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The Commercial Imperative


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3 replies to this topic

#1 Andy Lynes

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 04:19 PM

Marco, the Manhatten restaurant scene is arguably the most competitive in the world. Is there any tension or conflict between what you would like to put on a plate as a craftsman/artist and what you have to send out to remain commercial?

To clarify, I'm not talking about compromising on quality of ingredients or kitchen practice, but more about what the New York customer might expect to see in terms of presentation, number of elements, degree of preperational complexity and difficulty for their dollar.

#2 Marco Canora

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Posted 17 February 2004 - 02:49 PM

It's not too often that I feel any real tension between what I want to serve and what customers want to eat, but occasionally a conflict will arise. I remember when I first opened Craft, I put a tripe dish that I was really excited about on the menu. But after four days we had not sold a single order and I had to throw away everything that we had prepared for that dish. I also tried serving veal tongue at Craft, but that didn't sell well either. In such instances, you really have no choice. If a menu item does not sell, then you cannot keep it on the menu, no matter how much you like it.

I know you said that you weren't talking about compromising the quality of ingredients, but the quality versus quantity conflict is an on-going issue for me. Ultimately, I want guests to perceive that they are getting a good value when they come to my restaurant for dinner, and an easy way for a guest to perceive value is based on the quantity of food they see in front of them. It is much harder for some of them to perceive the quality of the ingredients they are eating. For example, one night a few weeks ago, a man approached me to complain about the size of his tuna appetizer. What he did not realize is that he was getting the best quality tuna there is--the stuff all the best sushi restaurants use. To him, that didn't matter; he would have been happier with 8 ounces of mediocre fish. But for those kind of people, I will never compromise. They can go elsewhere if they want to eat large portions of a crappy fish.

Incidentally, I know a popular restaurant that buys C grade tuna, which is a pretty unappetizing color, and reddens it with beet juice just so they can serve whopping portions and make a big profit. That kind of stuff disgusts me and I would never go down that road, no matter what the commercial rewards might be.

#3 aaustin

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Posted 17 February 2004 - 03:16 PM

Along those lines of thinking--ie, the kitchen wants such-and-such on the menu because it's fun, new, daring....yet few people are ordering it--what is it at Hearth that you feel this way about? I used to work in the kitchen and there were always dishes that my chef and I liked to see ordered. It was usually something a bit offbeat or daring in the eyes of the everyday diner. I'm wondering what you'd have us order if we came to Hearth.

#4 Andy Lynes

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Posted 17 February 2004 - 05:09 PM

I know you said that you weren't talking about compromising the quality of ingredients, but the quality versus quantity conflict is an on-going issue for me.

Chef, that is a take on the arguement I hadn't considered when posing the question. To be honest, I hadn't anticipated that you might have customers with a "quantity-over-quality" approach to dining.