Last week I was watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and one of the chefs offered this gem: ‘The secret to our great food is that we use only the best ingredients’. Naturally my inner sarcastic smart-ass who I’ve mainly learned to silence (mainly) had quite a bit to say about that! Starting with a snide ‘really?’. Really?? No kidding, you mean that if I use crappy ingredients it will impact the final outcome of my dish? And no one knew this before? Wow. Thanks!
OK, so enough of that. Most decent restaurants, and especially the really good ones, have a battery and by that I mean batterie of chef, sous chefs, and well trained cooks who make a lot of money because they know how to make great food consistently. Something you may not know is that restaurants— especially the really good ones— have access to better ingredients than you or I will ever have access to. So, yes a great chef, or even a really good professional cook, using the finest ingredients, making a dish they re-create night after night better be making some awesome food!
As a home cook, there are things you can do to make really great food, and the simplicity of some of these secrets may shock you. When Chef Robert Irvine went to Parc to eat the best mashed potatoes and they revealed how they make them, even I was shocked. They used one pound of potatoes, and a half pound of butter, and restaurants use European butter like Plugra which has even more butterfat than regular butter. Chances are you’re not using that ratio when you make mashed potatoes at home! Though you could and they’d be soooo good, as good as Parc’s. And if you want the smoothest, creamiest mashed potatoes ever, get a food mill or a potato ricer, and stop using that potato masher, that’s for skin on smashies.
It’s true that some restaurant quality equipment has made its way into private homes, but most people don’t have stoves that put out the kind of BTUs a professional stove does. Your exhaust system isn’t strong enough to lift your hat from your head, and you don’t have a staff of prep cooks spending their day doing all the cutting and chopping you’ll need to prepare your dinner. You don’t have a fish guy who brings you fresh fish daily, you aren’t getting restaurant quality meats, brought to your door.
None of this means you can’t make truly great food at home. It means you are better off planning a meal that works to your strengths and your equipment. Shopping often, going to farmers’ markets or using a CSA for produce can make a huge difference. So can using restaurant techniques, like searing meat on the stove top, and finishing it in a hot oven. Restaurant ovens are cranked all the way up to make it through a service that demands constant opening and closing. Restaurants rarely worry about how much sugar, salt or fat they use, as long as it tastes good, and those three are the key ingredients in making food taste better, and remember, always use the best ingredients available!