Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cashing in on culinary arts: the business side

The chefs-instructors at the California Culinary Academy are focused on showing us the realities of restaurant kitchens. Their curriculum covers the basics and more, with an atmosphere of timed cooking competency exams and fine-point critiques and grading vividly demonstrating what it will take in the real world.

And, mostly in subtle ways, they are showing us pieces of the business side of restaurants, of how important adherence to efficiency is and to making every meal correctly and using food wisely.

It showed up on several fronts in the last couple of weeks. Chef Dan Fluharty (left) our instructor for Culinary Foundations III, taught us not only good technical butchery skills for beef, fish, veal, lamb, pork and poultry. He taught us that good skills include preserving as much of the useful flesh of the animals for cooking and selling. He walked us through the economics of a piece of beef tenderloin and of a whole salmon that he and class members fileted.

"Cut toward the bone," Chef said in demonstrating breakdown of a pork loin. "If you cut toward the meat, what's that called? Money. You don't want to ruin the meat."

This week, we had occasion to observe Chef Marco Ilaria taking month-end inventory in the kitchen classroom he shares with Chef Dan. Everything is accounted for, he said, so that the business types can determine not only what it all cost, but how much money was made.

"When I applied to work here, they told me they thought I knew how to cook, that I was a nice guy and seemed like I would make a good teacher. But they emphasized that I had to make my P&L," Chef Marco said.

Chef Dan linked kitchen performance to the bottom line in a frank manner on Friday, critiquing our day-before performances on béchamel sauce. With one possible exception among the 10 students, Chef said, our sauces were too thick and unfit to serve.

"You lost a point over it (in the grading)," Chef said. "You would lose a customer over it (in a restaurant)."

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