Sunday, 30 June 2013

Restaurant Innovations, Innovation or Cost Cutting?

I would never describe myself as a foodie and to be honest I hate people who do. In my mind there’s only one thing worse than a “Foodie” and that’s a “Real Foodie”! Even worse would be a “Real Foodie” sitting down in the restaurant with the words “I’ll start with a bottle of San Pellegrino please”……(a good slap of a wet 10lb cod on the back of the head should be administered along with the advice “can sir please stop behaving like a moron”)But then we would never do that!

I have a very simple view on food; I have always believed that if you start with the very best Irish produce and cook it perfectly you can’t go too far wrong. That is the philosophy employed at my restaurants and it has served us well.

In previous blogs I have talked (some would say ranted) about  cheap cuts of beef being mechanically tenderised to dupe the public into believing they are eating quality tender beef, the import of inferior foreign shellfish into a country surrounded by water and the general use of cheap ingredients by restaurants to increase margins. It must be said, this practice of using cheap ingredients is often seen as innovative by some Irish food critics.

The Popcorn Conundrum!
I had the pleasure of eating out twice this week in Dublin, I call this Research & Development! I had two very nice meals thank you. But, I was struck by something really odd, both restaurants had popcorn on their menu! Now you know my view on some of Ireland’s restaurant critics and you should know that I would never criticize any restaurant, but it got me thinking why? In one restaurant we ordered our food and the waiter arrived back a bowl of popcorn. I enquired why the popcorn and he replied “that’s what we serve instead of bread” hummmmm….. So my question is, “is the practice of serving popcorn instead of bread innovation or simple cost cutting?”  Many people believe you can get a good feel for the quality of a restaurant by sampling their bread and I would tend to agree. While I, like most of the population love popcorn, I think sitting down to break popcorn over a meal is just a bit silly.  Using popcorn as an ingredient? Well I’ll leave that one up to you!

So is this innovation or simple cost cutting?

To Sous Vied or Not To Sous Vide?
 I often get home late at night after working in one of the restaurants with a treat for the dog. Cola is a Miniature Collie we rescued from a dogs home, the treat would be the remains of a t-bone steak. She gets very excited at the mere sight of tinfoil, takes the bone and heads to the garden to spend an age deciding where she is going to bury it. There must be hundreds of bones buried in our garden and somehow she seems to know where they all are and just how long they need to mature. I refer to the back garden as Cola’s kitchen. If this dog ran a restaurant for dogs, she would be famous for her naturally aged Irish beef bones!

Now, I know that is not Sous Vide but  some Dublin restaurants are using the Sous Vide cooking method to achieve the same tenderizing effect (without the muck and the bacteria of course) to make the not so edible meat much more edible and gain enormous margins for their restaurant in the process.

For those of you who don’t know the process let me explain; Sous Vide is where a cut of (say Shin of Beef, normally only used for mince or a really good stew) is put in a vacuum-packed bag and submerged in water at a temperature of between 55oC to 60oC for up to 72 hours. The result is very tender beef that just falls apart. There is little or no skill involved, it’s simply a calculation of weight, temperature and time that is easy found on the internet. It will be browned on the grill before serving.

So lets do the math’s; A good well aged 8oz Irish Fillet Steak will cost a restaurant about €9.00, a 10oz Sirloin about €6.50 and 10oz cut of Shin €1.42. If you take those figures and compare menu prices of an 8oz Irish Fillet Steak at €28 and a 10oz Sirloin at €26, then a dish containing 10oz’s of Shin of beef should be priced at under €6 on any menu. But that is not my experience! I have seen it on menus at €17 & €18 so you may work those margins out for yourself.

So is this innovation or simple cost cutting?

More Imported Shellfish
It seem wherever I go to a restaurant lately they have Soft-shell Crab on the menu! So where is this wonderful little morsel coming from? Well, I was in another restaurant recently serving soft shell crab, I asked the waiter where this crab came from and wait for it…..Wales was his answer, are you sure I asked? Oh yes he replied. Now, trust me when I tell you, soft shell crab does not come from Wales, it is imported from the likes of Thailand, Vietnam, possibly the USA and maybe even the Med but certainly not Wales.

But none of that matters, what does matter is the fact that Irish restaurants continue to ignore the fact that Irish fishermen land some of the best seafood in the world and risk their lives doing it. Irish restaurants need to stop buying these imports and start supporting their own. The only excuse for serving such pre-prepped and frozen imported product is the fact that it’s easy and cheap. No self-respecting Irish chef would argue the fact that there is no comparison between this cheap import and our Irish Brown Crab, so when you see it on a menu don’t order it and ask the restaurant why their serving it?

This is NOT innovation its lazy!

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