Chefs from more than a dozen countries and many regions of the United States took to the stages and kitchens of the Culinary Institute of America in California’s Napa Valley to share their expertise at the Worlds of Flavor conference last week. These chefs run restaurants in locales as diverse as the Galapagos Islands, the American South, Mexico, France and Italy. Cooking was the medium through which they shared their stories, but as restaurant owners, they included some business lessons in their demos and presentations.
Here’s a sampling.
San Antonio chef Tim Rattray “harvests” the drippings from the slabs of brisket he smokes daily—drippings he used to throw away—to create a bread and butter course: Texas Toast with Barbecue Butter. He grills the bread, mixes the drippings into butter and charges $6 for the combo at his restaurant, The Granary ’Cue & Brew. Rattray also uses the barbecue butter as a baste for poultry.
Another by-product of beef is tallow—something Renee Erickson, chef-owner of four Seattle restaurants, transforms into candles. At The Walrus and the Carpenter, Erickson and her staff butcher whole cows for their steakhouse menu and render the excess fat into tallow. The tallow candles add to the restaurant’s ambiance by gracing the tables.
Lettuce jam nachos
Executive chef Trevor Kunk shared a no-waste idea for lettuce jam, used in menu items at Press, a steakhouse in St. Helena, Calif. Every steak is served with a small frisee salad; chef Kunk roasts the trimmings and blends the roasted frisee with capers, shallots and cornichons to create the lettuce jam. One of his signatures is Little Gem Lettuce Nachos—tiny leaves of lettuce filled with the jam and served on a bed of toasted almonds; it sells as a bar snack for $9.
Labor-saving tomato prep
Paying prep cooks to peel and seed tomatoes for salsas, relishes and other fresh uses is a waste of money, says Enrique Olvera, chef-owner of Cosme in New York City. That’s where all the flavor is, he believes, and skipping this unnecessary step saves labor and money.
Meaty pasta sauce...without the meat
At his fast casual Porano Pasta, St. Louis chef Gerard Craft offers create-your-own bowls by mixing and matching pastas, sauces, proteins and toppings. He makes his signature sauce, Smoky Sunday Sugo, by cooking smoked pork shoulder and ham in a braise. When he first opened, the Sugo option was available with pieces of the braised pork, served over pasta for $8.95, but Craft discovered that the braising technique itself released enough flavor and gelatin from the meat to give the sauce the taste and body he was after. Now he removes the meat and sells the pork under the protein options for an extra $3.
Illustrated cocktail menu
Glass designs can help upsell cocktails, says Ivy Mix, co-owner of Latin-themed Leyenda in Brooklyn, N.Y. On her cocktail menu, she includes an illustration of the glass that’s served with each drink so guests will know exactly how it will look and what to expect when it’s delivered. Some customers who wouldn’t try a cocktail are intrigued by the size and shape of the glass, according to Mix. The idea also cuts down on guest complaints that a drink may be smaller or more feminine than they expected, said Mix, which sometimes results in sending it back and having the bar comp another cocktail.
Several chefs reinforced their local sourcing mission by weaving the restaurant’s immediate landscape into their presentations. Little tree branches to garnish a vegetable plate, small mossy logs to hold a dessert and shells as vessels for ceviche were some of the “natural” platings designed to reflect the terroir of the ingredients and wow customers. Parading these presentations through the restaurant garners “me too” orders as well, they said.