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  • Writer's pictureJerry

Staying out of the weeds.


I have a simple approach I use when assigning priority to various cooking steps. That is "Can I do this now without significantly effecting quality?" I emphasize "significantly" because in most off-premise catering scenarios there are many compromises that must be made. We want to complete steps as soon as possible, but without sacrificing too much quality.

Chefs who care about quality will resist implementing a step too soon. For example, they won't start cooking steaks too soon because the odds are greater they will overcook if held too long. They will want to build a plated salad as late as possible so it will be less wilted when served. In an ideal situation we would simply calculate how long a process takes and then begin so that it's finished just before service. The problem is that if you approach every item on the menu with that mindset, you'll leave too much to do at the last minute. In an ideal situation we have an abundance of labor and work space. In reality, not so much.

All of the above is obvious enough, but time management is what gets most catering chefs into the dreaded weeds. Often we get our kitchen space set up and organized, but it's just too early to start preparing the food. The staff relaxes somewhat as we enter a "holding period". That may be valid two hours before service, but as time progresses there will be a succession of tasks that can be done, and too often those opportunities slip by unnoticed. Many times the tasks are small and seem insignificant when you're two hours out from service, but even small things can be problematic if left until the last minute.

Example; it might be too early to cook the steaks, but someone can remove the plastic wrap. Or, it's too early to build the salads, but we can split the ingredients into several containers so that each cook has their own which will make plating more efficient. In my opinion, it's these little steps that add up to make what could be a difficult service go more smoothly. And a smooth service results in better tasting and better looking food.

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