The Anatomy of the Evenings Feature

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When I was coming up in this industry, I had the good fortune to work for many different types of chefs. Each chef, in his/her own way, showed and taught me invaluable lessons I still carry with me today.

In regards to opinions, I have them, just like most of you do. I certainly cant speak for the majority of chefs nor am I an industry expert or even an authority on any subject. I don't mind sharing them, and to be honest, I typically don't mind hearing anyone else's. As long as both parties understand these are in fact opinions and not industry standards or "the way it is."

This intro could work for a myriad of topics so lets segue this into this topic today:

Preparing the Daily Feature or "Special"

This means so many different things to so many different chefs...

In my humble opinion, and as far as I'm concerned, gone are the days of "walking into the cooler and seeing what needs to go- i.e product that is aging or only has a few days left, and fix something with it."

I know for a fact, many of my contemporaries, including myself, view evening specials as an opportunity to show you something outside of our menu. We want to create something we can get out on left field with and let our creative juices flow. You know, take some risks. It also allows me the opportunity to let my Sous Chef's shine, as I allow their creative juices to flow, grow and experiment.

Daily features provide a chance to go to the farmer's market and pick up a little of this and a little of that.We can call the fish guy and ask, "What's fresh, fun, I haven't seen and want to play with?"

You want to work with head cheese and chicken livers....sure why not!
Lamb ribs and Elk chops, yes!! Roe and sashimi grade fish, yes!!
You want to try out that recipe you read in a new cookbook or your buddy told you all about, YES!

And make no mistake about this, we talk shop, often & all the time, via text, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc."Hey man try cooking your chicken this way or your fish that way, I got this awesome fish from my boy, call him he'll hook you up" My wife asked me how can one person have so many text messages...well let chefs get on a "text thread" about food, restaurant life or anything related and you get a never ending mass text thread.....we geek out!!

This is the escape from the day to day fare.

This is where we get to have fun doing something we want to do or simply try out. This is where we see if you like the direction we are planning on going or if you don't care for it. There is no: just throw this plate together, that fish is dying, just make something with it and hope to heck you sell it! We think about it, sometimes agonize over it! We wake up in the middle of the night to quickly jot something down we HAVE to try out. For the sake of not forgetting, we have to write it down. Sometimes you dictate notes to yourself on a car ride and then listen back like some crazed mad man trying to figure out what in the world you where talking about after a 16 hour shift. Tired and still thinking food is all part of the process.

Next, we get to the part where its thought about, product is in, the special is prepared, all of it, all the mise (industry term for prepare) is in place for it. You've been thinking about this dish and serving it is the only way to get it out of your mind!!

If you're as much into the business side as the creative side (and you should be, cause you have to be profitable) you:

  1. cost out the ingredients
  2. price the dish
  3. make sure you can sell it
  4. try to provide value to your guests and make $$.

This is not a charity thing, this is a business.

SO, you mise out 15 orders, prepare just enough of every ingredient of the dish to sell said 15 orders and then make sure you use every ingredient to guarantee no waste. You prepare it, taste it, work out the plating, make sure each ingredient is on that plate for a reason and when your satisfied, you sell it to your servers during line up.

You explain to them why you paired these ingredients together, what you were trying to achieve and you let them taste it. THEN, you give them the count and the speech....

"I have 15 orders of ______, I have enough prepared for 15, I can't substitute anything, we can't sell the special sides with our regular snapper set and the meatloaf sauce.......I prepped 15, only have 15, let's sell 15!" That's how it goes, that's the chat.

Then comes service...

"Chef, table such and such wants to alter the special to this and that."

Yes, I'm in the hospitality business and I want you to have an awesome dining experience. But no, I can't substitute the set on the special, its a special... a feature. You can have anything on the regular menu your way right away.

Be cool and don't mess with the feature, hopefully you have enough items on the menu to modify until your hearts content. I don't want to be left with one poached and trimmed artichoke, 1 serving of foie butter, or one random poached egg! Its either going to end up a snack for an astute cook, or wasted. I am not satisfying my ego, well maybe just a little, but come on! Trust me and eat it how I've seen it in my minds eye... or be cool and choose something else.

But again, that's just my opinion, its not fact, the standard, the way it is, nor law. It's simply the way I think it should be...

Chef Leo