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Chef’s Corner: Our last impression is our finishing move


Chef’s Corner: Our last impression is our finishing move

Chef’s Corner: Our last impression is our finishing move

Welcome to "Chef's Corner," Daniel Asher's monthly blog, where he delves into the intricate world of food, restaurants, distributors, and all things foodservice.  Daniel is a chef and restaurant owner + the head of strategic relationships & hospitality at Cut+Dry.

Working in commercial kitchens is very complicated. It is a constant balancing act that can result in something on a scale between the most delightful symphony or a nuanced sh*tshow. I’ve always said that the best way to be setup for success is to properly manage all of the micro & macro decisions that are within your control, because plenty of things will present themselves that are out of your control, and you gotta be ready for them. 

This is easily defined as your mental and physical mise-en-place. Will your lead line cook call out at the last minute on the night of a critical event? Sure. Will a delivery be 2 hours late when you brought the prep crew in early? Yep. Will a piece of critical equipment go down in the middle of dinner service? Of course it will. However, have you been blowing out the dust buildup on your compressors every month with an air hose? Are your filters changed religiously on your ice machines and water lines? Do you detail your hot line nightly after close, pilot lights inspected, drip trays cleaned out, minimal carbon buildup that is obsessively scoured? If you do all that, and something conks out at the wrong time, well that’s just life showing up. 

If you work in a neglected kitchen and that happens, then it’s a top down leadership problem. Minimize the chance of error, all day, every day. That’s the simple magic. It’s a very beautiful process that creeps into life outside the kitchen. It makes you a better driver, a better friend, a better parent, a better spouse. You anticipate things that can go wrong before they do, and you set everyone around you up for success. It is really a great win-win. Except when the ball drops in the final second. 

Have you gone out for a well deserved night out, to check out a new hot spot that seems to be really buzzing around town, and you can’t wait to experience it? You book your rez, choose your companions, scan the menu online to see what you might order…. It’s all great! Anticipation is a beautiful thing. Hours later you are taking a bite of a pretty expensive piece of sous vide shortrib and thinking “why does this taste so flat? Why am I not on a wild trip to Flavortown right now?” Ok maybe not the Flavortown part (I’m looking at you, Guy) but you are definitely wondering why you're not impressed. Why? 

That sexy, hard to book, line out the door Tik Tok trending kitchen forgot a finishing move on your dish. It happens. We’ve all been there. I’ve grabbed lunch from a major chain before, on very limited time, with a very specific taste profile in mind, and dug into some fresh warm tortilla chips that someone forgot to salt. I’ve also been out with my family, on a rare night off in someone else’s restaurant, trying to enjoy a meal when I want to hop back on their line and season things properly so that I can sit back down and not think about that final move that someone on the team missed, or didn’t catch before my plate was ran from the pass. It’s not rocket science, it’s just part of being human. As Judd Nelson in the role of John Bender so poetically described it in The Breakfast Club circa 1985 “...screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place”.  

Upon Googling ‘Finishing move’, I am presented with this: ‘Noun. Finishing Move (plural finishing moves, video games) In media such as one-on-one fighting video games and professional wrestling, a dedicated special attack used to knock out an enemy on the brink of defeat in a flashy and spectacular manner.’  

I really dig that. I would like to rephrase it into the culinary world as “A dedication to final seasoning before a dish is presented to a guest in a restaurant that is used to create a delicious memory in a spectacular manner”. I’m not talking about a sparkler in a slice of carrot cake, I’m talking about making things pop so your guests realize that they are being taken care of by a talented group of professionals that want to make them happy.  This is where I bring up the necessity of Line Taste. A Line Taste is the most fantastic and important part of a well functioning culinary environment. From Burger King to Alinea, a Line Taste must happen before any food leaves the kitchen. Someone (singular or plural depending on the size of the operation) with the trusted knowledge of how everything should taste puts a bunch of spoons in a 9 pan and makes their way down the line, cold side and hot side, end-to-end. Everything is tasted. 

Every sauce, every dressing, every prepped component of the menu. Running a soup special? Take a spoon of the broth and taste it. Got ribs on your menu? Cut one off a rack and taste it. Make sure backup batches are also tasted. This is for the kitchen and the beverages. Ever had the pleasure of a funky glass of iced tea from a restaurant that doesn’t do a great job of rotating the freshly brewed batch with the old batch? It’s no fun for them, and no fun for you. And don’t get me started on ice machine neglect. It ain’t pretty and your drink will taste terrible. These are the details that must be managed every day, all the time, without fail. The line taste is an opportunity to train cooks on how to balance acidity, salt, heat, sweet & umami notes. A “repair” kit in the form of fresh lemon, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, chile flake, etc can take a flat sauce and bring some lovely vibrant notes back in. Flavors change overnight; a perfect vinaigrette made at 4pm might have different tones for next days lunch service. This is the beauty of food, and the chemistry of scratch cooking. 

I very much enjoyed spending time last week at the Summer Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in NYC. Mani, Cody, Jakob & I were able to network with amazing companies doing so many delicious things from around the world. It was a very beautiful expression of global flavors from all over the spectrum of cuisine. I kept coming back to the finishing moves. Mani found this incredible company from Italy that makes a truffle perfume to mist on pasta dishes right before they are placed on the table, the aroma & essence like a hit of deep earthy richness in all the right ways. There was a sherry barrel aged olive oil from Castillo Canena at the Culinary Collective booth that completely rocked on all levels, the perfect way to take a Caprese salad to new heights. A Spanish sea salt company, hand harvested and mixed with sun dried Valencia orange peel made me think of so many ways to make grilled veggies sing. The cheeses from every corner of the planet that could make a simple mixed greens salad become a transformative moment; the talented folks at Blis had a new spruce infused ponzu sauce that would completely rock a sashimi appetizer; WA Imports and their yuzu mayo that would make the world’s greatest chicken salad sandwich. Oishii strawberries vertically farmed indoors in New Jersey are what every strawberry hopes to be, and a single one perched on top of a cheesecake made with Bellwether Farms ricotta would put any restaurant right on the heat map. Satya Spices a new Indian Spice company has their Chaat Party that would absolutely crush it as the finishing move on French fries, Capitana nailed it with a line of artisanal Mexican salsa macha for all the chili crunch fans out there that I immediately wanted to test out as the last plate touch on a grilled tofu idea for a summer patio special. Bill Miner, salumi rockstar and friend from Colorado had his Il Porcellino Diablo Salami with fennel & Calabrian chiles that won a Good Food Award for a reason; I tried a savory pistachio crema from an Italian importer that was begging to be drizzled on a burrata pizza right out of the wood oven that would pair beautifully together with the notes of heat from the salami. 

Happily I was able to spend some quality time with Jimmy Kunz and his talented crew at The Truffleist, the OG finishing move purveyor who’s truffle butter set the bar for the category. All integrity, their truffle butter is made with organic pastured local NY State butter and French grey sea salt and it is one of the best moves around for creating craveable flavor architecture, along with their truffle honey that would rock minds and mouths as the death blow on the aforementioned Oishii strawberry Bellwether Ricotta cheesecake. In the world of hospitality, aside from the culinary final moves, there is an energetic expression that also must be the last thing a guest experiences at the end of a meal. They should feel the warm glow of kindness and thoughtfulness as they walk out the door, lingering flavors of their experience fresh in their hearts, as our last impression on others is our greatest finishing move as a human.

Love, Daniel 

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