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From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: Do You Really Want Consistent Flavor?

Consistency is a highly desired and even required attribute in a wide variety of contexts.
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Consistency is a highly desired and even required attribute in a wide variety of contexts. For example, no one should have to fear that perhaps the nuts and bolts on a commercial aircraft may not meet the specifications of safety and comfort. Consistent flavors in a dish however, may not always be desirable. Most of us can recall a favorite dish from our formative years made by someone in the family, and when we crave that dish, we expect it to be consistently comforting and delicious. In many instances, I season every dish in at least three stages, and I taste it about four times before I plate it. I know what I'm looking for, but the consistency I am trying to achieve is a function of my taste buds. Many restaurants have standardized recipes, which are much needed, but executing a recipe to a T is only a goal and not always achieved. Sometimes, I am away from the line at Cress because I am either at another culinary event or proctoring an evening exam at Stetson University. My able sous chef does his very best to replicate what I would want, but our taste buds are different. Our guests understand that they are at a small, independent restaurant practicing scratch cooking. So, our goal is always to prepare food which is consistently well prepared, rather than obsessing over trying to re-create the exact flavor each time. Cooking this way invariably promotes creativity and offers guests unique experiences. If I could have only meal, I know what I want, but I am not sure I want it to be identical to one I've had before.

Fast food chains on the other hand have done a masterful job of creating a model of consistency across the thousands of outlets. They have been able to create models and define executable protocols which take into account the variability of personnel and ingredients, but they still manage to create food that tastes quite consistent each time. One of the ways this has been made possible is because of the vast amounts of pre-processing of highly processed ingredients using finely tuned machines in massive, centralized kitchens. There is consistency of equipment at each location and of course detailed training of staff on how to consistently assemble the pre-processed ingredients using the consistent equipment. Another reason is the use of precise amounts of additives and preservatives to control the natural spoilage of foods. The ingredients themselves are sourced from massive farms engaged in "big agriculture." So, the French fries may taste the same at every location, but at what cost?

Just as "variety is the spice of life," we should leave some room for inconsistency in the food at restaurants as long as we maintain the "soul" in our preparation and the quality of our ingredients.