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Question: Why does restaurant food taste different from what I make at home?


I didn’t make this. It is the work of gastronomic wunderkind, Grant Achatz.

It is beautiful.

It probably tastes like the best day of your life.

Can I make it? I can make a lot of things, but that? Probably not.

Why? Because I’m not Grant Achatz.

That doesn’t mean that food that you make at home can’t taste great. It can probably taste better than what you would get in most restaurants. But it is true. There is a difference.

And I can tell you exactly what it is:

And it ain’t no fancy degree.

1. You might not be cooking with enough salt.

Undersalting, like smoking, is a really hard habit to kick. Salt is flavor. I think that’s the first thing they teach in cooking school. I think that’s why most everything I taste out of culinary school kitchens is way oversalted. That doesn’t mean that you should go way underboard. But you’re probably using way less than what they use in restaurants. So go ahead, salt liberally. Use about double what you normally would, but taste as you go. You’ll notice that there is a threshold, an actual moment when your food goes from tasting good to tasting really, really good. It is pretty much right at the point just a little more salt is a little too much.

2. You might be cooking with the wrong salt.

Does the canister in your kitchen read, “Morton’s”? Does your salt come out in a shower of cube-shaped crystals? Then you are cooking with the saltiest salt on the planet. Not all salt is created equal, so I urge you to get yourself some Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt now.

3. You might not be cooking with enough fat.

You’re probably using nothing compared to what they use in restaurants. So go ahead! Butter up!

4. You might not be cooking with enough real fat.

Low-fat? No-fat? You should say, “No way.” Cooking with low-fat and no-fat products is just asking for gritty, watery food.

And don’t even get me started on fake butter.

Real food is real satisfying. So what it has more fat? Just eat less of it. It’s probably still better for you than the food that they had to overly process in order to take the fat away.

5. You might be cooking with too many ingredients.

Most things really do taste best when the least is done to them. My big pet peeve is cooking with tons and tons of dried herbs. First of all, it just makes your food look like moss. Secondly, it hides the taste of whatever it is you are cooking. Less is really more.

6. You might be over-cooking it.

You don’t actually need a thermometer. Make a really tight fist. Now with your other hand poke the fleshy part of your fist between your index finger and your thumb. That bouncy hard resistance that you feel is what a super well-done steak would feel like if you poked it. Open your hand and make a super loose fist. Touch the same part. That’s what really, really rare feels like. Now, aim for somewhere in-between.

7. You might be over-marinating.

You want mushy meat? Because that is what marinating for too long does. Makes. Meat. Mushy. Doesn’t matter how much “flavor” you think it adds. Mushy meat is gross.

8. You’re probably not making the same dish 60+ times a day, every day.

And thank goodness for that!

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Eater. Drinker. Academic Thinker.

5 Comments

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  2. So, maybe you can answer this, but what would make toast taste so different? I love toast (and most breakfast food) that I get at restaurants, but I can’t figure out why their toast tastes so much better than mine. I mean, it is basically just bread and jam, right? I know the butter could be part of it, but I often ask for it without butter so that would negate that idea. Maybe it is the type of bread? But I have a hard time seeing how a slight difference in sliced bread could change the taste so much.

    • I’m not sure exactly . . .

      If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that some restaurants use commercial toasters which have a different heating element, they use fresh bread (they get it in daily), and they use butter. These kinds of toasters though . . . I don’t really know how common they are in actual kitchens.

      I don’t actually own a toaster, and make toast by broiling it in the oven. Perhaps that might give you a different result?

  3. Pingback: Salt, Salt, Salt | Silk and Souffles

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