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Things restaurants buy and things they make


Fat Guy
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A couple of recent discussions about cheese and bread got me thinking about things restaurants buy versus things they make.

Needless to say, across the spectrum of restaurants, there are differences. In the first instance I'm focusing on fine-dining restaurants, though we can discuss them all of course.

Anyway, it seems to be a given that a fine-dining restaurant will make its own food. However, upon examination, this is not exactly the case. Rare is a restaurant that makes its own cheese, for example. And purchased bread is common even at some of the very best restaurants. These items are served without particular intervention by the restaurant (as opposed to, say, beef).

Beverages, needless to say, tend to be purchased. Except for bar drinks, which are mixed on premises. And iced tea, at least in North America.

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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Making cheese doesn't make sense for a restaurant (except fresh cheeses, which some restaurants do make). Many cheeses are aged for extended periods of time, their flavour depends on the élevage of the animals, etc...

It would be like a restaurant making their own wine - possible, but a waste. On the other hand, bread is easy to make very well, and any restaurant that doesn't make it in-house is just lazy...

In fine dining, everything is made in house except dairy products (although we did make our own crème fraîche) and some charcuterie (we also did some though). Booze is obviously bought, as were most beverages (lazy bar staff... :hmmm: ).

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I'm not sure I agree that bread is easy to make very well. It's a technically involved specialty product that a dedicated operation should be able to make better than a place that makes it on the side. I imagine this is why some restaurants even at the level of Jean Georges buy their bread instead of making it.

Gelato is another example. A lot of restaurants just are not equipped to make gelato and sorbetto as well as dedicated operations.

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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I'm not sure I agree that bread is easy to make very well. It's a technically involved specialty product that a dedicated operation should be able to make better than a place that makes it on the side. I imagine this is why some restaurants even at the level of Jean Georges buy their bread instead of making it.

Gelato is another example. A lot of restaurants just are not equipped to make gelato and sorbetto as well as dedicated operations.

Well, I guess I should have said that bread isn't too difficult for a high calibre restaurant to make well. The breads I've tasted from 'artisan' bakeries don't compare to the breads made at most of the restaurants I worked. Then again, there aren't many great bakeries around here. I suspect restaurants buying bread has alot to do with a lack of qualified staff, not to mention space is limited in a restaurant, and there are never enough ovens in a restaurant...

I'm not Italian so I can't comment on gelato (never had it, don't know what it's supposed to taste like), but I'll comment on iced cream and sorbets. The stuff I've made in restaurants (as well as doing hotline, savoury foods, I'm also a pastry chef) is much better than what I've ever had out of a container. Could just be my experience (I haven't tasted a ton of retail products), but I do think doing it yourself is better. Iced cream at a dedicated stand is another thing, but that kind of experience doesn't necessarily travel well... (the temperature you serve iced cream at is a huge factor in how it tastes, as is the amount of air in it)

If a restaurant isn't doing bread or iced creams/sorbets, it is more than likely is because their staff aren't skilled in those areas... (I've known executive chefs who couldn't bake bread or make iced cream...)

Edited by Mikeb19 (log)
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Bread also requires special equipment, which there may not be space for in a restaurant in a city like NY. I don't hold it against a restaurant if they buy in the bread, BUT they better be honest about it!

Pasta is something that a lot of bistro-level places seem to buy in, especially if there's a really good pasta shop in town. Or restaurants might get the good pasta shop to make special filled or flavored pastas according to their own recipes.

An entire dessert buy-in program often results in a crap product, in my experience. If nothing sweet is made in-house, then there's probably nobody on staff knowledgeable enough to keep on top of it. There are some exceptions, and I know some great pastry chefs who work hard supplying dessert menus to good restaurants, but I still think the quality often suffers without thorough oversight of how the products are stored and served.

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Beverages, needless to say, tend to be purchased. Except for bar drinks, which are mixed on premises.
Aren't most bartenders using purchased mixers? A notable exception here in Washington is Todd Thrasher, the drinks master at Restaurant Eve, who makes all his own juices and elixers, including tonic. Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Right, and if you look at certain types of restaurants you'll find that everything can be made off premises and simply heated for service. It's actually impressive what they can do in this regard. The pages of Food Arts are full of ads for pre-fab stuff that's targeted at upper-middle-market restaurants.

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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I'm not sure I agree that bread is easy to make very well. It's a technically involved specialty product that a dedicated operation should be able to make better than a place that makes it on the side. I imagine this is why some restaurants even at the level of Jean Georges buy their bread instead of making it.

Well, I guess I should have said that bread isn't too difficult for a high calibre restaurant to make well. The breads I've tasted from 'artisan' bakeries don't compare to the breads made at most of the restaurants I worked. Then again, there aren't many great bakeries around here. I suspect restaurants buying bread has alot to do with a lack of qualified staff, not to mention space is limited in a restaurant, and there are never enough ovens in a restaurant...

If Jean Georges wanted to make his own bread (of the same quality he is currently serving) he would need at the minimum a steam-injection oven (big investment), an area to accomodate a large mixer and cutter, a baker as well as an area cool enough to allow the slow rises necessary for the dough to develop the required character/flavor.

All of that to produce a product similar to what he can buy with none of that overhead. I thought the bread he served me was perfect; petit pain ordinaire; flour, water, salt & yeast; complex flavor with perfect consistancy.

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The last time I checked -- and this information could easily be out of date -- Jean Georges was getting its rolls from Le Pain Quotidien (Alain Coumont), which baked a special run of rolls (usually they only sell whole loaves) for Vongerichten, Portale, and just a couple of other clients. In my opinion Alain Coumont is one of the great bakers, and Jean Georges serves better bread than almost every other restaurant in town.

Three New York restaurants with, in my opinion, better bread than Jean Georges, however, are Per Se, Daniel and the now-defunct Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. All three of those restaurants do (or did) in-house bread baking at great expense. I think it may make economic sense for Per Se to do it because Thomas Keller is also administering Bouchon Bakery, and I think the bakery operation at Daniel supplies some of Boulud's other places around town. At Ducasse, it was just an outright huge expenditure but they insisted, and I though the little baguettes, epis, and brioches were definitive. Oddly, I'm pretty sure Cafe Gray has a full-blown commercial bakery steam oven but doesn't bake its own bread. However, the bread service there is really nice.

So, I think the very best bread in town is indeed the bread baked in the very best restaurants, however you can operate very near that level with purchased bread if you're in New York City or another place with serious commercial bakeries that take their craft seriously and deliver twice a day to their restaurant clients.

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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Right, and if you look at certain types of restaurants you'll find that everything can be made off premises and simply heated for service. It's actually impressive what they can do in this regard. The pages of Food Arts are full of ads for pre-fab stuff that's targeted at upper-middle-market restaurants.

It drives me crazy when I find a "wood burning oven" place that can't be bothered to make their own pizza dough! They spend the money to put in a wood burning oven but go to "Restaurant Depot" to buy frozen pizza dough. Amazingly, I was at a Wolfgang Puck franchise that did the same thing. Wolfgang is famous for his pizzas, they're a big part of the menu and yet he doesn't have them make their own dough to his specifications or even ship them HIS pizza dough frozen. Crazy.

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Iced cream at a dedicated stand is another thing, but that kind of experience doesn't necessarily travel well... (the temperature you serve iced cream at is a huge factor in how it tastes, as is the amount of air in it)

I think this picks up on a regional distinction, which is that in some places a restaurant has little choice but to make its own everything if it wants those things to be really good, whereas in other places the commercial suppliers are so good that the bar the restaurants need to clear is very high. If you're in New York City and you're operating a restaurant, and you decide to make your own bread or your own ice cream/gelato/sorbetto, then you've got to be prepared to bake better bread than Balthazar, and you've got to be prepared to do better frozen desserts than Il Laboratorio del Gelato. Those products are so good that a restaurant needs some serious resources and dedication if it wants to do better. A few restaurants pull it off, but far more places try to pull it off yet would actually be better off buying those products.

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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I think this picks up on a regional distinction, which is that in some places a restaurant has little choice but to make its own everything if it wants those things to be really good, whereas in other places the commercial suppliers are so good that the bar the restaurants need to clear is very high.

I'd like to add that not only does it have to taste better, but it has to be cost effective, as well. Sometimes it's cheaper to outsource it and it doesn't taste half bad so it'll do.

 

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Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

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Tim Oliver

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Per Se has a dedicated bakery which, if i understand correctly, is a money loser. They more than make up for that with private functions (huge revenue, less work for the restaurant overall). Cafe Gray doesn't have a full blown steam oven. That was a lost cause from the beginning with so much kitchen space in the back given up for front of house and open kitchen.

But, as stated above, the overhead necessary to make good quality bread is a deal breaker particularly in New York City where real estate is so expensive.

Ice cream and sorbets, however, require a lot less overhead and are fairly easy to make in house. Where you run into problems is with the health department of different states. In California in particular, you need a dedicated room for your ice cream machine. Most people just lie about it. It comes with working with dairy products...surprisingly hazardous when not handled correctly.

Robuchon in NYC makes their bread in house as well (from what I remember). But I would have to say that the majority of middle range restaurants and some high end restaurants buy their bread.

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Beverages, needless to say, tend to be purchased. Except for bar drinks, which are mixed on premises.
Aren't most bartenders using purchased mixers? A notable exception here in Washington is Todd Thrasher, the drinks master at Restaurant Eve, who makes all his own juices and elixers, including tonic.

I think Pegu Club in NYC is another bar that makes quite a bit of their own mixers and drink flavorings.

Nowadays with the trend toward naming your bartender a "mixologist" and the desire to have cool signature cocktails, many bars are at least infusing some of their own vodkas, etc. Juice should be squeezed fresh and most of the drinks that they're creating aren't using a ton of mixers...like, you shouldn't have margarita mix behind the counter at a high end bar unless they're making it themselves fresh everyday.

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Until recently we baked our own bread(foccacia, ciabatta), a 50 seat restaurant. The task was put to a person who did it 3 days a week in addition to pastry and cold prep. The cost of each loaf was roughly .45(@3#). the owners want to try buyiing(from Pan D'Auvignon no less) to see if its more cost effective. My math says it will be an added expense, but its their call.

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Things i buy...

1) Cheese Biscuits

2) Dried Pasta as a standby for kids

3) Smoked Duck (does this count?)

4) Mayonaise (well actually i steal it from the sandwhich shop opposite)Don't use that much and he's got loads! Food Safety dictates this

5) I'm sure there's more.

As long as a restaurant is honest about it's practices, then i have no problem with them buying in the whole menu.I won't be eating there.But fundementally, i want to eat dishes made in house,and that includes bread , petit fours and icecream.

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Hello-I have pointed this out in other threads :there is a restaurant in Detroit, MI. that makes its own cheese, its own bread, and its own beer.It occures to me that perhaps the only reasons they can afford to do this are: 1)They have a very large dining area(which in one section has a small up-stairs area) And, 2)They also have long lines of patrons waiting for seats. :cool:

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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