Almost every person who works the cold food station in a busy restaurant kitchen has the same goal: get out of it and move up to the hot line as fast as they can. This job is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of pay and prestige, it's where new hires are made to start out, and the perception is that whoever fills this post won't learn much or gain the kind of experience that will help them advance in the culinary profession while they're in it.
But there's another way of looking at it. Garde manger, while hugely important to the customers' perception of a restaurant's quality, is the most overlooked aspect of commercial kitchen operations. Doing this work well is a lot tougher than many people who run restaurants imagine; why not use it to create a competitive advantage?
We don't know how much attention is paid to the cold food aspect of your restaurant's operation. But we're betting you'd find a hundred things about it you could do better merely by skimming through Professional Garde Manger: A Comprehensive Guide to Cold Food Preparation (Wiley, $85).
Authors Lou Sackett and Jaclyn Pestka are releasing their 780-page book at just the right time. Many restaurants now emphasize super-fresh local ingredients and artisan-quality small plate offerings. Both require more careful handling of ingredients and crafting of artful presentations, but less actual cooking, than was the case even a few years ago. Cheese boards, shellfish towers and charcuterie plates are just a few of the no-cook items that have become fixtures on many contemporary menus.
These three topics are covered extensively in this impressively comprehensive book. There's plenty of old-school garde manger fare, too: an entire chapter is devoted to aspic and chaud-froid work, and there's one just for mousselines. But don't worry. While the term garde manger may conjure up visions of stilted 1970s continental cuisine, this book's contents are right in step with the culinary times.
There are 375 recipes in all. But the greater value may come from the book's serious tone. The textbook-like approach lets whoever holds the position in your kitchen know that their work is indeed important and can be done much better than it's being done now.
Garde manger work will never be sexy. But this book gives you an easy way to upgrade the quality of the food that comes out of the cold food station in your kitchen. These days, that can mean a lot.
The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook
By Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss
Ten Speed Press, $16.99
It's the nature of the beast: the tea-drinkers in your customer base are a discerning group, eager to explore the subtle nuances of this popular beverage. So you have to do it right, which means offering a lineup of the world's best teas and steeping them to perfection each time. There are many angles to consider here, and tea gurus the Heisses can help you find the best possible combinations. Factor in the hefty margins that accrue when you sell hot or iced tea and tuning up this aspect of your beverage program is worth the effort.
Dollars To Donuts
By Dawn Welch
Rodale Press, $19.99
Don't be misled by this book's marketing, which positions it as a handy guide for budget-conscious home cooks. Welch runs the legendary Rock Café on Route 66 in Stroud, OK, and many of the 150 recipes she's packed into her 274-page book are tailor-made for full-service restaurant menus. She definitely has a restaurateur's knack for producing tasty, eye-pleasing food while keeping food costs in line. If you want to spruce up your menu with attractive new items that can be sold at modest price points — and who doesn't these days — this little gem of a book can get you started.