I find it very interesting how diverse the food experience is. In all cases, the process of eating is important and accomplishes similar goals. Just as all cars can move a person from one geographic point to another yet the experience that takes place in between can be totally different – so too is this true with food. Food is fuel and will help to keep the body sound, muscles developed, bones strong, digestion working properly, and brain cells multiplying exponentially – but the way that food takes a person to those goals and the quality of the end result can be monumentally different.
If we compare the food experience to a full gamut of sound and music – some food experiences are nothing more than noise, while others can approach all of the senses just as a symphonic orchestra can invigorate every one of our senses and engage a person in state of fulfillment. Food that is noise may fill our stomachs and even stimulate the sense of taste, but the total sensual experience will be lost in the process of eating. At the other extreme – an extraordinarily prepared, multi-course meal, touched by accomplished cooks, presented on a plate of fine china, in a pristine environment, with attentive service and complemented by exceptional wines will reveal all that food might attempt to be.
Those of us who are currently or had previously spent many years in front of a kitchen range also made choices regarding which type of culinary music we wanted to play. Would it be noise, folk music, country, rock and roll, or classical; would we focus on quick service, organic vegetarian, burgers and pizza, bar-b-que, full-service, or fine dining. Each has its place and each provides a different level of experience for the cook and for the guest. So, I thought it might be fun to address each comparison of food experience to musical taste so that you might see where you fit.
QUICK SERVICE: This is the food noise experience for both the customer and the employee. The over-riding objectives are fast, consistent and affordable. The nutritional objective is to fill your stomach, and to provide fuel to make it through the day. Little attention is paid to the “experience” of eating which is made perfectly clear by the incredible growth of drive thru delivery and systems designed to move people and turn tables (or cars). This, of course services a great need in our stressed out, fast paced society – a need that is met with ever-increasing efficiency. Nearly 55% of all the restaurants in the United States fit into this category – a category that to many people under the age of 21 provided their first paycheck. For the cook starting out – this can be an introduction to the field of foodservice, but the skills necessary to meet the standards of production and service are minimal. Noise, but important.
PUB FOOD: The two most significant entrees in the American diet are pizza and hamburgers. This is how the pub food segment grew to be such a significant player in the foodservice market. Those who grew up with “noise” (the quick service experience) as their primary restaurant encounter found a place of comfort in operations that simply prepared similar items at a different level. The fast food hamburger became the half-pound burger from brisket and short ribs, on a brioche or pretzel roll, with organic tomato and spicy slaw, and a variety of added toppings. The simple pizza became a wood-fired, thin crust vehicle for toppings like smoked duck, goat’s cheese, arugula, nicoise olives, and loads of fresh herbs. Add your favorite alcoholic beverage and you have the concept that accounts for the lion’s share of food experiences for those in the 21-40 age bracket.
For the cook – a certain level of skill is required, including: the ability to determine degrees of doneness, a bit of showmanship to spin pizzas, speed and efficiency, knife skills and a palate that allows the cook to adjust seasoning when needed. This is the rock and roll experience of foodservice. Loud, exciting, flashy, a great beat, fast paced, unconventional, and pure fun.
BISTRO OR CAFÉ: For those with a bit of travel under their belts and the desire to re-create those experiences – the café or bistro provides a moment to step back and connect with the food stylings of Europe. Along with the foods of French cafes, British and Irish pubs, Italian trattorias, the bistros of Belgium, or the Haufbrauhaus’ of Germany and Austria these restaurants are inspired by the authentic music of the culture or time in history. It is the whole package for those who consume or prepare these foods from Confit and Cassoulet to a plate of Buccatini, or Bangers and Mash to Pigs Knuckle and Sauerkraut, or even Etouffee to Boiled Crayfish. This is the International music crowd who listens to the Neville Brothers, a Zydeco band, the Chieftains with Van Morrison, The Gipsy Kings, or maybe an Oompah band leftover from Octoberfest – people who seek authenticity above all else whether raising a glass of ale, stemware filled with wine, or a few shots of tequila. Cooks who look to make their mark in these operations must invest the time to understand the culture and the indigenous ingredients that fill the coolers and storerooms of these kitchens.
BAR-B-QUE: Bar-b-que may be universally loved, but it is somewhat safe to say that acoustic guitars and fiddles, snake skin boots and ten gallon hats are as common in these restaurants as rich, sticky racks of ribs, fall apart brisket sandwiches, pulled pork and corn on the cob. Chances are, if you indulge in this cuisine or fancy yourself as a cook standing over a pit with a sauce mop and smoldering cherry wood smoke in your eyes – you are also listening to the Allman Brothers, Marshal Tucker, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Allison Kraus, or Keith Urban. This is the country rock crowd that would love to enjoy their food while attending a local rodeo. Now, for the Bar-b-que cook there is always time spent in the trenches to learn how to control the fire, the smoke, the timing, and the way that all work together to create the lip smacking goodness that results from time in the pit.
FAMILY STYLE: Whether a customer looking for that occasional break from cooking at home or a cook seeking the comfort of an operation that is consistently good, but never intent on pushing the envelope, the family style restaurant is a haven. Lots of food, consistent and recognizable flavors, and the informality that comes from service that is designed to be comfortable, but never too reliant on technique. These restaurants will always have a line outside waiting for the next open table. They are typically cost effective and designed to be profitable as a result of volume. Those who grace a table with parents, grandparents, cousins, and children from just barely born to disgruntled teenagers are less concerned with what is playing over the sound system than they are hearing their reservation called: “Table of 8 for Jones is ready”. The music is likely to be Top 40 pop tunes that run the gamut and have little if anything to do with the food or the experience – it is just there to fill the dead air and attempt to hide the crying of babies. Cooks that work here are happy to be part of the cadence of an unrelenting number of tickets burning off the printer. They have some chops, but are rarely known to move outside the lines – their profile is built for speed and to them the most important assessment at the end of the night is how many covers they served.
FULL-SERVICE MOM and POP: If ever there were restaurants known as an extension of the owner/operator it would be the mom and pop, full service operation. The food can be anything one might imagine, but always a reflection of the food that the owner enjoys. The restaurant is even connected to the owner through associations like: “Jim’s restaurant, Marty’s diner, or Carlos joint.” Everything about the place maintains that connection: what the menu promotes, how the place looks and feels, the style of service, and yes – even the music. Sometimes the restaurant tries to connect with a theme, but more than likely it is a reflection of the owners “play list”. The music connection falls under the heading of: “What I like to listen to”, and is probably a hodge-podge of music defined by the era when the owner grew up. Cooks who work in these operations have a connection to the owner, and might even be related at some level. Their skills were built by paying attention to how the owner likes to cook, how he or she was taught, and exactly how he or she envisions everything tasting and looking.
FINE DINING/WHITE TABLECLOTH: Now we come to the symphony – these are the restaurants where cooking is a lifetime commitment to technique, finesse, commitment to details, and the unquenchable thirst for perfection. Kitchens are serious places where only excellence is tolerated – mediocrity or a slip from standards is a mortal sin. The food is a work of art and the prices to consumers reflect the artist’s determination to seek the highest bidder. Everything about the restaurant exudes this intent to never deviate from the exceptional and never allow anyone to step out of line. While tensions below the surface run very high – the ambience is designed to reflect a level of calm that comes from a pursuit of perfection. It is very likely that the music will be classical or maybe serious jazz – the desire is to use music to reflect an aura of class and sophistication – not something that the guest will tap their foot to or raise a glass with laughter and song.
So, if my analogies are correct, if what you eat or cook and what you listen to are connected – then where do you fit? What type of restaurant best describes who you are and what type of music best determines the type of experience that you are attracted to?
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
You are what you eat – you are what you listen to.
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
CAFÉ Talks Podcast