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Why does so much food suck?


lancastermike
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Last night after work we went to a local bar/restaurant to see and listen to the band that was playing in the outdoor courtyard for the local "First Friday" celebration. The band and the company were great. The food was terrible. I tried a pizza and many better have come from the freezer section at my local grocery. Someone else got some sort of fried snack platter. A plate of tasteless chicken, onion rings, fries and cheese sticks all cooked in oil that had long since passed the point of no return. Another lucky diner ordered a plate of what the menu laughingly called sushi.

I went inside to use the restroom and walked past the open kitchen. I wanted to yell at them, "Don't you guys have any pride at all, you all ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

I understand this place is not Le Bec Fin or Per Se or anything. But there just is no reason to foist that junk on people. A bar can have a menu and the food can be good if they want it to be. This place and so many others just do not give a hoot in hell.

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Bar food used to be really good once upon a time...

Food is simply a loss leader for them. Naw, some of them really don't care, and buy whatever falls off the back of the SYSCO truck.

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Interesting. The bad places here are just the regular restaurants. You begin to wonder if they might be putting forth energy specifically to get it that sh*tty. We prefer to go to some of our local bars because the food ranges from really consistent and great to exceptional at many of the them.

I really like this Chef-boy-wonder story. He was pulling the weekends at a big hotel in Austin. He was kinda troubled and said, "Mom, when I come out into the dining room they look at me funny." I said, "What? Have you been butchering and you need to change your jacket or something?" He said, "Mom, the food is so bad when I come out the guests look at me weird." I said, "Well everybody knows it's just hotel food." He was so relieved he thanked me for saying that. I asked him what did he expect? He said, "When I worked at The Blue Monkey (bar here in Memphis) they clapped when I came out of the back."

:laugh:

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Last night after work we went to a local bar/restaurant to see and listen to the band that was playing in the outdoor courtyard for the local "First Friday" celebration. The band and the company were great.  The food was terrible. I tried a pizza and many better have come from the freezer section at my local grocery. Someone else got some sort of fried snack platter. A plate of tasteless chicken, onion rings, fries and cheese sticks all cooked in oil that had long since passed the point of no return. Another lucky diner ordered a plate of what the menu laughingly called sushi.

I went inside to use the restroom and walked past the open kitchen. I wanted to yell at them, "Don't you guys have any pride at all, you all ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

I understand this place is not Le Bec Fin or Per Se or anything. But there just is no reason to foist that junk on people. A bar can have a menu and the food can be good if they want it to be.  This place and so many others just do not give a hoot in hell.

you hit on the answer, i think...they just do not care. btw i'd never order sushi in a place like that....it could be aged.

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I think one of the many reasons the baseline for food in this country is often "suck" is due to the proliferation of those damn Sysco vans. You can get shitty frozen food just about anywhere, after all. I drove from Houston to Sacramento last year and was somewhat appalled at all the cafe's we stopped in at in backwater little Western towns - and how horrible the food was. We encountered a few soulful little Mexican gems, but most, despite their geographical remoteness, featured the same damn boil-in-a-bag junk that stretches across our fine and generally interesting nation.

(They should make them state that on the menu. We pour this junk out of a bag. We do not actually engage in preparation.)

And yes, the audience of an area does determine food quality. But anyone who's noted the long long lines outside the Cheesecake Factory, within spitting distance of excellent (and cheaper!) indie restaurants will appreciate that.

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Not that Sysco is the epitome of artisanal ingredients, but Sysco and US Foodservice are often somewhat misunderstood. Restaurants at just about all levels use these companies as suppliers. Perhaps a restaurant like the French Laundry doesn't use Sysco, but restaurants at every other level do. You can order anything from lame frozen bar food ("Sysco Reliance") to better stuff ("Sysco Classic, Sysco Imperial") to pretty high level haute-cuisine ingredients ("Sysco Supreme" and various Sysco-owned brands for organics, etc.). It's up to the restaurant. Sysco didn't invent bad food. Food was bad before Sysco became a dominant distributor. Sysco just delivers what people order.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Speaking of Sysco, I'm in Ottawa, Canada now and see at least four Sysco trucks making deliveries to woeful pubs/bars/restaurants up here in the True North Strong and Free during my morning run to my mother's hospital room.

(The "why can't you get decent food in Ottawa topic" has been discussed at length in the Canada forum. It's truer than ever. The remedy is: drive across the bridge to Quebec, where peeps of French descent still cook and eat.) But I'm really amazed at the dull, awful food -- and such small portions!

Here, as everywhere, it's the customers who could drive this. This town is a capital city of a diverse western democracy, with assorted high tech millionaires and a pleasant and smart population. Every damn menu board is the same: soup/pasta/pizza -- cheap, easy to make and what people expect.The scents wafting out to the patios are identical. I might as well be eating at a third rate joint in Naperville, Illinois.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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I blame the fact that it's a rare restaurant GM or Ass't GM who has in-depth culinary experience. Generally speaking, most chains (and indie places too, sadly) don't look to the back of the house when it comes time to expand FOH management. It kind of makes sense, because running FOH is what FOH staff does.

But FOH generally speaking (and I know of several notable exceptions to this admittedly broad-brush statement) doesn't have the knowlege or passion to just let the kitchen do its thing, or be involved with BOH in the right ways instead of micromanaging the wrong areas; or hire cooks who really care at wages that won't cripple the bidneth every two weeks. It's a downward spiral that ends up with "fancy cooking" being the opening of two bags and not just one--all the while never seeing that if they'd just plan ahead, they could make from scratch better and cheaper.

Crying shame.

This whole love/hate thing would be a lot easier if it was just hate.

Bring me your finest food, stuffed with your second finest!

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Money. That's why. There are places that cater to those among us who are willing to spend an extra dollar or two to get a really high quality meal. But they are rarely full

The flip side is to make it as cheap as possible and turn those tables over.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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This proliferation of ill food and sub standard quality also makes it way into the baking and pastry industry as well. I run a "GOOD" pastry shop, we make everything in house. I cant say that I dont use some "convenience" products but that is not what I use as staples. There are too many places opening serving below par bakery products" : Thaw and serve cakes, cookies made by outside vendors, fillings, frostings, cake mixes all coming from a bag a box or a bucket. BJs and Costco make a better product. These places are saying things like "Wholesome baking" "Home made" and really they are opening packages from Dawn, Cheesecake Factory, etc...

If this stuff is so bad (It really is) then why are these places still in business?

"Chocolate has no calories....

Chocolate is food for the soul, The soul has no weight, therefore no calories" so said a customer, a lovely southern woman, after consuming chocolate indulgence

SWEET KARMA DESSERTS

www.sweetkarmadesserts.com

550 East Meadow Ave. East meadow, NY 11554

516-794-4478

Brian Fishman

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Not that Sysco is the epitome of artisanal ingredients, but Sysco and US Foodservice are often somewhat misunderstood. Restaurants at just about all levels use these companies as suppliers. Perhaps a restaurant like the French Laundry doesn't use Sysco, but restaurants at every other level do. You can order anything from lame frozen bar food ("Sysco Reliance") to better stuff ("Sysco Classic, Sysco Imperial") to pretty high level haute-cuisine ingredients ("Sysco Supreme" and various Sysco-owned brands for organics, etc.). It's up to the restaurant. Sysco didn't invent bad food. Food was bad before Sysco became a dominant distributor. Sysco just delivers what people order.

Sure, it's what you do with it that counts. So why do the salesmen always want to foist all this ridiculous premaid crap on you at every possible opportunity. And just who are their monkeys working to produce it. And what is with all the different minimums. They don't just deliver what people order, that's as much nonsense as what the other guy said.

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So much food sucks because that is what people are willing to pay for. Large, sucky portions on large, sucky plates served by large, sucky (or small sucky) servers who are only doing their job "till they can find something *better*".

Interesting article in the NYT today, Top Chef Dreams that talks about how much it costs a cook to enter the field thinking of it and wanting it to be a "profession" rather than a "trade".

We are an industrial country with industrial practices going on in all fields. If we want our food to be quality and artisan, we'll have to pay the actual price it costs, not only in the cost of the raw foodstuffs of excellence (unless we decide to eat beans and onions only, which are rather inexpensive) but also in that well-trained professional cooks will cost us more on our tab when their salaries hit the plate in the taste of the food.

In other words, we get what we pay for and the majority of "us" want to pay for what we are getting. Or actually "we" probably want to pay less if it were only possible. :rolleyes:

Excuse me for a moment. I have to answer the phone. It's probably someone inviting me to the "all you can eat for some exciting price" buffet.

You have those near where you live, don't you? :smile:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Excuse me for a moment. I have to answer the phone. It's probably someone inviting me to the  "all you can eat for some exciting price" buffet.

You have those near where you live, don't you?  :smile:

Of course, and it's usually pretty bad, but I have had a few decent buffets, all Asian or Indian of course, and maybe some breakfast buffets. Unfortunately every time I try to recreate those experiences I have been disappointed in recent years to the point where I don't try. There has to be some sort of middle ground for the average diner, I just hope it doesn't take place at a bar. Maybe we will continue to have to stalk out our own favorite spots, or stake one, maybe someday, after the loans are paid off and before we have too many kids.

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It's hard for people in this forum to comprehend, but most people really don't care all that much about the quality of what they eat. Also, I suspect a lot of these places make more money selling beverages and just want to offer some sort of menu for the least amount of money and effort. Their patrons don't demand anything more than that.

One other thing. In many jurisdictions, "bars" are required to serve food at some level as a condition of their liquor license. This can lead to apathetic food service.

Edited by DTBarton (log)
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It's hard for people in this forum to comprehend, but most people really don't care all that much about the quality of what they eat.  Also, I suspect a lot of these places make more money selling beverages and just want to offer some sort of menu for the least amount of money and effort.  Their patrons don't demand anything more than that.

One other thing.  In many jurisdictions, "bars" are required to serve food at some level as a condition of their liquor license.  This can lead to apathetic food service.

That's absolutely true, but what's even scarier is that many folks really, really, REALLY enjoy and expect this type of food because they’ve been conditioned from a very young age to enjoy and expect it, at least in the U.S. IMHO.

This conditioning has been done by those schools that serve mostly reheated, pre-made packaged foods; the fast food and snack food industries of course; and being raised on good old fashioned home non-cooking where mac and "cheese" came from a blue box, soup and vegetables always came from a can, and more often than not where a meal began with a trip to the freezer and a quick review of microwave instructions or the words “just add water.” Top that off with years of families eating bad mass-produced delivery pizza or Syscofied “Chinese” and “Mexican” take out. With all of that it’s really more of a mystery why the owners or managers of these restaurants and bars would even bother or take a chance screwing around with the tastes and expectations of a majority of their clientele.

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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It's hard for people in this forum to comprehend, but most people really don't care all that much about the quality of what they eat.  Also, I suspect a lot of these places make more money selling beverages and just want to offer some sort of menu for the least amount of money and effort.  Their patrons don't demand anything more than that.

One other thing.  In many jurisdictions, "bars" are required to serve food at some level as a condition of their liquor license.  This can lead to apathetic food service.

That's absolutely true, but what's even scarier is that many folks really, really, REALLY enjoy and expect this type of food because they’ve been conditioned from a very young age to enjoy and expect it, at least in the U.S. IMHO.

This conditioning has been done by those schools that serve mostly reheated, pre-made packaged foods; the fast food and snack food industries of course; and being raised on good old fashioned home non-cooking where mac and "cheese" came from a blue box, soup and vegetables always came from a can, and more often than not where a meal began with a trip to the freezer and a quick review of microwave instructions or the words “just add water.” Top that off with years of families eating bad mass-produced delivery pizza or Syscofied “Chinese” and “Mexican” take out. With all of that it’s really more of a mystery why the owners or managers of these restaurants and bars would even bother or take a chance screwing around with the tastes and expectations of a majority of their clientele.

So sad and so true. When people who only know FF then taste REAL food -- they don't like it. If I recall correctly, in a article last year in "Food Arts" it talked about how Americans are conditioned to over salted and over sweetened foods with a high fat content. Just look at the school lunch program and you don't have to wonder why you get that prison food in restaurants and you are expected to like it-and come back for more.

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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So sad and so true.  When people who only know FF then taste REAL food -- they don't like it.

I will never forget a girl I worked with somewhere around 1990. She was smart, articulate, college degree & all. She started talking about a trip to France that she'd taken, & then brought the conversation to a crashing halt with these words:

"You know, French food tastes really weird in France."

I was dumbstruck. But I realized that she was why we have much of the food that we have in US restaurants.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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It's hard for people in this forum to comprehend, but most people really don't care all that much about the quality of what they eat.  Also, I suspect a lot of these places make more money selling beverages and just want to offer some sort of menu for the least amount of money and effort.  Their patrons don't demand anything more than that.

That's absolutely true, but what's even scarier is that many folks really, really, REALLY enjoy and expect this type of food because they’ve been conditioned from a very young age to enjoy and expect it, at least in the U.S. IMHO.

Yet, when we take a moment to educate and introduce folks to a higher quality food, they do "get it" and become more adventurous and willing to seek out good food. That's my profession, but I also do it when guests come over for a simple dinner. Just two nights ago I had friends over for a meal. Throughout the meal I pulled a LeBlanc raspberry vinegar, a 25-year balsamic, and then a Cluizel chocolate. They "got it" and I know I found converts to higher quality products and hopefully a way of cooking.

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Why does so much food suck?, It's not that hard

I've been following this topic with interest.

The demise of "from scratch" preparation in many restaurants and food outlets, and the use of pre-prepared ingredients, is one of the most tragic trends in recent restaurant history.

The worst part, for me, is that anyone who works in restaurants or outlets that do this, learns almost no useful skills for the trade. You don't learn to chop, you don't learn to slice, you hardly even learn to cook beyond listening to the beep of the microwave.

The problem I have with the topic, though, is the initial premise.

Serving "Good Food" in a restaurant is hard.

It requires attention to detail, work, and commitment, at every level of the organization, from purchasing, to prep, to dish washing, to service staff.

It may not be hard for me or you to make a good clam chowder for a Friday night dinner at home. But, I don't have to worry about finding fresh clams, food cost, how long it takes, what else I have to do before service, whether the 16 year old will forget to check the steam tables and the whole batch will burn...

If you own a restaurant in a small town in the middle of the country, it's going to be a lot easier to heat up that bag of pre-made frozen Clam Chowder than to train your inexperienced staff to make it.

Not to mention the fact that much of the public has now been conditioned to enjoy pre-made, wallpaper paste-like, Clam Chowder, and would probably send back that bowl of the homemade Chowder if it were placed in front of them.

Some of the more interesting articles I've read, though, are about the School Districts which have switched to making their own meals from using pre-made. I saw a piece on CBS Sunday morning about one program where they found it actually costs less to make the meals from scratch than to buy the pre-made food. Of course they still face the challenge of selling those foods to the children.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Why does so much food suck?, It's not that hard

Some of the more interesting articles I've read, though, are about the School Districts which have switched to making their own meals from using pre-made. I saw a piece on CBS Sunday morning about one program where they found it actually costs less to make the meals from scratch than to buy the pre-made food. Of course they still face the challenge of selling those foods to the children.

I wax nostalgic to my kids about how good school lunches used to be. They were cooked right there in the school kitchen by somebody's grandma (for a few years, it was actually MY grandma), and everything was hot and fresh and very little of it made it to the trash cans. Hot rolls, cinnamon rolls, cookies, pie, all baked that day on-premises.

Now the food's trucked in from a central "processing facility" in big metal carts, and they just pull the styrofoam cartons out of the carts and hand them to the kids. Very few of the schools even have a functioning kitchen.

My younger daughter won't eat the school lunches, she'd rather take a sandwich or pita pocket or roll-up from home. My older daughter will eat on "delivery pizza" day, but takes her lunch and supplements from the middle-school ala carte items (nachos, slushies, cookies, and other forms of crap).

The fact of the matter is here in Wichita, something like 80% of the public school students get free or reduced lunches, and the district is providing bare-minimum nutrition for whatever the government pays them. They're not going to spend extra in pay and benefits to staff the 60-70 school buildings with cooks.

And outside the educational/institutional setting, buy a meal at about 80% of the restaurants in your town, and have a good look at the presentation/assembly. I stopped at Taco Bell for lunch (Yes, I know I'm part of the problem - it was on the way, it was fast, and I was hungry!), and it looked like a 6-year-old had prepared it. Tasted like it, too. I probably should have just gone home and opened a can of soup for all the enjoyment it gave me.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

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Well, the things the OP ordered are things that are easier to do poorly than to do correctly. Forgive me for stating the obvious here. I'd imagine it's easy to not change the frying oil a couple of times, and fried food that's been left to sit easier than frying to order. As for pizza, it's certainly easier to heat up prefab than it is to make from scratch, which would be impractical for a non pizza specific place. As for sushi, well, doing sushi well is hard. So I think it's pretty easy to see why that round of food would suck.

Alot of American palates are conditioned around food that we as eGulleters thumb our noses at. It's not going to change. I know that the only thing I can do is choose to support the places I really beleive in when I do eat out. That's why I can name 30 restaurants in my area I would like to eat at before I get to a single chain restaurant (except Chipotle :wub: ). I'm constantly sharing these places with my freinds and family, fighting the good fight. So if where I choose to spend my dining dollars has any impact as a vote, I'm voting for the places that care, the places where the food doesn't suck.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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I see it as a vast political issue, a product of the consumer culture we live in. It will take a lot of education for the mind and the palette of the average American to change.

It takes books like Fast Food Nation, Omnivore's Dilemma, and Kitchen Confidential to open people's eyes to the business of food and how that business translates to the ultimate loss of money from their pocket and loss of the quality of their lives.

The average American believes in the payoff of his food -- it's fast, it's cheap, it's my way, it's comfortingly the same wherever I go, it's clean because it's wrapped in cellophane. Look at that guy on the food channel, the one with the impossibly fake smile who shows you the crusty hoppers of blue sugar spinning gumballs of chemicals with great excitement. This is who we are, he says, we are fun people!

We've come to accept a passivity about life, we work hard and we deserve to be entertained. When I come home, I'm too tired to cook. Forget about the fact that one of the main purposes of life, and of working, is eating. We have to eat. We expend a lot of energy to make that happen, but we don't really accept that. We want to believe there's so much more. Fame, fortune, self fulfillment!!!

I wish I could remember the statistic, but the average American spends like 8% of his income on food while the average European spends like 25% of his income on food.

I was really lucky, my parents had this weird food thing going. They really enjoyed food and saw it as a pursuit. They never ate out, people didn't do that back then and there. My mom was a good cook and she sought out quality ingredients. We went to the Polish butcher on the other side of town. We went to a farm out in the country to get our eggs. My parents made tomato sauce from the garden tomatoes. My mom made pie with lard. My dad made root beer in the basement. Etc. blah blah blah.

So, I think I blame ourselves, ultimately, because we're falling for the whole thing.

:huh:

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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Well, the things the OP ordered are things that are easier to do poorly than to do correctly.  Forgive me for stating the obvious here.  I'd imagine it's easy to not change the frying oil a couple of times, and fried food that's been left to sit easier than frying to order.  As for pizza, it's certainly easier to heat up prefab than it is to make from scratch, which would be impractical for a non pizza specific place.  As for sushi, well, doing sushi well is hard.  So I think it's pretty easy to see why that round of food would suck.

Alot of American palates are conditioned around food that we as eGulleters thumb our noses at.  It's not going to change.  I know that the only thing I can do is choose to support the places I really beleive in when I do eat out.  That's why I can name 30 restaurants in my area I would like to eat at before I get to a single chain restaurant (except Chipotle  :wub: ).  I'm constantly sharing these places with my freinds and family, fighting the good fight.  So if where I choose to spend my dining dollars has any impact as a vote, I'm voting for the places that care, the places where the food doesn't suck.

I understand that some of us do thumb our noses at food or whatever, but I'm not in that mix. It might not be fair to generalize to that extent. I like thumb nosing food. I like nosed thumb food. I like some kinds of crappy food and I ain't afraid to say so. And I don't thumb my nose at anything.

signed,

an eGulleter

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