Twenty years ago, when celebrity chef Jamie Oliver released his first cooking show called “The Naked Chef”, he made it clear that his show won’t be about his work as a professional cook right in the show’s intro. Cooking at home is very, very different from what the professionals who cook for a living do in their line of work. At home, small glitches and even bigger issues can be overlooked – in a professional setting, there is no room for error. At the same time, the food served at a restaurant has far less of the chef’s personality – the dishes on the menu must have a consistent quality that can be infinitely reproduced. These are all things that are pretty well-known even for those not working in the hospitality industry. There are, in turn, quite a few things that one can only find out when actually working in a restaurant’s kitchen. And no, this is not about the secret ingredients used by professional chefs – those don’t exist.
Professional chefs use pretty much the same ingredients that you may have in your kitchen. Sometimes, even the same brand. The only true difference between your kitchen at home and the one at a restaurant is the quantity. Restaurants will not buy a dozen eggs or a single bottle of vegetable oil. Instead, they purchase everything in large quantities – in bulk. There are a few products that are meant to be used in a professional setting but these are usually nothing but quality products in large packs – a two-pound piece of chocolate instead of individual bars, a 10-kilo box of butter, and so on, and so forth.
Professional chefs don’t have half an hour to prepare a bowl of soup but they have days to prepare a complex and sophisticated recipe. This may sound like a self-contradiction but it’s not. A chef can spend hours reducing a demi-glace (a rich, brown sauce used as is or as an ingredient in many other sauces) at the right pace for it to have the perfect taste or texture or to cook a piece of delicious meat sous vide – but only during the downtime of the restaurant. When, in turn, there are patrons waiting for their food, a chef has to work super efficiently. During rush hour, chefs often have just a few minutes to finish and plate a dish. They work for hours upon hours to prepare so when the busiest time of the day comes, they will only have to serve the food they prepared during the day.
Most dishes you’ll find on the menu of a restaurant are very easy to prepare. Well, of course, there are exceptions but most recipes are about maximizing both the patrons’ experience and the efficiency of preparing them. Part of the dishes is prepared well in advance before they are served (the sous-vide meat I mentioned above would be a great example) and another part is prepared on the spot, in just a few minutes, like a steak, for example. After all, there is no time to waste during the rush.