In the world of tight margins, the convenience of frozen food, and empty dining rooms, it’s not surprising that passion is sometimes lost in the kitchen. Chefs falling out of love with their food is not uncommon, and quality (not to mention their confidence) plummets as a result. So how do you create an unadulterated love for food within a restaurant’s kitchen and its chefs?
Get excited about what’s in season
Seasonality is synonymous with freshness and a knowledge for what’s good at any given time of the year. But don’t think that means it’s solely for the consumer – good chefs have more of a fondness for the seasons than any punter. West House chef-patron Graham Garrett once told me how, in the old days, strawberries and asparagus were on the menu 12 months a year. Even so, he’d rather cook with ‘amazing asparagus’ six weeks a year than sub par asparagus throughout December. ‘I look forward to those six weeks,’ he said. ‘But when they’re gone, they’re gone and you change dishes and you get inspired by what’s next to come in season.’
Visit local markets
Carrying on from the above, farmer’s markets are a great way to get an idea of what produce is good right now. Unlike with your average wholesaler, food here is about as fresh as it can be, and the enthusiasm of the people growing it is incredibly infectious. There’s a character behind every loaf of bread, every bunch of radishes, and every loin of pork, and in using their food, their story – whether intentional or not – becomes interweaved with that of the restaurant’s. Especially if they’re local to one another. At farmer’s markets there’s the opportunity to chat with these producers, taste what they’re offering rather than ordering it in blindly, haggle for a deal for in-the-trade deals, and start building what could eventually turn out to be a lifelong relationship with them.
Ask for creative feedback
Most chefs start where they don’t want to – at the bottom. There are of course ideas of eventually rising to the top of the kitchen hierarchy, but until then, freedom of expression is severely limited. So, what can be done to change that? Thing is, when you’re stuck peeling eggs all day, even a little bit of creative autonomy can go a long way. Perhaps there’s a commis who thinks the softness of Saxon spuds would lend themselves better to mash than the current option. Or maybe the pastry chef has ideas in tweaking the soufflé recipe for a better rise. Commercial kitchens can be hot headed, intimidating places, so don’t crush enthusiasm and initiative before it’s even got a chance to be voiced.
Delve into how a chef’s love for food began
Whether it’s rustling up crepes on a Friday morning or making strawberry jam with grandma, we all had to start somewhere. Food is nostalgic, and the emotional connection we have with it is never really lost on us. Despite what restaurant critics might tell you, it can also be a personal thing. So think of opening up to other’s emotional experiences with food as an insight into what makes them tick. Perhaps there’s a chef who has a signature dish they like to cook at home when guests are in. Maybe a chef de partie has a knock-out pasta al forno family recipe that’s been passed down five generations. Give them a chance to showcase it – if not to restaurant customers, then the rest of the kitchen – and don’t be surprised if that emotional connection with food comes to the fore once again.
Image courtesy of Toa Heftiba