The Biggest Mistakes Restaurant Kitchens Make, According to Chefs
It doesn't take a culinary degree to tell when a restaurant makes a mistake, but there's no one more familiar with the common kitchen fails than the folks who struggle not to make them. With the promise of anonymity and infinite gratitude, we reached out to a group of industry professionals to find out the most frequent pitfalls faced by restaurant cooks. Restaurateurs, please take note, and learn to cook a burger correctly, dammit.
Going too broad in ethnic food categories
Although it's a reality that ethnic restaurants make compromises to please their clientele, too often a Chinese restaurant will offer 200 dishes when the chef's specialty is Szechuan and they only truly know how to cook a fourth of the menu.
Ignoring local culinary resources
Restaurants in cities with large hispanic populations shouldn't use store-bought tortillas.
Having a poor searing technique
Chef David Guas, author of Grill Nation and owner of Bayou Bakery in DC, went on record with his frustration over improperly grilled proteins. "I notice that quite a few kitchens turn over protein too often when searing which eliminates the chance of getting a nice crispy exterior."
Serving coagulated dips
Cold queso is unforgivable.
Refusing minor substitutions
Chefs have specific visions for their dishes, but when ego stands in the way of a customer's experience, they've gone too far. Of course there are exceptions for dishes that wouldn't function without specific ingredients, but it's a mistake not to do everything possible to please the folks paying the bills.
Letting soups sit
No matter how "of the day" it is, soup is often an afterthought. Once it's simmering, the only real legwork is ladling it into a bowl, which some chefs can still manage to mess up. "You cannot keep a soup on the hot line for a long time as it can form a coating on top, especially gumbo," says chef Austin Kirzner from Red Fish Grill in New Orleans. "Soup needs to be ladled and served a la minute."
If there's no crunch to a piece of broccoli, it's been cooked too long.
Lying about local
"Farm-to-table" is one of those buzzwords that's nearly lost all meaning thanks to a class of mediocre restaurants that use the label as an excuse to overcharge for mediocre food.
Undercooking French fries
If McDonald's can make a perfect fry, there's no excuse for a kitchen not to nail a crispy texture.
Everyone eats at different speeds, which is why it's important to err on the side of quickness. It's rare that a customers meal will be ruined by dishes dropping too fast, but slow service is a sure way to make a negative impression.
Slicing steaks incorrectly
Customers pay such a premium for steaks that it's a cardinal sin not to cut them properly. "It's surprising that so many restaurants still don't realize that you should cut the steak against the grain (not with it) to shorten the muscle fibers and make the meat less chewy," says chef Joe Palma of Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, DC.
Cooking a medium-rare burger isn't an impossible challenge, but the fail rate on burger temperatures is astonishing. Resting it is equally important, or else the customer is likely to end up with a mouthful of blood.
Putting quotations around the word "cheeseburger" isn't enough of a clue that the dish is actually a pork meatloaf with a dill pickle, ramekin of mustard, and two slices of brioche. If a dish is so "creative" that it's unrecognizable, it won't satisfy the craving of the person ordering it.
Not deboning salmon
A fillet of fish often hides a spine's worth of tiny pin bones, which aren't fun to chew on. "Take the time and get your tweezers out and properly de-bone the fish," says chef/owner Steve McHugh of Cured in San Antonio.
Cleaning vegetables incorrectly
The popularity of seasonal cooking means chefs are playing with ingredients they might not truly understand. It's especially necessary to properly clean and prep root vegetables to achieve the right texture.
Overusing inedible garnishes
We're past the point of putting lipstick on a roast pig -- it's no longer obligatory to ring a plate in curly parsley.
Using mayo as a shortcut for sauces
Faking a béarnaise sauce by mixing oil, mayo, and tarragon might fool some diners, but mayo's inability to stand up to heat means it's going to break apart as soon as it hits a hot piece of meat.
Refusing to choose a direction for a dish
There's a time and place for kitchen-sink cooking techniques, but too often overly modern kitchens serve dishes that don't have a clear direction and rely on gimmicks to tie things together. Not every dish needs a hero ingredient, but without a clear intention to the dish it's hard for a diner to know what they're supposed to be tasting.
Relying on one flavor profile to power a fusion restaurant
If every dish at a Korean-fusion restaurant is covered in gochujang sauce, it means that the chef doesn't have a broad-enough understanding of the country's cuisine to craft a well-rounded menu.
Following the fads
Just because a dish looked great on Mind of a Chef doesn't mean it needs to be served in every restaurant in America.
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Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. The biggest mistake he sees restaurants make is touching the top of his water glass. Follow him to gross gross gross at @Dannosphere.