurants make compromises to please their clientele, too often a Chinese restaurant will offer 200 dishes when the chef’s specialty is Szechuan and they only truly know how to cook a fourth of the menu.
18. Ignoring local culinary resources
New Zealand farms have some of the finest meat and produce on earth, and no town or city centre is far enough away from one to justify store-bought produce when local ingredients are available.
17. Having a poor searing technique
Chef David Guas, author of Grill Nation, went on record with his frustration over improperly grilled proteins. “I notice that quite a few kitchens turn over protein too often when searing which eliminates the chance of getting a nice crispy exterior.”
16. Refusing minor substitutions
Chefs have specific visions for their dishes, but when ego stands in the way of a customer’s experience, they’ve gone too far. Of course there are exceptions for dishes that wouldn’t function without specific ingredients, but it’s a mistake not to do everything possible to please the folks paying the bills.
15. Letting soups sit
No matter how “of the day” it is, soup is often an afterthought. Once it’s simmering, the only real legwork is ladling it into a bowl, which some chefs can still manage to mess up. “You cannot keep a soup on the hot line for a long time as it can form a coating on top, especially gumbo,” says chef Austin Kirzner from Red Fish Grill. “Soup needs to be ladled and served a la minute.”
14. Overcooking vegetables
If there’s no crunch to a piece of broccoli, it’s been cooked too long.
13. Lying about local
“Farm-to-table” is one of those buzzwords that’s throw around at most Ponsonby eateries, but nearly lost all meaning thanks to a class of mediocre restaurants that use the label as an excuse to overcharge for mediocre food.
12. Undercooking fries
If McDonald’s can make a perfect fry, there’s no excuse for a kitchen not to nail a crispy texture.
11. Pacing poorly
Everyone eats at different speeds, which is why it’s important to err on the side of quickness. It’s rare that a customers meal will be ruined by dishes dropping too fast, but slow service is a sure way to make a negative impression.
10. Slicing steaks incorrectly
Customers pay such a premium for steaks that it’s a cardinal sin not to cut them properly. “It’s surprising that so many restaurants still don’t realize that you should cut the steak against the grain (not with it) to shorten the muscle fibers and make the meat less chewy,” says chef Joe Palma.
9. Overcooking burgers
Cooking a medium-rare burger isn’t an impossible challenge, but the fail rate on burger temperatures is astonishing. Resting it is equally important, or else the customer is likely to end up with a mouthful of blood. Again, Mc Donald’s can do it so a professional kitchen has no excuse.
8. Misrepresenting dishes
Putting quotations around the word “cheeseburger” isn’t enough of a clue that the dish is actually a pork meatloaf with a dill pickle, ramekin of mustard, and two slices of brioche. If a dish is so “creative” that it’s unrecognizable, it won’t satisfy the craving of the person ordering it.
7. Not deboning salmon
A fillet of fish often hides a spine’s worth of tiny pin bones, which aren’t fun to chew on. “Take the time and get your tweezers out and properly de-bone the fish,” says chef/owner Steve McHugh of Cured.
6. Cleaning vegetables incorrectly
The popularity of seasonal cooking means chefs are playing with ingredients they might not truly understand. It’s especially necessary to properly clean and prep root vegetables to achieve the right texture.
5. Overusing inedible garnishes
We’re past the point of putting lipstick on a roast pig — it’s no longer obligatory to ring a plate in curly parsley.
4. Using mayonaise as a shortcut for sauces
Faking a béarnaise sauce by mixing oil, mayo, and tarragon might fool some diners, but mayo’s inability to stand up to heat means it’s going to break apart as soon as it hits a hot piece of meat.
3. Refusing to choose a direction for a dish
There’s a time and place for kitchen-sink cooking techniques, but too often overly modern kitchens serve dishes that don’t have a clear direction and rely on gimmicks to tie things together. Not every dish needs a hero ingredient, but without a clear intention to the dish it’s hard for a diner to know what they’re supposed to be tasting.
2. Relying on one flavor profile to power a fusion restaurant
If every dish at a Korean-fusion restaurant is covered in gochujang sauce, it means that the chef doesn’t have a broad-enough understanding of the country’s cuisine to craft a well-rounded menu.
1. Following the fads
Just because a dish looked great on Top Chef doesn’t mean it needs to be served in every restaurant in New Zealand.