The fish specialty is reasonably priced, and the place got two stars in the Times. Why not go for it? If you like four-day-old fish, be my guest. Hereâ€™s how things usually work. The chef orders his seafood for the weekend on Thursday night. It arrives on Friday morning. Heâ€™s hoping to sell the bulk of it on Friday and Saturday nights, when he knows that the restaurant will be busy, and heâ€™d like to run out of the last few orders by Sunday evening. Many fish purveyors donâ€™t deliver on Saturday, so the chances are that the Monday-night tuna you want has been kicking around in the kitchen since Friday morning, under God knows what conditions. When a kitchen is in full swing, proper refrigeration is almost nonexistent, what with the many openings of the refrigerator door as the cooks rummage frantically during the rush, mingling your tuna with the chicken, the lamb, or the beef. Even if the chef has ordered just the right amount of tuna for the weekend, and has had to reorder it for a Monday delivery, the only safeguard against the seafood supplierâ€™s off-loading junk is the presence of a vigilant chef who can make sure that the delivery is fresh from Sunday nightâ€™s market.
Generally speaking, the good stuff comes in on Tuesday: the seafood is fresh, the supply of prepared food is new, and the chef, presumably, is relaxed after his day off. (Most chefs donâ€™t work on Monday.) Chefs prefer to cook for weekday customers rather than for weekenders, and they like to start the new week with their most creative dishes. In New York, locals dine during the week. Weekends are considered amateur nightsâ€”for tourists, rubes, and the well-done-ordering pretheatre hordes. The fish may be just as fresh on Friday, but itâ€™s on Tuesday that youâ€™ve got the good will of the kitchen on your side.
People who order their meat well-done perform a valuable service for those of us in the business who are cost-conscious: they pay for the privilege of eating our garbage. In many kitchens, thereâ€™s a time-honored practice called â€œsave for well-done.â€ When one of the cooks finds a particularly unlovely piece of steakâ€”tough, riddled with nerve and connective tissue, off the hip end of the loin, and maybe a little stinky from ageâ€”heâ€™ll dangle it in the air and say, â€œHey, Chef, whaddya want me to do with this?â€ Now, the chef has three options. He can tell the cook to throw the offending item into the trash, but that means a total loss, and in the restaurant business every item of cut, fabricated, or prepared food should earn at least three times the amount it originally cost if the chef is to make his correct food-cost percentage. Or he can decide to serve that steak to â€œthe familyâ€â€”that is, the floor staffâ€”though that, economically, is the same as throwing it out. But no. What heâ€™s going to do is repeat the mantra of cost-conscious chefs everywhere: â€œSave for well-done.â€ The way he figures it, the philistine who orders his food well-done is not likely to notice the difference between food and flotsam.
Then there are the People Who Brunch. The â€œBâ€ word is dreaded by all dedicated cooks. We hate the smell and spatter of omelettes. We despise hollandaise, home fries, those pathetic fruit garnishes, and all the other clichÃ© accompaniments designed to induce a credulous public into paying $12.95 for two eggs. Nothing demoralizes an aspiring Escoffier faster than requiring him to cook egg-white omelettes or eggs over easy with bacon. You can dress brunch up with all the focaccia, smoked salmon, and caviar in the world, but itâ€™s still breakfast.
Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining publicâ€”and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegansâ€”as enemies of everything thatâ€™s good and decent in the human spirit. To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish cheeks, sausages, cheese, or organ meats is treasonous.
Like most other chefs I know, Iâ€™m amused when I hear people object to pork on nonreligious grounds. â€œSwine are filthy animals,â€ they say. These people have obviously never visited a poultry farm. Chickenâ€”Americaâ€™s favorite foodâ€”goes bad quickly; handled carelessly, it infects other foods with salmonella; and it bores the hell out of chefs. It occupies its ubiquitous place on menus as an option for customers who canâ€™t decide what they want to eat. Most chefs believe that supermarket chickens in this country are slimy and tasteless compared with European varieties. Pork, on the other hand, is cool. Farmers stopped feeding garbage to pigs decades ago, and even if you eat pork rare youâ€™re more likely to win the Lotto than to contract trichinosis. Pork tastes different, depending on what you do with it, but chicken always tastes like chicken.
08 Jun 2018