In restaurant kitchens food is money


I have guilt about eating meat. Not enough to give it up, but it certainly gnaws at my edges thinking about the sheer volume of meat eaten in the Unites States. Along with all that gets eaten, a lot gets wasted.

I’m unable to find specifics for animal food products, but the overall numbers certainly shed some light on a serious problem. USDA estimates put the amount of wasted food — meaning food that is tossed out and never gets into anyone’s belly — at 30-40 percent of the overall food supply. That translates to 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food that people went to an awful lot of work, expense and trouble to produce.

And a good portion of that is meat products.

That we treat food, especially animal food, in such a casual and cavalier way may be one of the greatest of our plentiful country’s many sins. At the personal level, it’s largely preventable: Don’t let stuff sit in the fridge until it goes bad.

We waste a lot of food when we go out to eat, often by ordering the wrong thing, and this too is preventable by educating ourselves.

For me, when I get a steak or burger out some place, unless it is absolutely inedible or has gone off, I never send it back. I may make a note of the error and say something before I leave, but if it’s a little too done or a little too rare, I’m not going to send it back to the kitchen to be tossed out.

Ground meats, I never take chances with. They need to be at least medium well. I don’t know who did the grinding or the circumstances or what cuts were used, and I want anything ground to be completely cooked through and hot.

Steaks, on the other hand, I like pretty far on the rare side, and they always come to me that way because I know what I’m asking for. Chances are quite good the person in the kitchen doing the steaks has done many, many hundreds of them in the preceding week before you got there. They have that job because they have some skill at it.

Restaurants don’t put someone who can’t get a steak to the correct temperature in charge of their most expensive inventory because steaks that come back to the kitchen are lost money. They also represent an animal product, a life wasted. Good chefs respect the food supply.

If you often order steaks that come back not to your liking, there may be a gap in your understanding of what to ask for. The cooks want you to be happy, they want you to enjoy your dinner and they most certainly do not want to see something come back to be redone when they’re quite busy with 10 other steaks.

If they get an order for a medium steak and they send exactly that to the table and it comes back as being “raw,” it’s likely a communication problem. It’s like asking for a shirt of a certain color, and you’re offered that color shirt, and you become indignant about the wrong color because you’re colorblind and don’t realize it.

Rare: The center, meaning the entire interior part of the steak under the sear, will still be cool to the touch and quite red, at 125 F.

Medium rare: The center is still red but is now warm at 135 F.

Medium: The interior is pink and warm and 145 F.

Medium well: Now the center has just a slight flush of pink and is quite warm, 150 F.

Well done: Cooked hot all the way through with no trace of pink, 160 F or higher.

To get what you want, order what you really want. No one likes to throw food away, least of all restaurant kitchens, where food is money.

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