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About cook education, Chef’s experience and the realities of today’s restaurant market in Ukraine on the way to Europe (part 1)

Thoughts and stories from the notebooks of an experienced chef.
Many, including myself, as a young Chef professed maximalism. On the one hand, it’s great. This is the spring that makes young people strive for the heights of the profession. But sometimes it spills over to extremes. Many of which (albeit in a somewhat hypertrophied form) have already managed to publicize in television shows. By creating a false image of professional work. A vivid example can be considered a show with the legendary Michelin chef Gordon Ramsay. Similar “hellish” moments were in my practice. But this is rather a short-term stress caused by a combination of circumstances, aggravated by non-professional actions of the team, and especially the boss himself. I mean the experience of leadership and planning, as one of the main tools of the Chef’s work, which appears over time. With the understanding that all cooks are different. And do not demand masterpieces, albeit from a very conscientious, honest, experienced, “strong” artisan. Moreover, if you know that instead of a cook, you have a steelmaker who can spoil even the most unkillable dish with his skill, such as “uniform coat” potatoes.

After all, we do not demand in life from a person who has a very mediocre hearing and voice to sing at an office party, and even ask him to be silent altogether, at a time when he is bursting with “fulfillment”! Through the method of “cone-filling”, we come to the realization that not everyone, or rather no one, thinks like us. And in order to allow ourselves to occasionally “relax the bread”, we must arrange the work in such a way that every nuance, every movement, the staff learned and worked out in accordance with our understanding and level of quality. This is our zone of responsibility. Therefore, the question of whether young employees should perfectly master the basics of the profession, or immediately begin to “create,” is not worth me. My vision can be easily illustrated with a bearded Odessa joke.

– Monya, tell me, do you know how to play rags?

– Sonia, honestly, I do not know, I have not tried it yet …

So, both techniques and ideas are good when they grow from a good, strong foundation – basic skills. This idea was given to me by the “old people” when the first time, as a trainee at a vocational school, I entered the professional kitchen. It was back in 1982. By that time I could already consider myself a cook. By coincidence, I became him in the army, preparing for five months for a soldier’s construction brigade in the field. Moreover, he was chosen, or rather appointed to the position of cook, by the officers’ council, who tried my cooking. Because they all ate from one boiler. And right after the army, (I was demobilized on the fifth of November, and already the fifteenth,) I was enrolled in a cook group (specializing in Cook – Nutritionist) in Kharkov vocational school under the management of OP. In school, a week of theory alternated with a week of practice.

And so one of the senior cooks “chose me” as an intern. A very colorful and significant conversation took place between us, which largely determined my attitude to the cook profession. I will try to convey it in its entirety, literally. The cook herself recommended:

-I am Faya’s grandmother. And what’s your name?

-Sasha.

“Is this your first time in the kitchen?”

– On this one, yes. (And the case was in the hot shop of the Kharkov Institute of Highways, where more than two and a half thousand students and employees ate lunch).

– Well, Sasha, I have to tell you something. When I was as young as you are now, having come to the kitchen as a completely green girl, my grandfather Anton took me to his students. And he said these words to me:

“Faya, remember what I’ll say, and when you are an experienced master, you will have a student.” And before you start teaching him, tell him what my teacher once told me:

– A real Chef should even boil an egg so that he has a fat left!

“Remember this, Sasha, and you will be able to teach your students when the time comes!”

Honestly, the whole depth of what was said was revealed to me years later, when it came to understand that gratitude, including material reward for the Good, comes along with the fact that you become a Real Cook, a strong professional, put your soul into work.

Aleksander_Bats.jpg
But on this basis, when there is self-education, an interest in innovations in technology, the latest kitchen appliances, trends in the development of global restaurant fashion, those who are later called Maestro, Master, Chef are born and grow up!

I do not know how this happens with others. But I know that if I really want to try something new, then there is always an “apple”, you just have to be ready to “turn your head” like in a story about Isaac Newton and the Law of Universal Gravity.

And then an image is created inside you, where there is a “product” in complete harmony: taste, color, smell, texture. And with the external “p…

And then an image is created inside you, where there is a “product” in complete harmony: taste, color, smell, texture. And with the external “presentation”, or the design of the visual effect, you can already “play around” depending on the style of the establishment or the general concept of the restaurant being formed.

And I assure you that such a widespread culinary masterpiece as properly cooked mashed potatoes is equally highly valued both in the Bistro and in the five-star Michelin-starred restaurant. Although its design and method of presentation can be very different.

The main thing remains TASTE and FRESHNESS of the dish, its QUALITY. There are thousands of examples where a chicly designed, but tasteless, fashionable composition of exotic ingredients (for “sick” money) turns the client away from the establishment for a long time, if not forever. And neither fashionable designer interior bells and whistles nor “compliments from the chef” save the situation either in excuse.

Similarly, a tiny cafe without intricate frills, but stable in quality in the chosen market niche, can tie an extensive customer base for many years, when the tradition is passed from one generation to another. And this happens in the case when a reasonable price policy is tied to high quality food, if HOSPITALITY AS A LIFESTYLE of the staff of the institution works. It is felt right away.

Similar institutions (often family-owned, in the sense of management) are already appearing in Ukraine that have “Own History and Own Visitors,” and many have already embarked on the path of creating the so-called “Family restaurants” in which you can eat very tastyly and comfortably time for both parents and children.

On the other hand, chain restaurant projects are gaining momentum, where unified “fashion-chip” menus with standard averaged (extremely simplified) service and “affordable” dishes with very fast delivery are at the forefront. The interiors are changing, slightly – the format of sales or services, as if the concept is varied. And on the menu, under various tricked names – a couple of modified “battered” Caesars with Greek, a natural cutlet with grilled bone, plus vegetables. Plus bread cakes with fillings, plus variations of buns with meatballs, plus crumpled boiled rice with slightly indicated questioning quality seafood.

Here I certainly exaggerate, not everything is so bad and not everyone works like that. As elsewhere, each type of restaurant, or other HOREC segment, has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, there are places where people go to chat, “hang out”, where there is free Internet, their own (mostly youth) audience, for which the taste and quality of food are not a determining factor. Young people with unspent health and a seething hormonal background at first do not pay attention to this. But she does not stay in them for a long time.

If in the early post-Soviet years, crowds threw themselves into restaurants “buzz, get high, break away from the shovel of life”, then over the years many of the “buzzing” establishments disappeared into the stream of life, having failed to adapt, to adapt to keep up with the times. Not many “Mammoths or Whales” in the Elite Class segment, which have maintained the highest quality standards and are not particularly concerned about pricing, have defended their positions. But unfortunately, very few can afford them (max. 2% of customers). Economic, cultural, technological changes in the world revived the previously not so demanded segment of the food market – public institutions, referred to in the Western manner as Fast Food. Two decades later, the shovels “Dumplings”, “Cheburechnye”, “Dining rooms” and “Buffets” and their imported varieties: “Shawarma”, “Burger”, “Takeaway BBQ”, “Coffee on the Road” and others.

But no matter what type of institution we choose, the main character in play, on whose work the success of the institution depends, is the COOK, his qualifications, conscientiousness, way of thinking or education.

For the reputation of the kitchen, which on the word of mouth instantly becomes the property of a potential customer base, depends on the manner in which its creative or professional potential is formed. Therefore, before “risking” and bringing visitors to the court “newfangled, quickly baked or raw” (in the sense of not fully worked out) according to the technology or concept of the dish, it’s worth seriously thinking. In particular, new opening establishments that do not have a stable guest structure, are not included in any stable restaurant group, headed by an experienced team of managers and chefs who can afford experiments on the verge between business and art.

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