Failing restaurants on the brink of closure ask Gordon to visit their restaurant and help them turn their business around. They usually feel that the problems are outside their establishment. Generally, it turns out the problems are inside their restaurant.
The very first step that Gordon takes is to sit down at a table in the restaurant and order several different dishes. He often asks questions of the wait staff about freshness, their suggestions, and their favorites, as well as customers' responses to their signature dishes.
Quite often, even after the owners have assured him that they only serve the freshest ingredients, he's served something that was frozen then microwaved. The "tells" are the bread, the salads, the soups, the side dishes, the main dishes, and desserts. Everything, right? Of course, one thing is connected to the next.
Just as a chef must cook with passion and an interest in food and nutrition, so does the average person. If you don't care about your diet and what you put into your body, it will eventually show.
The bread should be whole grain, interesting as well as fresh. I like bread that needs to be chewed. Good bread dipped into a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar just simply gets better; the taste is not disguised.
Salads should have a variety of greens and other fresh vegetables as well as nuts and croutons available. Dressings can be easily made of different ingredients to reflect a theme. For example if your region is in the middle of raspberry season, you could have fresh raspberries added to the salad along with raspberry vinaigrette to foreshadow fresh raspberries for dessert.
I was dining with friends in Beverly Hills at a restaurant, La Maison du Caviar (The House of Caviar). The caviar was wonderful of course and the steak was fantastic, but for me what stood out was their vegetables. I wanted more. They were well seasoned, but not overly so and still had snap. They were simply green beans, but the simply means they were treated with respect. The restaurant is gone now, but still operating in Paris.
Great restaurants serve interesting vegetables. For example, baked root vegetables (carrots, beets, parsnips, cauliflower, eggplant, broccoli, leeks, etc.) from local farmers markets are an excellent choice. Main dishes, again reflecting local freshness, should feature seafoods or farm raised meats such as pork, beef, and/or lamb. Desserts featuring local fruits can be beautifully healthful as well as tasty.
Sanitation is just as important at home as it is at a restaurant. Buy fresh and transport it safely. If you reuse canvas shopping bags, be careful to make sure you keep them clean. The Chicago Tribune reported a study by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University. People were queried about their shopping bag habits. Shoppers used the same bags for meat as they did for vegetables and fruit, as well as non-edibles like books. 84 shopping bags were analyzed. All but one showed signs of bacteria and half showed signs of coliform bacteria. This means dangerous bacteria. 12% of the bags tested had traces of E. coli.
Shopping bags as well as refrigerators, countertops, and cutting boards all need to be cleaned after use and on a regular schedule. If you put clean fruits and vegetables onto or under a refrigerator shelf that contains raw seafood or meat, you are taking a chance with the health of everyone who dines with you.
My favorite example of using simple fresh food and seasoning was when Gordon compared a chef's pea soup with 13 or 14 ingredients to his pureed pea soup made of fresh green peas with a little salt and pepper. Boiling the peas in water or broth was the only other ingredient. Guess which was preferred? The bright green pea soup made from fresh peas, of course.
Seasoning is kind of like life, you add it to enhance the flavor, not to hide it. Allow your culinary efforts to produce dreamy food, and stay away from kitchen nightmares . . . except to learn from them.
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