Hotel F&B Observer Blog

Hotel food and beverage professionals share experience, skills and commentary. These hotelier blogs reflect a variety of unique career perspectives and real-life workplace stories, observations and opinions.

Cooking with Integrity

I face the same challenges as most chefs: serving foods that are of the highest quality, “yummy tasting” (as our executive sous chef puts it), interesting, and have high customer demand while producing a profit.

I am also a consumer and frequent restaurants just like anyone else. I recently wrote negatively about cruise ships and Vegas buffets, so why not restaurants and hotels? For a number of reasons, I am usually disappointed with most freestanding and hotel restaurants. People who know me would be shocked if I didn’t find some level of discontent when dining out. My biggest complaints are that foods are often not hot, menu descriptions are inaccurate, and service is inconsistent. The reliance on and abuse of soup bases, dry herbs, low quality frozen seafood and vegetables, and packaged convenience foods is widespread. I realize that to execute consistently amidst the challenges of our industry, some speed scratch options are often necessary. I take advantage of one or two myself, but only if it’s top quality and will not disappoint even the most discriminating diner. Let’s face it: the proof is at the end of the fork. If the food doesn’t taste yummy, look appealing, have good mouth feel, and entice you with its aroma, you have failed.

Even good chefs have bad days, but too many chefs have not reached an acceptable level of proficiency. They have no one to blame but themselves. Cooking is a journey; great chefs and cooks never stop searching for knowledge and answers for how to reach the next level. If you don’t truly love cooking, I am sure you can find an easier way to make a living. If you are passionate about cooking or searching for ways to improve, here are a few suggestions.

  • Make stocks. Have you ever wondered why your food isn’t as good as the restaurant down the street or why your soups and sauces are just okay? Properly prepared stocks are the foundation of everything else you will do and are worth the effort. Save beef, chicken, and vegetable trimmings, lobster bodies, and fish bones to aid in flavor enhancement; a good Chef can suck the flavor out of anything.
  • Make reduction sauces. Take your time and let the process happen; lots of aromatics, a good wine, and the proper sachet will help ensure success. Bring the reduction to the flavor profile you desire and use a little cornstarch slurry for consistency adjustment if necessary. Don’t forget to skim and strain through a chinoise or cheesecloth several times during the reduction process.
  • Use herbs and spices properly. This may sound a little basic, but I have seen massive abuse and the misuse of herbs and spices. Using herbs dry or fresh that complement the flavor profiles you are trying to achieve takes some thought. Don’t get weird; stick to the classics until you know the outcome. Even too much of a good thing can go south. The basic rule of thumb is dry for long cooking preparations and fresh for quick sautés or in the last few minutes of cooking.
  • Keep it fresh. Fresh almost always wins out. In addition to seafood, produce, bread, and meats, we use a chicken purveyor. Fresh, unadulterated chicken is juicy, holds well, and is relatively cheap. Guests frequently comment on how good our chicken is and eat quite a bit as a result. I will sell chicken all day long; it’s a big money maker.
  • Purchase quality meats. Let the chains and fast food world use select meats. If you can’t afford choice or better, cut your portion sizes. Most diners would derive greater satisfaction from a high-quality reasonable portion verses the larger poor-quality version.
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. This is one of the first things we learn as cooks but is without question the biggest problem I see. Keep plates under refrigeration, under a heat lamp, or in a low oven. Simmer soups before serving.
  • Study, study, study. Devote time to self-improvement, eat at real restaurants, compete in culinary competitions, network with other chefs through professional organizations such as the American Culinary Federation, and read as much as you can. Most importantly, hold yourself responsible for your own success.

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  • Bob Bourassa posted: 19 Mar at 8:58 am

    You have taken the words right out of my mouth. In this day and age it seems all about quantity not quality. Good luck and keep your standards high

  • Arno Schmidt posted: 19 Mar at 9:07 am

    Well wqritten and timely subject. Cutting corners result in cutting customers. Len is a dedicated, serious and very capable chef.

  • sam hernandez posted: 19 Mar at 9:41 am

    very nice article and I have passed this on to our culinary staff.

  • Alejandro B Westphal posted: 19 Mar at 11:05 am

    Things tend to be different these days, specially with a topic related to labor and costs, but always there is a chance to make stocks from scratch, using leftovers, trimings, etc; at the same time upgrading the culinary experience. IMO America is looking now for more quality in food, and that means that we are all involved to upgrade that market.

    Chef Alex.:

  • Anush Tigranyan posted: 20 Mar at 1:24 am

    Thank you good article

  • Chef Len posted: 20 Mar at 7:31 am

    Thanks for your great comments. Great food is what it is. You can’t fool anybody; there is nothing more personal then food, it involves all your senses and becomes part of you. We all don’t have to be 4 star-fine dining chefs, but we do need to do the right thing.

  • Weboya Isaiah posted: 31 Mar at 12:32 am

    Thank you so much Chef Len,
    This is wonderful if you have the right human resource.
    I have printed many of these article to my kitchen notice board but because the cooks we have are people with the highest level of rigidity they cant see this as an advantage for growth.they will do the contrary everyday .
    these days as a a F&B Incharge I find it difficulty to as the guest about the meal because i know the answer will be obvious. what can I do?

  • Chef Len posted: 01 Apr at 5:58 pm

    It’s never easy; it sometimes takes years turn a kitchen around. The bottom line is you have to start somewhere. Do what you think is right for you and your company, stay focused, never change your vision and people will catch on. If they don’t, get rid of them, there are many qualified people available. Make a plan to implement steps that will bring you closer to your goal and get started.

  • Figue iredo posted: 28 Mar at 10:11 am

    It is also nice to have clients that pay for the best or freshier products that only cost 3 times more.
    No sacarsm.

  • Koh Samui Hotels posted: 08 Feb at 1:42 am

    Not being a chef or a cook for that matter, I find it the most challenging of tasks and cannot even imagine the stress a professional chef and the crew experience when preparing dishes for many and varied tastes.

  • Koh Samui Hotel Reviews posted: 22 Nov at 8:54 pm

    Nice post Len, I always find the way to improve my cooking skill and your post is very helpful. May I suggest to add one tip which is “Keep it Simple Chef”