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bush beans
...simply "open and serve..."

maple leaf
..."easy to plate..."

street sweet
---all the minimum wage
help does is slice and plate...
What to do after the water boils

 I am serving public notice. Some will consider this to be a threat.

    As soon as sufficient nutcases come up with the money, I am opening my own restaurant. Although I do not cook, such talents are no longer required to run a restaurant. It took 20-plus years to realize that cooking is no longer a requirement to operate a successful restaurant. Proof? Most chain dinner houses do not have chefs. They have kitchen managers.

    A kitchen manager is a restaurant employee who knows how to read directions on a box of frozen food arriving on his rear dock. Example: Applebee's, a highly successful eatery across the nation, spotlights its barbecued ribs. Television spots show a hot slab being slathered with a rich, red, tomato-based sauce.

    Fact: Those pork ribs arrived the picture of dull gray. Frozen. From a flat box container, some minimum wage kitchen kid pulled them apart and stuck the slabs in an oven or Alto-Shaam. Once warmed, they are put aside until ordered. Then they get a sauce coating, plated, and rushed to the dining room.

    Fact: One of my favorite dinner chains is O'Charley's. Just about the entire menu is appealing. Plates arriving in the dining room look just like the illustrated menu. More fact: Just about everything on that plate was cooked in Tennessee, flash frozen, and trucked to my fave O'Charley's.

 Only one element of this story bothers me. The menu never reveals origins of the food being served. I've probably asked hundreds of servers over recent years if the food was cooked on premises. Only one had a quick answer. In an ill named Po Folks, I said to a server about a bowl of hot apple cobbler, “my compliments to the chef.” He shot back, “I would, but he's in Nashville and never comes here.”

    I grew up in times when the most popular soups were Campbell's tomato and vegetable. Label instructions advised, “add one can of water and stir.”

    Now, after my eat-for-pay job of many decades, I've started to question restaurant operators. Lies are rampant, intentionally so.

    My first thoughts on this precooked issue jelled when I heard restaurant mogul Cameron Mitchell, an American Culinary Institute grad, highly positioned with the National Restaurant Association, and a good citizen all around, tell his assembled kitchen crews, “if anyone in this room came make jelly better than Smucker's, we'll put it on the menu.”

    Since that memorable jelly endorsement, I've come to realize that Smucker's isn't the only table-ready item not made on premises of leading restaurants. My trouble is that I read a half dozen restaurant trade magazines. The secret is out. I can open my restaurant serving soup-to-nuts, appetizers-to-desserts, and never read a recipe.

    Campbell's still does soups for my type operator; Blue Diamond will ship me chicken club salads with sliced roasted almonds. Maple Leaf Farms will ship pastry-wrapped duck appetizers...”products easy to plate and finish.” Finish is key to how I plan to run my establishment. 

    Entrees? Hard to decide between the 60 varieties of filled raviolis in extra thin egg and durum semolina pockets being made by Joseph's Pasta Co. Color photography today is so appetizing.

    Salad dressings?  Few if any restaurants make their own dressings. You'll never see the sources, but they're known as Kraft and Marzetti. For my restaurant, I like the Hidden Valley brand - 26 varieties. Go for the blue cheese, not the Caesar. Not the real Caesar Cardini recipe.

    Order turkey sauces and search for the maker, Perdue. Links and patties arrive dockside fully cooked or, heavens forbid, “ready-to-cook.” Ah, work work work.

    Pork ribs? The same people who invented Spam, the uppercase sort, Hormel Foods in Austin, Minn., does the messy job of infusing 16 hours of hardwood smoke into ribs, loins, brisket, turkey, even hot link sausages. Package instructions advise me to “simply heat'em up and add” my own saucing.

    My side dish? Simplot does excellent reacted sweet potatoes, “lightly seasoned chunks with a hand-cut look.” Certainly I do not want my guests to think we don't have a butcher knife.

    Seafood?  There are scores of fish outfits along all coasts that catch, gut, cook and batter shrimp, scallops and oysters, there are many fisheries flash freezing all sorts of finfish filets. Buy'em ready for deep- frying; buy'em already battered and fried. Heat and serve.

    Basic stuff? Like Cameron Mitchell's edict on Smucker's, I will tell me people to open cans of Bush's Best, as in baked beans. Read the label and understand my choice. 

    I have it made. Tyson will cook my chicken; Uncle Ben infuses my rice for Mexican dishes, roasted chicken, anything that goes with rice.

    The nation's most popular meat cut is a slice of roast beef. Restaurant kitchens no longer own a butcher block. Portioned slices of roast beef are cooked in juices and vacuumed packed. Call it sous vide, a French innovation to deliver precooked beef to your table. One problem here: No end cuts.

    Desserts? The best looking, alluring cake slice is luscious chocolate being advertised in trade mags. Ask for the Sweet Street brand. Shock your server.

    After dining in my eatery, if you feel like the Automat reborn, you're normal. Taste has been reduced to the lowest common denominator.

    My kitchen managers have one credo to follow: Add water and stir. Pay at the cashier's window. Cash only.

          - Doral Chenoweth

© 2006