By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
“Don’t order fish on Sundays and Mondays,” The late Anthony Bourdain famously wrote in his kitchen expose, Kitchen Confidential, that restaurants don’t receive fresh fish on the weekends, therefore by Sunday or even Monday, you are eating less than stellar fish. Today, that is far from the case.
The advancement of fishing, icing and shipping possibilities make fresh fish available all the time. In fact, much fresh fish these days is what we refer to as “shore to door in 24.”
Chefs don’t like each other. You’ll find a prickly personality in every profession, but chefs often chuckle and wonder where this idea ever came from. Chefs are a bunch with a strong sense of comradery. We eat and drink together, trade stories, staff and ideas all the time and always want to see others succeed.
A chef’s favorite cut of beef is tenderloin. Ask 100 people what their favorite steak is and 95 will tell you it’s a tenderloin. But ask 100 chefs what theirs is and two will tell you it’s the tenderloin. Tenderloin lacks texture and flavor compared to any other cut. Those other 98 chefs will probably tell you it’s the small eye end of the rib eye.
You should rub chopsticks together before using them. Doing anything other than eating with your chopsticks is rude and considered poor manners. This includes tapping, pointing and rubbing them together to remove what you think are wood shavings. Some sushi chefs regard this as in insult in that they believe you think they gave you poor quality service ware.
As long as we’re on the topic of chopsticks and sushi, stirring together wasabi and soy sauce is another no-no in Japanese culture.
That’s not wasabi. Real true wasabi is very difficult to find and is expensive. Not only that, but it is also quite mild. More often than not, you are actually eating hot Chinese mustard powder dyed green.
Spitting in or otherwise contaminating a guest’s dish. This may make for an entertaining comedic scene in a movie, but the reality is far from funny. Aside from an instant termination from anyone I’ve ever known in the industry, I’ve never known even the saltiest of cooks ever willingly or knowingly contaminate another person’s food.
Traditional martinis are made with vodka. A martini is made with gin, vermouth, an olive and sometimes a bit of olive brine, making it “dirty.” Any cocktail made with vodka is a cocktail, not a martini.
The success of a restaurant lies on the quality of the food. Or to say it another way, if your food is of high consistent quality, you will succeed. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Great food and service get people in your doors. But in an industry that makes, on average, six cents on the dollar, good knowledge of numbers and costs keep those doors open.
Serving is easy. Serving, as well as cooking, are not placeholder jobs for many. They are both trades that are taught in culinary and hospitality schools and can be excellent careers that produce a solid income as well as work, social and technical skills that translate into many other aspects of work and life. Serving in a busy or fine dining restaurant is incredibly challenging.
Great service is more important than great food. There was a time when it was all about the combination of the two. And in many concepts that can still be true. But more and more we are moving towards concepts where we no longer rely on a server because they are even harder to find than a cook.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.