I have recently finished reading Kitchen Confidential, celebrity-chef Anthony Bourdain’s best selling book. Being the food aficionado that he is, in one chapter, Bourdain shares some of his tips and tricks on ordering in restaurants. They are so valuable that I thought it would be prudent to share them here.
Never order seafood on a Monday
We have all heard this one before. Bourdain explains the reason why perfectly:
“Here’s how it works: the chef…orders his fish on Thursday for delivery Friday morning. He’s ordering a pretty good amount of it, too, as he’s not getting another delivery until Monday morning. The chef is hoping to sell the bulk of that fish – your tuna – on Friday and Saturday nights, when he assumes it will be busy. He’s assuming also that if he has a little left on Sunday, he can unload the rest of it then, as seafood salad for brunch, or as a special. Monday? It’s merchandising night, when whatever is left over from the weekend is used up, and, hopefully sold for money…Chances are good that that tuna you’re thinking of ordering on Monday night has been kicking around in the restaurant’s reach-ins, already cut and held with the same mis-en-place on line, commingling with the chicken and the salmon and the lamb chops for four days, the reach-in doors swinging open every few seconds as the line cooks plunge their fists in, blindly feeling around for what they need. These are not optimum refrigeration conditions.”
Don’t eat mussels in restaurants
Why, you might ask? Here’s Bourdain’s reasoning. It may change your mind for good:
“…most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of muscles. More often than not, mussels are allowed to wallow in their own foul-smelling piss in the bottom of a reach-in.”
Stay clear of the hollandaise – like the plague
Love your yellow, eggy sauce on your morning eggs? Maybe think again:
“Bacteria love hollandaise. And hollandaise, that delicate emulsion of egg yolks and clarified butter, must be held at a temperature not too hot nor too cold, lest it break when spooned over your poached eggs. Unfortunately, this lukewarm holding temperature is also the favourite environment for bacteria to copulate and reproduce in.
Never order your meat well done
Despite the fact that the optimum way to serve (and eat) meat, according to chefs, is medium rare (or even rare), Bourdain sheds light on what happens to those people who request well done steak:
“’Saving for well done’ is a time-honoured tradition dating back to cuisine’s earliest days: meat and fish cost money. Every piece of cut, fabricated food must, ideally, be sold for three or even four times its costs in order for the chef to make his food ‘cost per cent’. So what happens when a chef finds a tough, slightly skanky end-cut of sirloin, that’s been pushed repeatedly to the back of the pile? He can throw it out, but that’s a total loss…Or he can ‘save for well-done’ – serve it to some rube who prefers to eat his meat or fish incinerated into a flavourless, leathery hunk of carbon, who won’t be able to tell if what he’s eating is food or flotsam.”
Other tid bits of advice offered by the great man include things such as ordering the dish the restaurant is known for (i.e. order steak in a steak restaurant) and watch out for the cleanliness of the restaurant’s bathrooms. According to Bourdain, if an eatery can’t even be bothered keeping clean those areas that the public can actually see, imagine what the kitchen looks like – an area that diners aren’t privy to seeing.
While not meant to put you off your meal, his tips actually make sense and ring true. Ordering in restaurants is about being smart. Think about the origin and freshness of your food. Think about the environment in which it is cooked. With these in mind, you should (hopefully) avoid any restaurant mishaps.