How to Prep Food like a Restaurant
I would like to think of myself as a very competent home cook, and I often find myself dreaming about opening a restaurant someday. However, one of the things that quickly tampers that dream is the realization that knowing how to make good food is quite different that being able to serve good food in a reasonable amount of time. No matter how good my roasted pork loin sandwich is, people are not going to call me up 4 hours in advance to give me time to make it! ;)
Are there any good online resources you can think of that will provide me some direction on how to prep food in a manner that won't sacrifice quality?
I am not going to open a restaurant anytime in the near future, but I would like to get a better understanding of this subject. I hear places refrigerating omelets so they can microwave them to order, or using frozen pre-made versions of food to eliminate prep, but I don't want to sacrifice quality in the name of convenience.
What exactly are you trying to do? Learn how to be more efficient at mise en place? Learn what can be prepped ahead of schedule and then reheated or finished? Learn what always has to be cooked to order? Time management? Menu planning? Resource planning?
Do you know any chefs or caterers who would be willing to help you volunteer? That would allow you to see how the back of house is done. Or take a cooking course or two if you have a cooking school nearby.
Ideas in Food occasionally has posts on how to cut prep time (e.g. their 6 minute risotto, pre-hydrating pasta), but I think that the best way to learn is to actually see it and work out how you would do it.
By the way, roasted pork loin sandwiches? Sounds great but since you're not interested in reheating, roast one every day and pull it when you run out.
I would never dream of refrigerating an omelet for future heating in a microwave. Just the thought of it makes me nauseous. If I can't serve quality food, I ain't servin' nothin'.
Omelets can be prepared from a "batter" prepared ahead of time and refrigerated (covered of course) so that the "batter" can be measured and the cook/chef doesn't have to take time to crack and dispose of egg shells. Some restaurants pre-cook (or partially pre-cook) pasta, some casserole dishes and other menu items but most of the better restaurants I've toured tend to work with fresh ingredients with very little pre-cooked. The kitchen of one of the best restaurants I toured estimates the number of servings it expects for a given day and schedules the food preparation accordingly. The regular customers understand that once a menu item is exhausted, they'll have to select something else from the menu. Their planning is so expertly done, based on experience, that disappointments are rare but the few customers who might hear "sorry, we're out of that menu item" actually appreciate the fact that the restaurant won't sacrifice quality food for quantity in reserve.
Except perhaps for roasts, stews and similar menu items, very few foods need more than 15 - 20 minutes to prepare so advance preparation isn't that necessary. Vegetables, cheeses, etc. can be chopped/sliced/minced etc. ahead of time and survive well under refrigeration; that saves a lot of time in the kitchen.
In my own experience, I once prepared food for an large organization. Their management wanted to speed up the breakfast service and directed me to prepare pancakes ahead of time so they could be served from a steam table .... I quit. If I can't serve them fresh, I won't serve them.
Thanks for the thoughts. My friend worked for a number of local restaurants and the microwaved omelet was one of the few horrible examples he gave me. It makes me sad how many restaurants put such little importance on the quality of food they serve.
If I were to ever open a cafe I would love to focus on really delivering quality to my customers... fresh not frozen ingredients, served when the meal is at peak taste. It wouldn't feel rewarding to open a restaurant only to serve what amounts to leftovers. I like the idea of estimating servings to ensure quality dishes are being served and less is wasted.