The Paradox of Scratch Cooking in Commercial Kitchens
Preparing things from scratch is one of the great joys and draws of the culinary industry. You get to stretch your skills and make something that wows your guests. It's a great feeling you get. Scratch cooking lets you show your skills and love of cooking to others in a very material way. Unfortunately, scratch cooking isn't as prevalent in commercial kitchens as you might expect. With scratch cooking being so desirable for most cooks, they may be left wanting. There are ways to make it work, but first, let's get a deeper look into the paradox of scratch cooking in commercial kitchens.
Scratch cooking is at the heart of passion. The draw towards making something yourself can be intense when you know how to do it well. You get to make something impressive from the simplest of ingredients. Flour, eggs, salt, and olive oil can become some of the best pasta you'll ever have. Flour, water, salt, and yeast can transform into endless styles of bread. What's so appealing about scratch cooking is that you get to take these simplest of ingredients and transform them into something spectacular. You create an expression of yourself that shows your skill and knowledge. With scratch cooking, you get to see the process of making something from start to finish. This can be very motivating and helps to drive new ideas. For example, after you've tried your hands at making some basic bread, you will want to try more complex baking techniques and bread shapes. Who doesn't love baguette and brioche? Scratch cooking is also a fantastic learning experience. Here, at The Commis, the goal is to always be improving and always be learning more. Scratch cooking lets you come up with new ideas that you can test and iterate on for a better result next time. After a short time, you'll be making bread, pasta and more. Scratch cooking will get you the level of quality you can't in stores or from a supplier. With fresh ingredients and a little love, the difference is amazing. Scratch cooking is one of the main draws of the culinary industry. It's the romantic idea of making everything you can, with passion, to achieve the best result possible. It can be disheartening for some when they realise this isn't the reality in the majority of kitchens.
Despite all the reasons to love scratch cooking, other things in commercial kitchens will get in the way. More often than not, you're prevented from doing what you may love most. Restaurants run on razor thin margins. While it may seem that using scratch cooking is cheaper than buying a similar product, the opposite is often true. The ingredient cost for scratch cooking is usually going to be cheaper than if you were buying the end product, but you have to factor in the labour cost. Unless you've done it a lot, scratch cooking can be very time-consuming. Management needs to determine if having the team spend time on scratch cooking is worthwhile. Management will need to estimate the time it takes to complete a scratch cooking project and take into account ingredient and labour costs. If this combined cost is higher than what it would take to buy a similar quality product, then it doesn't make sense from a management perspective. Sure, you lose the quality you can only achieve from doing things yourself, but there's plenty to do in the kitchen and only so much money to do it with. They need to keep an eye on the bottom line. There may not be enough time for you to work on scratch cooking at work. Even in small kitchens, there's always a lot that needs doing. Finding extra or spare time can be a difficult task. It may seem like all hope is lost for scratch cooking. Cooks desire scratch cooking, but limited time and budget will stop it from happening. With a little effort, though, there are ways to make scratch cooking work in commercial kitchens.
The solution is to find a balance. In some kitchens, it doesn't make sense to pursue scratch cooking, but most kitchens will use combination cooking. Combination cooking is the very definition of balance. It's when you prepare dishes using a combination of bought-in products with your own fresh ingredients. A perfect example of this would be sauces. Very few restaurants make their stocks from scratch every week. There's not enough time to do it with everything else going on. It can also get expensive if the bones have to be purchased specifically for stock making. Someone then has to commit their time to making the stock - breaking up and roasting bones and so on. You get a fantastic result from this, but it's just not feasible on a regular basis. Instead, kitchens will buy in a concentrated stock base and use that to flavour their sauces in addition to their fresh aromatic and flavouring ingredients. This may seem like cheating, but there still needs to be a level of effort put in to end up with a great result. Another way to work scratch cooking into the kitchen is to reserve any extra time. In some kitchens, things are very organised and the whole week's work is planned out. This allows good teams to get ahead of the game, leaving extra time later on. This is perfect for scratch cooking projects. When there's no other pressing task and your team would otherwise be idle, make something special. To allow for more time for scratch cooking, you could also work on your personal efficiency. If you can complete other tasks quickly, you can make the time for scratch cooking. If you're practised at scratch cooking and can prepare pasta, bread and the like with ease, you lower the creation cost by doing it faster. This could encourage management to let you pursue scratch cooking with more regularity. It takes a little effort, but you can work scratch cooking into almost any kitchen.
Scratch cooking is one of the main draws of working in the culinary field. With it, you get to learn new techniques while creating something out of nothing. You get a huge sense of accomplishment while expressing yourself through your work. Yet, scratch cooking is often left as an afterthought in professional kitchen operations. There's so much that needs to happen in the kitchen that there's often not enough time left for scratch cooking. When there may be time for it, ingredient and labour costs can outweigh the cost of buying a similar product. You end up with the paradox of a group of cooks who're motivated by scratch cooking but are prohibited from doing so. The solution is to find a balance. Make time where you can to pursue scratch cooking. By getting ahead in the kitchen through organization and personal efficiency, you can make time. Use combination cooking to still make great, unique products in less time for a lower cost. Scratch cooking is one of the best parts of working in the culinary field. Make some time where you can experiment and enjoy it.