Think about it. We will return to this topic later.
I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days. How the simple idea of “the unknown” is so prevalent in the restaurant industry. I mean this on several different levels:
- “It sounds noisy in there.” The separation between chef and restauranteer. The kitchen, in many cases is hidden. You don’t see what goes on there. You don’t see who is cooking, and when you’re in a fancy restaurant you just imagine there being a group of men back there with chef boyardee hats and high flames. Why make the cooking process so unknown? Is there some sociological aspect involved that goes deeper than you think?
- “Can you tell me what that means?” Academic language. The restaurant is sure to know that many people won’t know what “nicoise”, “carpaccio”, or “ganache” is, or even know the difference between braised, bronzed or slightly warmed. What is the effect of this? It reminds me of our trade history, how foreign things were highly sought after…think Ever After, when the Prince brings back a “wonderful little treat from Spain”: chocolate. Something foreign is intriguing. Restaurants surely capitalize on this.
- “That looks so good.” When you get something at a restaurant and it’s presented in a beautiful, creative way. Without knowing the spices in it, what “quality” ingredients are in it, you find it tasting good as soon as you put it in your mouth. But does it taste good just because it looks good? Does your mind overcompensate because of how good it looked? What if that same dish was haphazardly scattered on a paper plate?
- The “it’s not chicken, it’s food” rule. The current battle for sustainable foods. Eating at a regular, everyday restaurant, you never know where your meat came from. It could be injected with all kinds of chemicals you’ve never heard of (or care to learn) and you’re consuming it under the pretense that it “tastes good.”
- “I LOVE these little bowls!” And other miscellaneous things. What if you had found out that they got the silverware from Target? What if you knew that Hispanics were cooking your Japanese food?
It’s just so interesting to me, this screen of unknowingness…and, what are the consequences? We know the good ones: you enjoy your meal, you just kinda turn a blind eye for the sake of dining and flavor. You usually leave satisfied and that’s it. No strings attached - food was good, paid the bill, now it’s time to sleep.
But what about the bad ones? What gets lost in translation? What is missed in your dining experience? what stories are you oblivious to, what motives – that went into making your food - will you never ever know? The story at that restaurant goes on, and for the staff – that place is their world. For you? It was a short stay, a very detached, on-the-surface stay. You ate and left. They stay and get to know all the secrets.
So, what does it all mean? Some people may say so what, we live in a world of oblivion. And I agree. I just think it makes you think, that’s all.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
- Martin Buber
Tonight, there was a documentary on TV regarding the CONFIDENTIALITY of the KFC recipe. I thought it was interesting, so I decided to dig a little deeper to find out more information. This is what I found…
Harlan Sander, better known as Colonel Sanders, began selling chicken in the small front room of a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky. His cooking quickly gained a strong following, and in 1936 Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon made Harland Sanders an honorary Kentucky Colonel to recognize his contributions to the state’s cuisine. Over the next 9 years, Sanders stealthily worked on his method of cooking chicken. He eventually developed his signature, multi-million dollar recipe, a tasty blend of 11 herbs and spices. It was1940.
“In those days, I hand-mixed the spices like mixing cement on a specially cleaned concrete floor on my back porch in Corbin,” the Colonel recalled. “I used a scoop to make a tunnel in the flour and then carefully mixed in the herbs and spices.”
It was also during this time that the pressure flyer was introduced. Sanders utilized this to deliver fresh chicken to his customers faster when he discovered it was much quicker than pan frying.
In 1950, Colonel Sander’s notorious wardrobe also began to take shape: the trademark mustache, the goatee, and a white suit and string tie. Although he had been a colonel for 9 years now, he finally began to look the part.
It was at this time that the Colonel began actively franchising his chicken business by traveling from town to town and cooking up chicken for restaurant owners and employees. His work on the road paid off, as his success eventually landed 190 KFC franchisees and 400 franchise units in the U.S. and Canada.
“Today, the recipe is protected by some pretty elaborate security precautions. One company blends a formulation that represents part of the recipe while another spice company blends the remainder. As a final safeguard, a computer processing system is used to standardize the blending of the products to ensure neither company has the complete recipe.” (Information gleaned from www.kfc.com)
I think one of the reasons why I find this so fascinating is because you never really question the origin of fast food restaurants. You just figure they’re these sinful entities whose mission all along was to “become a fast food restaurant.” You don’t realize that some of the more common household food brands were IDEAS that were capitalized on. Good ideas. Good recipes, that prospered….in the form of a restaurant….and then revolutionized into a fast food chain. For me, it really reinforces the essence of capitalism: social darwinism - if a business is meant to succeed, it will.
So even the most common things we take for granted: El Pollo Loco, Carl’s Jr., Mrs. Field’s Cookies, etc. etc., for the most part had modest beginnings. It was the popularity of taste and the prudence of its founders that set them apart and allowed them to prosper.
It’s funny how the idea of being exceptional can lead to the field of normalcy and still be considered a success.
On an unrelated-to-food note, my student is studying The Great Gatsby, and I felt compelled to share with you some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s genius:
He smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.
How F. Scott Fitzgerald can take a single moment and transform it both into an idea you have never heard of and an idea that is completely familiar and relatable is pure talent…