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Microwave use in Restaurants

Most Sunday's I make a batch of stew or chili or soup. All week I take it to work for lunch. I heat it up in a microwave and it seems to work just fine. I can't tell the difference between that and heating it up on the stove. And yet I often hear that if a restaurant uses a microwave it's a sign they don't make quality food. Is using a microwave some form of cheating? If you know/knew a place was using one to heat some items would they be less in your eyes?

jb

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  1. "Is using a microwave some form of cheating?"
    Depends on the context.
    A very small percentage of restaurants are truly high-end where everything is prepared fresh and somewhat, to-order. To use a uwave here may be considered cheating.

    However, the vast majority of restaurants are not high-end, and they'll use any and all avenues to get the plate out of the kitchen.
    Ran out of steaks and the rush is still on? Throw a frozen one in the microwave.
    Plate been sitting too long waiting for this or that, zap it.
    All the soup is gone? Heat up yesterday's with the ole magnetron.
    Table 6 is bitchin their steak is underdone? You guessed it.

    Do all restaurants do this? Well not all, at least not all the time. Is it cheating? I dunno....

    1. Certain items re-heat well in the wave while other items don't. Doesn't make a restaurant bad.

      1. It isn't cheating, but the use of a microwave is indicative of type of restaurant it is. I would not typically go to a place that makes something a week before and then just zaps it before serving.

        When I eat out, I want freshly prepared food. One of my favorite local places has an open kitchen. There are even counter seats that wrap around the kitchen so that you can watch the chefs as they prepare the food. No microwave in sight. You can watch your dinner go from the raw unprepared state to a polished dish that is set before you.

        But I'm sure there are places that reheat previously prepared products. I prefer to avoid them but have probably had it in the past. So at least in my eyes, a place that uses a microwave as part of their normal cooking is not a positive.

        1. Here is how I see it;

          If you are re-heating or warming something that was cooked, but needs to be a warmer temp, not cheating.

          If you are using the microwave as the actual method of "cooking" the item, yeah....that's kind of cheating.

          7 Replies
          1. re: jrvedivici

            When I bake a potato, I microwave it first and then finish it in the oven. The microwave is definitely doing some of the cooking. Is this cheating/not cheating? Because I would have no objection to a restaurant using this method, especially if it means I can get a baked potato without waiting an hour for it.

            1. re: small h

              Well that depends since the OP is talking about use in restaurants, so if you own and run a very tiny restaurant in which you are the only patron, and you pay yourself for that baked potato I would have to say there is no way to answer this question.

            2. re: jrvedivici

              I completely disagree. I make some very good dishes in the microwave. Szchuen green beans, fish in parchment, risotto, assorted pilafs, chocolate pudding cake, sweet and our cabbage, polenta pudding and mushroom ragout just to name a few. Why is the fact they are made in the microwave "cheating"?

              1. re: foodieX2

                < I make some very good dishes in the microwave. Szchuen green beans, fish in parchment, risotto, assorted pilafs, chocolate pudding cake, sweet and our cabbage, polenta pudding and mushroom ragout just to name a few. >

                But are you saying that these cannot be made better elsewhere? In other words, are you suggesting that Szechuan green beans are made best in a microwave than in a wok?

                <Why is the fact they are made in the microwave "cheating"?>

                Cheating is between the givers and the receivers. It can be, and it may not be -- depending on the clarity.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  No, I am not saying that they can't be made equally as well using other methods. And for that matter they can also be a disaster using other methods.

                2. re: foodieX2

                  Sounds as though you have Kafka's 'Microwave Gourmet'.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Yup, that book changed my whole approach to the microwave as did her second "healthstyle" one. The recipes I listed are the ones I go back to time and time again. So good, easy and fast!

                    What is even better is the dictionary/appendix in the back. I refer to that even more than the recipes!

              2. How should a restaurant prepare and serve a beef bourguignon - or other braised meat dish?

                It can't be made to order - unless the patron wants to wait 2 hrs. Should it be made in the morning, and kept hot (140deg) through out the serving period? Or made once a week, frozen in serving portions, and thawed/heated in the microwave to order?

                5 Replies
                1. re: paulj

                  You can avoid cheating by reheating in a pan...

                  1. re: porker

                    Why is one cheating and the other not?

                    Seems to me that there are more important issues than a vague notion of 'cheating', things like evenness of the heating, attention that it requires from the cook, and speed.

                    1. re: paulj

                      Reheating in a pan while stirring heats more evenly. Ever stick a bowl with cold soup in the MV until its bubbling on top and when you take it out, you notice it's hot on the top and cold on the middle? Or that some pieces of a stew are still cold even when the liquid is hot? Yeah you can stir it, put it back and repeat until its evenly heated through, but then you might as well get the pan out. MV oven heats very unevenly.

                      1. re: paulj

                        I was being sarcastic (dangnabbit I forgot the sarco font)....

                        1. re: paulj

                          There are indeed more important issues: For example, reheating the food to the proper internal temperature is far more important than the method for doing so.

                          That said, there are many vendors pushing precooked items that can be heated in the microwave, the fryer, the grill, the oven etc. to order. These foods are not cooked in-house and to my mind, it IS cheating for a restaurant to pass it off as something they prepare.

                          Years ago I ordered Chicken Kiev in a place that was known for steak and prime rib. That was my introduction to microwave convenience foods in a restaurant. Big mistake.

                    2. Most restaurants have a microwave in the kitchen, but generally the higher end it is the less it is used. In my eyes, they should be there for emergencies and that's it. However, this is almost never the case, a lot of places use it for things like warm dipping sauces that you don't want to keep warm all night, and I honestly would rather you heat them up in a microwave to order rather than have it deteriorating in a bain-marie all night. Soups and stews should be heated to order on a burner (honestly its just more practical, microwaves are only so big, and if you have 5 soups on order it takes to long to one after the other). Microwaves are fine for one person or even 2 or 3 people, but who wants to do a service of 50 in a microwave?

                      1. "Is using a microwave some form of cheating"

                        I believe I read that Heston uses a microwave to make crispy results from herbs that I imagine couldn't be done with normal frying. I don't know if one must use a microwave for that effect, but I wouldn't consider that cheating either way. Microwaving food just to warm it up on the other hand, no. If a restaurant is using a microwave to warm stuff up, I have a microwave at home and it doesn't charge gratuity.

                        1. Jacques Pepin likes bacon cooked in the microwave. I've done it, and prefer it baked in the oven, but IMO nobody's got more impressive professional kitchen credentials than JP. I think he was no longer cooking in a restaurant by the time microwave ovens became available but it sounds like he'd be using one if he were, and that's enough of an endorsement for me.

                          BTW, there were still living Shakers when home microwave ovens entered the market, and they used one. (Before someone nit-picks, the covenant was closed in 1959. None of the people currently living as Shakers were old enough to sign the covenant so there are no *official* Shakers left. I had the honor to meet the last one, Gertrude Soule.)

                          1. I suppose it's all in how you use the microwave, isn't it? Wylie Dufresne, Jean-George, and Alain Ducasse all were cited as using it for different applications (dry fried parsley, for example) in this NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/09/din...

                            I wouldn't consider that cheating - that's modernist technique! Of course, that differs greatly from the Applebee's line cook nuking your "grilled" chicken.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: EGtheOG

                              Not a fan of the Apple for sure...but they don't nuke you 'grilled' chicken. It's cooked on a grill as you would expect it to be.

                            2. <And yet I often hear that if a restaurant uses a microwave it's a sign they don't make quality food>

                              Definitely not true. Almost all restaurants use microwave for warmup. It is just a matter of the "extend" they do, and how "openly" they use the microwave in front of customers.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I forgot to answer the rest of your questions:

                                <Is using a microwave some form of cheating? If you know/knew a place was using one to heat some items would they be less in your eyes?>

                                No, it is not cheating in my eye.

                                No, a restaurant uses microwave is fine in my eyes.

                              2. Where you hear such an opinion is from the self-righteous chefs on "restaurant emergency" reality TV. They really know better, they just have orders to feature "things to justify being upset".

                                They get upset over pre-assembled plastic-packaged food, but in their own restaurants they happily join in the "sous-vide" trend (which requires, by definition, plastic-wrapped entrees) and they absolutely freak out at the idea of putting a few degrees into too-cool dishes with a few seconds in the microwave.

                                None of this is to excuse the clueless cooks who microwave everything, or cook and reheat huge pans of food, but the microwave has a place when properly used.

                                1. Bakeries use the microwave to temper chocolate. Restaurants do the same with sauces.

                                  But the ultimate arbiter for me on this? Ferran Adria used microwaves at elBulli, making an angel food cake with egg whites that are cooked in the microwave.

                                  That said, if I was a diner at elBulli and heard the "ding" of a microwave I would certainly pause for just a moment ...

                                  1. As an aside, you have never really used a microwave until you have used one with 1800+ watts.

                                    1. Funny, if people like Adria, Dufresne, Pepin, et al., use it, then it MUST BE OK.
                                      If they had a proclamation that dish X can ONLY be achieved with a microwave, everyone would think of the uwave differently.
                                      Me, I don't care either way, I'm just sayin.

                                      OTOH, I often hear that if a restaurant uses an easy-bake oven it's a sign they don't make quality food.
                                      {;-/)

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: porker

                                        <Funny, if people like Adria, Dufresne, Pepin, et al., use it, then it MUST BE OK.>

                                        A good point indeed. This is, of course, the failure of many people's logic. Just because a great chef uses microwave, it does not make it a good thing. In contrast, just because a poor restaurant uses it, it does not make it a bad thing.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          Yep, everything has its place.
                                          An older guy once mentored me in my kitchen. He used to say everything had its place in the kitchen and there was a specific place for everything in the kitchen.
                                          I'd nod (dumbly), but he had a point on several levels...

                                      2. Is using a Rappala filet knife instead of a hand hammered three steel Edo style blade for breaking down a fish cheating?

                                        The microwave is another tool in the kitchen. It is great at some things, but not all. Why is it okay to use high tech liquid nitrogen but not high tech microwaves?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                          Personally I have no problem with people using microwaves. I use mine all the time. Mostly to reheat leftovers, but I have used it to pre cook potatoes that then get slow roasted with herbs and to soften butter. I have found it does a terrible job with broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. I much prefer these cooked other ways.

                                          Perhaps it really comes down to the skill of the person using the tool. JP, Adrian and Wylie are using it with great forethought. The places giving microwaves a bad name are using it to heat up pre-cooked Sysco chicken breasts, you know, the ones with realistic grill marks painted on at the factory.

                                          Thanks,
                                          jb

                                        2. One empanada place in Buenos Aires served them straight out of a wood-fired oven. Quality.

                                          The next popped them in the microwave.

                                          Since that trip a few years ago, I do look over the counter/ask if they use a microwave for specific foods (eg, falafel), but if I'm craving something uncommon in that location (eg k√ľnefe), it probably wouldn't matter.

                                          1. Cheating as in how? Technically, cooking & heating food takes on many methods. I mean, if you do bbq outside in the backyard of your restaurant then heat it up inside (hopefully on a steam table) it's still cooked by your place even if you have to heat it up in a microwave. Would it not still be considered a quality product?

                                            No restaurant I know is going to put a baked potato in the oven every time a customer comes in for a meal. You started with enough potatoes to get you through the first half of service and have more in the oven but you get slammed. Do you direct the waiter to tell his customer they have to wait 10 more minutes or do you take a potato out of the oven and zap it to finish so you can send out the plate?

                                            I will say that pre-frozen food that is not prepared in house that goes from microwave to plate is different...it's not what I consider quality....

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Cherylptw

                                              <Cheating as in how?>

                                              The definition of cheating can be defined in many many ways. One definition is the act of breaking the agreed conducts or honored conduct. Another common definition is open-deception of the recipients, in this case, the customers.

                                              For example, if you ordered catfish, and I gave you tilapia, then it is cheating because you are not getting what you thought you are getting. If you expect authentic dahi, and I gave you some MSG soup, then it is cheating as well.

                                              1. re: Cherylptw

                                                I suspect the deep fryer is the instrument of choice for most pre-frozen foods - fries, boca-burgers, stuffed jalapenos, mozzarella sticks, etc.

                                              2. I've seen microwaves used quite a bit in restaurants, though it was mainly for reheating sauces, dips and soups. For example, at one restaurant I worked at, our spinach and artichoke dip would first be microwaved to warm it up, then put under a broiler. Same thing for a nachos appetizer, we would reheat the meat filling in the microwave before spreading it on the tostadas. A majority of the food items weren't initially cooked from scratch in a microwave, but they are regularly warmed up in one.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Atomic76

                                                  At my restaurant, which was seafood oriented, the microwave was mostly used for the one or two pasta dishes we offered. The pasta was cooked earlier in the day, portioned into plastic bags and nuked for a minute to rewarm, while preparing the sauce and protein in the normal manner. It worked for us!