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What’s Wrong With Food Today

Lobster Crème, with Butter-Poached Lobster on Forbidden Rice

When my father was at Kilgore College, he had a friend in the theater department who was putting on a play.  On opening night, my Dad arrived, and his friend was taking chairs out of the theater.  “Why are you doing this?” Dad asked.  “Because you always play to a packed house on opening night.”

Somewhere in the recesses of my memory is a commercial making fun of California cuisine. The basic premise was that you got about one bite of food for a lot of bank. The commercial then cut to (as I recall) a Tex-Mex restaurant with a full plate of food…that could feed half of Africa for a year.

Don’t get me wrong here: I’m all about a good Tex-Mex bender from time to time (I can’t wait until Herrera’s finds a new space), but the idea that you have to roll away from the table to have a good meal is outdated, not to mention unhealthy and uncomfortable.

Why then, I ask, do restaurants insist on serving so damn much?

Imma drop some economics on ya.  The typical chain restaurant has about a 30% food cost. That means for every dollar you spend, 30 cents goes to the food.  Chew on that a bit.  Now put it onto a plate. Imagine the quality of food you would have to buy to give someone a  $9.59 plate full of, for instance, beef enchiladas at a well-known chain.  That’s a lot of food for the buck.

And I mean a LOT.  That particular dinner (google it) has 1160 calories–over half the RDA for a grown man.  To put it another way, that plate of food has enough for two dinners.  Now, let’s do some math.  30% of the food cost equals $2.88.  Half that (one 580 calorie serving of food) is $1.44. Can YOU serve a quality meal for a buck forty?  Even assuming wholesale costs (which, I can tell you, aren’t that much below retail), it’s pretty difficult.

If you’re spending $1.44 per portion of food, your ingredients are, to put it mildly, crap.  Your flavor has to come from somewhere. Let’s start with fat, then move on to salt.  We can add sugar to the mix, as well.

Mushroom Cap with Parmesan Cheese and Quail Egg.

Consider the alternative.

Let’s say you ordered a plate of food for $9.59, and it was enough. When you finished eating you weren’t stuffed, but sated, happy, and wanting more because it tasted so good. As an added bonus, the flavors came not from too much salt or fat, but high-quality ingredients.  Would you be upset, or would you figure that you’d gotten a good value for your money?

Would YOU pay $10 for a plate of food that tasted good, made from quality ingredients, and left you satisfied?

As purveyors of nourishment, I believe that those of us in the profession have an obligation to provide our clients with wholesome food, and enough of it…just not too much.  I want people to walk away from my meals feeling satisfied, but not stuffed, and wishing that they had just one more bite.

The pictures in this post are food I’ve made. No one complained that it was too small. But everyone wanted just a little bit more.

After all, you always play to a packed house.