07:08 Friday 15 March 2013

Weasel words in the kitchen

Written byRoss Boardman

How was your home-cooked lamb shank? You do know it was local and seasonal? Maybe we could go on to talk about how ethical our provenance policy is? We are green too, didn’t you know. What about our house burger with our very own Caesar salad?

Somewhere in amongst all of this drivel, you are being deceived. It is nothing especially nasty or malicious but possibly a little misleading. Restaurants and pubs have always crafted their menus and promotional material to tell a story. You feel you are part of the family when they suggest that the lamb shank is being lovingly cooked from scratch behind those mysterious swing doors of the kitchen.

It is being cooked, not necessarily from scratch, but certainly in the kitchen that they call home. Warming something up is cooking. If you want that same dish to actually be created by the chef, that’s called “home made”. It doesn’t sound much of a difference but there is. Local? Yep, the wholesaler is less than two miles away. Seasonal? Again, yep. Lamb is always in season.

The house burger? It should be something they make, just like everything else on the menu. It is only minced meat, a pinch of seasoning and then a good squashing. Some places will go to town about all the options that comes with their burger. You have this great product and now you want to dress it up. What if it came from a factory in another country on a freezer lorry. The story is a bit broken now? What about the Caesar salad? It’s lettuce, croutons, parmesan cheese and dressing. It is not rocket science.

When something is sourced locally, the “sourcing” bit should mean where it came from, not where it was bought. Seasonal should mean it does have a season and that season is now, in this country.

As for award winning. What award? I got a cooking badge in Scouts, that’s an award. The only award a pub or restaurant should receive should be one about quality of what the place does. There are four key guidebooks in the UK; Good Food Guide, AA Guide, Hardens and of course, Michelin. All of these look at quality, not popularity.

Restaurant guests need to be more curious. Any mystery diner or real critic, not the snotty online reviewers, will always look to one thing. How much does the person serving you know? Hopefully someone has spent some time briefing the staff on what goes into the dishes. Hopefully this is valuable information and is accurate. Hopefully they have nothing to hide.

Ross Boardman is author of “101 Restaurant Secrets” and an award winning restaurateur.

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