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Monday, December 08, 2008

The importance of a well-run kitchen

by Larry Geller

I have always admired a well-run kitchen. After all, we go to a restaurant for an enjoyable eating experience. If they’ve forgotten part of an order, if there’s a long wait, if it comes out cold when it should be hot, or if the dessert is microwaved and soggy, it makes it tough to enjoy.

On the other hand, when something is expertly prepared, seems to pop right out of the kitchen at the right temperature and perfectly seasoned, life is good.

Fish Dish

The other night we visited Kookie’s Thai Kitchen again. I’m amazed that she can produce all of the dishes on the menu, and they do come out quickly and perfectly made. They’re also not going to drown me in coconut milk, as can happen at other Thai restaurants in town. So I feel confident in ordering anything at all. But the other night we reverted to our pattern when Kookie used to be at the place across the street from us. We asked her what she recommended that night. We were thinking of a fish, we said.

We always used to speak with Kookie about what to have. She made it easy by coming out personally to talk with us and answer any questions. It’s the same at her new place. Kookie does not hide out in her kitchen.

When we decided, she disappeared into the kitchen and shortly a server emerged with our dinner. Our fish dish was as we had discussed, a fried fish with lots of fresh vegetables. I can’t remember what it was called. It doesn’t matter. It was perfect.

I was reminded of how important kitchen management is while reading this unrelated article today. Some people know how to organize and run a kitchen. Kookie is one of them. Unlike the chef in the article, though, you get a chance to speak with her about what would please you that evening. The restaurant in the article is highly efficient, but you need to choose something from the menu and I’m guessing there’s not much discussion. Different situation here, but same basic idea remains—the chef needs to be able to organize and run a kitchen properly in order to deliver what’s on the menu perfectly prepared and in good time.

There’s a place for fast food and for formulaic ethnic or theme restaurants. There’s also a place for a style of dining where everyone feel cared for as well as fed, where new culinary experiences are safe, and where disappointment isn’t much of a risk. That’s what keeps diners coming back again and again, I think, when they become jaded with the fast food life foisted on us by our TV sets. It’s great when you have such a place, and we have found ours.

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