Friday, October 16, 2009

Restaurant Food

About a month ago my friend L. came for dinner and told me all about this restaurant she had gone to where she was served a salad with a very tasty dressing. She could not for the life of her identify the taste in the dressing and asked me what I thought it could be. She thinks the secret to restaurant food is not necessarily great cookery but certain ingredients that the home cook would not even think of trying. I suppose she's partly right. I told her that last season at our resto we tried to make an asian dressing by turning sweet chili sauce (you know, the stuff you dip your springrolls in) into dressing by diluting it slightly with water, adding lemon juice and whisking in oil until emulsified. Then I pulled from the fridge a bottle of sweet chili sauce, the same one we buy for our resto, and had her taste it. Her eyes widened in surprise when she recognized it was indeed the same taste from her salad dressing the previous night. She examined the bottle and admitted to never seeing it before, asked me where I bought it. "Sobeys" I said, and continued "You have to be looking for it though, in order to find it, it's not exactly a food item that jumps out at you."

I like having the skill, however limited at the moment, to manipulate ordinary food into a final product that can wow. I also like being able to show people how simple cooking can be, and how tasty, if one would only try experimenting with ingredients. Instead of seasoning your pork chop with salt and pepper and grilling it, why not try smearing it with some dijon mustard and sprinkling some herbs on top (say.. thyme) and giving it a good sear in your pan before sticking it in the oven? I guarantee you it will not be the same pork chop you are used to eating. If you like salads, make your own vinaigrette in a jiffy with whatever you have in the fridge. You're afraid of vinagirettes because they sound so fancy? Make it simple. You eat jam, jelly or whatever you wanna call it? Take a spoonful of that, add in a little mustard, a splash of vinegar (hopefully you have something other than white vinegar on hand), whisk in some oil (the same quantity as the jelly and vinegar combined) and you've got your dressing. Sure you can make the vinaigrette with fresh raspberries in a blender, but if you don't have 'em, try jelly. If you don't like it, oh well, don't repeat it. At least you tried it! Don't be afraid to experiment.

Oh and the other thing restaurants do that the home cook rarely does?? Sauces. There is sauce on every single entree that leaves the restaurant window. Whether it's jus, mustard sauce, cream sauce, brown butter with almond sauce, tomato sauce with black olives, maroccan sauce, chutney topping, or mango salsa, there's always sauce on the plate. I think sauce is one of the most neglected food by people cooking at home. Show of hands... how many of you so much as think of adding a sauce to go with your chicken and mash potato?? How about for your grilled salmon and steamed rice? Most people when cooking try to balance carbs with proteins and vegetables but rarely do they think their plate lacks a sauce.

I don't want to generalize my statement and say it applies to all people who are not professional cooks, it was merely an observation based on the many different home dinners I've been invited to up to this point in my life. Interestingly enough, my dinner invitations from friends have become rather sparse since I've started cooking professionally. Come to think of it the only household I still eat at, aside from mine, is my mother-in-law's. I wonder why, it's not like I ever make comments about the food nor do I have certain expectations when it comes to the food I am given. I hope they're not all reading this post, it'll definitely not get me invited over! It's ok folks, I can make the sauce if you'd like and bring it with me. Let's eat together, shall we?!?

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