Today I learnt the true meaning of ‘A La Carte’… As a customer, dining A La Carte simply means to order from a menu – it’s all about choice. Perfect. Except for the chef. Why? Because choice for the customer translates to uncertainty in the kitchen. Behind the scenes, chefs must prep enough of everything in a timely manner to ensure availability and freshness of a meal at the precise moment it’s ordered.
Today, I leant how to mise en place (a French culinary meaning to ‘put in place’ or in other words: to prepare all ingredients) properly for A La Carte dining. Typically, when working from a recipe at school, we prepare all ingredients before cooking each one to perfection to produce a great, freshly cooked meal that is plated, presented to our chef instructors then eaten together to taste and talk about the different aspects – appearance, flavour, etc. But in the real chef-ing world it’s all about production and preparation, LARGE scale. In a restaurant, time is of the essence, especially when you have 5, 10, 15, – 50 customers all ordering different dishes! In this situation, there is no way on mother earth chefs are able to cook every meal, one at a time from scratch! Preparation is key. Communication too. Funny how these two things apply to almost everything in our lives right?! But I digress…
Have you ever marvelled at how your table of friends/family (who have all ordered completely different dishes) are all able to eat their meals of choice at the same time? I have! And now I know… Put simply, there’s a whole symphony of prepping and parboiling (partially cooking) food going on in the kitchens long before you have even begun to get ready to go out! Chef’s must clock in early to mise en place assigned elements (ingredients) of dishes they’re in charge of. If it’s a large restaurant, chances are there’s quite a few chefs of varying authority all working together in the kitchen, managing tasks in tandem with their team. Like most things in life, it comes down to teamwork and timing. And it’s pretty impressive stuff.
At school today my classmates and I were lucky. We only had three A La Carte items to prep and cook to perfection once ordered. Below are the three dishes I had to prep earlier in the day, then cook and plate perfectly within a set time frame. I’m pretty happy with how I performed, though I know for sure that this kind of cooking in a restaurant is not for me. I have a few ideas bubbling away that I will share with you closer to the time I graduate… For now, take a look and let me know what you think about my meals…which one would you order? If in the comments below there’s a clear favourite that emerges, I promise to share the recipe!