Guidance / Tip to the Young Chef: Cheesecake, Customer Satisfaction and How Sometimes Small Changes Can Lead to a Big Difference

 

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In this short article I would like to share with some of you young chefs (either in experience, age or soul) an example of a situation we – the professional chef, deal with often in our daily routine. A situation in which we – the chefs, believe in serving a specific dish and the customer does not respond to it as we expected them to.

One thing that always surprises me is how customers react to the dishes that we create  – sometimes my expectation does not always match that of the customer or suit their liking.

In Figure 1 you can see how I served a cheesecake, the creation of my Pastry Chef Sherry Tziboth, which in my opinion was a method of serving whose purpose was to provide the customer with a satisfactory eating experience (in terms of flavors and textures), – the idea behind the dish was that the client will easily mix the cake and sherbet in the serving plate creating a mix of different flavors and textures – the customer however, did not react enthusiastically to this approach.

How did we deal with this? We rearranged the plating. Sherry, the pastry chef, took charge without my intervention – the results of which you can find in Figures 2 and 3, with 3 being our choice of serving since then on a regular basis, which has resulted in greater customer satisfaction.

Note that the changes are minor and do not always have a logical explanation.

The lesson that I want to impart is that sometimes what seems like a good dish to us will not be seen the same by a customer but even the smallest changes can make an unsuccessful dish (in terms of sales) satisfactory.

With my experience over the years I have learned to listen to the customers who choose to eat where I serve, the chefs on my team, and the waiting staff who see things from the customer’s point of view and are able to pass on their reaction to us in the kitchen on the serving floor.

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Thanks for reading,

Michael

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Tip/Guidance for the Young Chef: Mixing Salad Leaves for Service.

I personally really enjoy salad leaves, they are a wonderful raw ingredient with a variety of textures, flavors, and colors.

Here are a few salad dishes made with a premix of salad leaves we have prepared in the restaurant:

Leaves play a very important role in the culinary world – they may be a part of many dishes or play a role on their own, they may serve as a spice or as a decorative element, they may be eaten raw or in most cases even be cooked in various ways.

In this short post I will explain a method with which to make a premix of leaves to use during service.

This post is short but I find it very important as the method I will share with you here I go over with the chefs in my kitchen.

In the photos attached to this post (I apologize for their quality) you can see what we did in real life to prepare our mixed leaves.

The big secret is…. lots of water.

Step One

Prepare a balanced mixture of leaves that you like (or whatever proportions look right to you) – a mixture that combines different textures (and strengths of leaves), colors and flavors.

For example, endive, arugula, romaine lettuce, frisee lettuce. In this mix, for example, there is a level of integration between crunchy textures but also between different flavors – spicy arugula, bitterness from the endive, sweetness from the romaine lettuce, etc.

Step Two

Decide on the cut of the leaves you would like in your mix.

Perhaps you want large pieces… You need to choose if you want them torn or cut with a knife… Each such decision changes the final outcome of your salad and that is what I find wonderful about the kitchen.

Step Three

Prepare a large water bath  – I use the sink in the kitchen with enough water for the entire mix I prepared to be able to move. Place the leaves inside the water even if you have already received them cleaned and treated.

Step Four

Mix well – you will notice how easier it is to mix and combine the leaves in the water  – leaves floating in water mix very well without leaving any leaves untouched or causing damage to them.

Step Five

Strain the water and then dry well in a salad leaf dryer – the dryer the mixture is the better it will stay crisp and fresh for up to 2 days if taken care of, which should be done daily.

If you are a serious foodie cooking at home you can make a small amount using a domestic small salad dryer and keep in a good sealed tupperware box lined up with absorbing paper or better yet, a straining base.

I prefer keeping the mixture in a drawer of the fridge lined with a kitchen towel.

Of course, you may do the same thing with micro leaves such as parsley, cilantro, tarragon, and many more.

So before you run to learn how to scale and fillet a fish, or prepare meat, I suggest you begin with dismantling the base and learning how to properly take care of salad leaves.

Here are some photos of the steps:

Thank you for reading,

Michael

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Tip / Guidance for the Young Chef : The Relationship Between a Head chef and the Pastry Chef 

The way we manage our relationships may heavily influence the outcomes of many of our social circles, whether at work, home or with the people we choose to spend time with.

In the following article, I will try to provide with some tools that may improve a relationship in the kitchen I have often found strained for the wrong reasons.

Introduction:

Few Facts / Point of Views about Desserts in Restaurants

Nowadays people enjoy a good dessert and oftentimes plan their main course in accordance with their choice of dessert or the variety of desserts offered in the menu.

Many restaurants work with small kitchens relative to the size of the restaurant, therefore not allowing for good technical work on the part of the pastry chef resulting in the menu having to either outsource dessert or have a limited product in quantity and/or quality.

Profit from desserts ranges from 18-20%.

As somebody who has worked in several places around the globe (note that this is based only on what I have personally experienced), I can say that none of the restaurants that I have worked in had an appointed pastry chef; there would be a unit responsible for desserts that corresponded with the head chef—even in the Michelin starred restaurants that I have spent time in. However, this habit is slowly dying out in a certain category of restaurants.

In most cases though, the decision not to hire a pastry chef is clearly economic since simple desserts may be created with the tools and ingredients the restaurant already has, and outsourcing is also an easy option.

There is a clear trend of improvement and change of attitude restaurant group’s owners / managers have a great awareness of the subject of desserts.

Today, chefs are more aware of the fact that the right dessert can multiply sales by 6-7 times and balance out the food cost – what is the “right” dessert? In my opinion, it is simply one that many people enjoy, is easy to make and has good margins.

Desserts are often used as a smokescreen to fill in holes—that is, to satisfy an unhappy customer. It leaves a sweet taste and may be easily and quickly taken out.

The Relationship Between the Head Chef and Pastry Chef 

The pastry chef and the restaurant chef have a completely different status, and generally, according to the classical hierarchy of the kitchen, the pastry chef is supposed to be at the same level as an operational chef—a chef who runs a unit, above whom is the restaurant chef who lends a guiding hand.

Proper work between the two shouldn’t cause any sort of tension. The problem starts when one side invades an area outside his or her jurisdiction—for example, a pastry chef who doesn’t understand the restaurant’s needs and exceeds requests and the line laid out for him, or a head chef who gets involved in technical matters that he doesn’t understand—basically, silly ego and power struggles.

A good pastry unit can only be an asset to a restaurant, and as I wrote previously, a smart chef understands that a good pastry unit fills in many important gaps. I return again to the idea of the “smokescreen,” and that’s because a pastry unit produces under easier conditions and the dessert is ready well in advance, whereas a kitchen works under pressure and so it is likely that a good dessert unit has, as part of its arsenal, a good product that will complete the meal properly and end it with a smile.

In the nature of this type of work exists pressure between the two units—the kitchen staff generally sees itself as the fighting unit that is under the constant pressure of “deadlines”, whereas the pastry unit has its own pace, it generally starts and finishes early, and doesn’t deal as much with service. That way, naturally, unnecessary tension arises. But it is forbidden for each unit, rather than dealing with the issues it faces in its own area, to get involved and try to fix mistakes made by the other side—that also leads to unnecessary tension.

To summarize, a head chef doing his or her job properly should lead to flourishing results for the confectionary unit, without either side feeling any sort of threat, but rather complimentary activity. Not every restaurant needs a confectionary unit; it’s a subject that requires localized considerations. A pastry chef in a restaurant is generally an operational chef, and he/she needs to internalize that in order to carry out his/her work properly and preserve shalom bayit (peace in the house).

Here are a few photos from my personal environment:



Thank you for reading,

Michael

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Tip / Guidance for the Young Chef: Best Restaurants, Do They Exist? – Food for Thought

Sometime last year, a national media channel contacted me, asking if I, as a well-known chef in Israel, would be willing to participate in an anonymous survey and share my opinion on what the top three best restaurants are in the country.

Every time I was contacted regarding this matter (four times in all) my reply was that I had no opinion and no say in the matter!

I believe that I do not possess the right (being a professional chef) to provide an opinion and here is why:

Most people have no time to check out every restaurant, especially us chefs who work so many hours doing what we do. There are so many restaurants scattered about the country that I have not visited, whose food I have no tasted and whose concept I have not had the pleasure of experiencing.

So the list of restaurants I enjoy going to when I do have some time on my hands is quite short.

Furthermore, a restaurant is comprised of so many “ingredients” that the question “What is the best restaurant?” begs all restaurants to be given the same chance. I have heard of incredible restaurants all over Israel, some of which I follow on social media but have never actually seen myself for the same reason many other social media followers didn’t visit the restaurant yet – even good restaurants aren’t always situated in the most convenient locations and not everyone is able to find the time to visit restaurants, no matter how many good reviews they receive.

In addition to that, today, there exist so many different culinary styles and categories – and so much is based simply on personal preference and taste, so what is somebody’s favorite restaurant could be someone else’s second choice.

The point I am getting to is that I think that the title or theme of “best restaurants” is passé and to make that point I might as well mention that my own personal favorite restaurants were included in a top ten list on very few occasions.

When it comes to building a list of top restaurants several other categories come to mind for me that have much more relevance and importance, such as:

  • most influential restaurants in the culinary world (or restaurants that have impacted the industry)
  • restaurants that inspire
  • restaurants with great financial success
  • restaurants that are lead by an outstanding figure

The era of food bloggers, web exposure, social media, and our ability to travel easily and have to conform less to specific routines brought the end of another era – that of the “best restaurant”. There are lots of good restaurants around the country and all over the world, with no regard to how much they are recognized and well-known. I have had the privilege to live in large cities such as London, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, and Brussels where one may find thousands of amazing restaurants – so how do we decide?

Since the era of the “best restaurant” is behind us, the new era of exposure is the answer in my opinion. With social media focused on different places, the people behind the pots came into view. I can give a list of chefs that have greatly influenced and inspired both myself and colleagues of mine, whose restaurants I always gladly return to, dream of visiting – restaurants with vision, inspiration and more… but the best is just not there.

In the following photos are some of the best known to be the est:

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Thank you for reading,

Michael

 

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Tip / Guidance to the Young Chef : Carem’s “Chartreuse” Explained

We don’t always notice or put in the effort to study the history and evolution of certain dishes and memorable chefs who have laid out the foundation of cooking as we know it today.

One such chef is Antonin Carmen, who is recognized for his extravagant work process and presentation. In this blog, I would like to share with you a famous dish of his.

Introduction

Antonin Carem was a person of good taste with an interest for many things, architecture in particular. This highly influenced a lot of his work from how he would design his dish layout to the design of the table setting.  A good example of the architectural influence on this is one of his signature dishes – “Chartreuse”.

When you look at the photos of the dish below (either the one from his lifetime book that was taken in 1970 or the one of the dish I personally prepared) you can see that the outer envelope of the dish is constructed like a wall or a great wood floor, etc. Carem’s influence and way of life may be seen in many chefs of our era whose dishes are oftentimes also inspired by certain objects or by nature.

The main idea is a dish made with a vegetable envelope that holds different textures inside it. The fillings of the dish in all the photos below have an almost identical flavor and the difference lies in the envelope.

The Envelope

Made with blanched vegetables of choice which are “glued” and held in place by a chicken mousseline – a classic patte made of chicken meat, creamed egg whites, salt, and caayan pepper.

The Stuffing

Classically braised cabbage with bacon, sausages and back fat. Roasted pigeon meat.

Once the dish is constructed it goes into the oven in a “bain mary”, mainly to cook the chicken mousseline that holds the vegetable envelope. The dish is served either cold or hot at the center of the table.

A little about the photos in the album:

Photos 1 and 2 are from the “Haute cuisine de France ” time life series 1970 edition.

Photos 3 and 4 are dishes I have prepared during demos at the LCB in London in front of students, one of which took the photos and gave them to me.

Photos 5 to 12  were taken during the superior level practice in which each student had to prepare their own dish but we decided to make it a teamwork challenge and prepare a large dish. When you think of 8 people working for 3 hours – 24 man hours, it really gives you perspective on how many people have worked with Anonin Carem to make his amazing banquette.

Thanks for reading,

Michael

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Tip/Guidance for the Young Chef: A Few Words About the Woman in the Kitchen – Personal View

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Not long ago in a discussion group a colleague of mine stated that there are more men in the kitchen and asked whether there is a difference between female chefs and male chefs, here was my answer:

One of the reasons that there are more male chefs in the kitchen lies within the fact that the first (and I will not go into very detailed history) guilds of chefs and the general concept of a kitchen brigade originated in the military.

Fun fact: the classic chef’s jacket with two rows of buttons is based on the model of the Turkish military shirt.

When women take on careers that were defined by men they mostly prove to succeed just as well as men if not better (of course we can’t make generalizations), we have seen this with female surgeons, pilots, lawyers, and many other professions. I personally have a lot of respect for women who choose to go for careers dominated by men, these women oftentimes have to deal with men with big egos (it’s not by coincidence that when I decided to take flying lessons I chose a school ran by a female pilot – without offending anyone).

As one who has always had and still gets the privilege to employ women in my kitchens, teach both many men and women, and eat in the kitchens run by women – I must say that usually those who choose and remain in the profession are not easily defeated by anything, not even the excuse of fatigue and long hours, a woman that has chosen the profession – in general, knows she is entering the world of male cooks with high egos so  she is already in the state of mind to defend her status and prove her way up the ladder. So women that have decided to stay in the harsh kitchen world are usually just as good or even better, sorry guys!

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Tip/Guidance for the Young Chef: Cooking Potatoes for Salad

I was asked, when bringing over a potato salad to some friends, what the secret is to achieve the look and texture my potatoes had:

  1. Crispy outer layer (wall /sides)
  2. Soft texture
  3. Smooth outer layer

Here is a photo to show you what I’m talking about:

So what I have done is no secret, it is a simple process you need to follow.

  1. Peel the potatoes
  2. Cut them into approx 1.5 cm cubes (size can vary according to your preferences)
  3. Place the potatoes in a pot containing cold water
  4. Add white vinegar (apple, white wine or any other white vinegar to your choice/red vinegar will work as well but will stain the potato) in an amount that equals to approx 5% of the water volume
  5. Bring the water to a boil and lower to a simmer at once
  6. Cook until you find the texture of the potatoes satisfactory

Why does it work?

  1. First of all, I chose a waxy potato – in my case a “desired” type. These potatoes are denser and tend to break less while they cook because of their higher starch content
  2. The cooking was done in a simmering “temperature” which prevented the potatoes bouncing in the pot damaging each other’s sides
  3. The vinegar’s acid tends to have an effect on the structure of starch, in our case it makes it more “solid” and helps maintain crisp, smooth sides

You may add salt, sugar or other spices or condiments to the water the potatoes are being cooked in, but what is written above is the basics.

This cooking method can serve not only a salad but also any other dish that requires a specifically desired texture.

Here are links to two more articles that refer to the use of potatoes.

Potato soufflé explained

Variations on Vichyssoise soup 

Hope it helps and thanks for reading,

Michael

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