Batch Cooking: A cooking technique in which appropriately sized batches of food are prepared several times throughout a service period so that a fresh supply of cooked items is always available.
That's the definition. But to execute this technique, at a time when foodservice customers of all ages are expecting bolder flavors, healthier options and more, is the mark of a true onsite culinary professional. Then, volume preparation can rival even the best cook-to-serve offerings.
A new book from master chefs Victor Gielisse, CMC, and Ron DeSantis, CMC, of the Culinary Institute of America, can be a great guide to those seeking to make this their goal. Modern Batch Cookery focuses on techniques and recipes geared to the batch cooking environment, and on the need for culinary professionals to motivate staff to execute to higher standards.
The book contains some great food photography and is comprehensive. Starting with the foundation of Escoffier's kitchen brigade structure, the book is grounded in the correct way to run a kitchen. It was designed by Gielisse and DeSantis to be an up-to-date guide with direction on everything from teaching chefs to describe tastes in a way everyone can agree on to planning menus around health; from quality control for high volume to plating and presentation.
Gielisse summed up the tall order that is executing great batch cookery:
“Your kitchen has to function at the height of efficiency and deliver the best possible outcome,” he says. “If you are excited about your food, it will trickle down to your team. They will be psyched.”
We're pretty psyched about Gielisse's new book, and recently, FM had some questions for the master chef.
Why did you and Ron DeSantis, CMC, decide to focus on this topic?
Gielisse: Over the years, we at the CIA have spent a great deal of time at conferences, retreats and other gatherings of foodservice chefs in all the market segments. Ron and I decided we had to have another resource in that segment to help them deliver results. We found that in general, we tend to focus too much on the higher end segment application, even as chefs in these noncommercial segments are working just as diligently and they're just as excited about their food creations.
Batch cooking — which is how much of this production takes place — is different. But I've spent a lot of time in these facilities, and the passion is as great as it is in a restaurant.
What has been the initial reaction to the book?
Gielisse: In general the feedback has been, ‘Oh wow, this is 50 portions’ and response has been highly positive. People are excited about the food photography and they like the abundance of new recipes. I feel the section on building flavor is important, and it's connecting with people.
Why do you focus so much on the correct way to describe flavor?
Gielisse: When chefs work together in a kitchen, they must establish a vernacular that gives them a common baseline for describing flavor and providing feedback to staff. Chefs are creatures of emotion. That's what makes us artistic. But how does one evaluate whether our recipes actually work? You do that through testing in a group. Chefs tend to correct mistakes right then and there, which is not correct. We have to fix the recipe as it's written.
In noncommercial segmnets, a lot of employees are on-the-job trained. They want to do well, but how exactly do you explain ‘mouthfeel’ and ‘texture’ to them? The book aims to help with that. Spending time in hospitals, especially, has shown me what the staff can become. You need to engage them in the craft and you need to talk to them regularly about not just about procedures, like how to properly defrost frozen food…but also ideas about how to build flavors in layers.
When I walk into a kitchen, I can sense sometimes that there is no food culture. That's what I'm working against.
What was your overarching goal in writing this book?
Gielisse: I had just come from a NACUFS regional conference in Iowa, and I was so inspired at how much excitement was around the food. I wanted to show chefs that there are great opportunities in the segments they may not at first consider. I also wanted to give chefs in these segments a resource to help them drive quality.
The photography looks amazing in this book…
Gielisse: Pictures really do tell 1,000-word stories. Step-by-step photos show that any method can be broken down so it's not that complicated. I would hope that when our book comes into the hands of someone who might be intimidated by making an arugula pesto, he or she will then see that it's not so hard. I wanted the photos to make things more user-friendly and approachable.
What are some of the most significant differences between batch and cook to serve?
Gielisse: With batch cooking, a simple sauté technique can become not-so-simple. If you have a teaspoon of shallots that you have to sweat down that's one thing. But with a bigger quantity of shallots in a tilt skillet, it's about patience. You have to let the heat source do the work and sometimes people don't realize that. You can't rush it. Batch cooking can achieve cook-to-serve results, but it takes dedication and special expertise to make it happen.
Why is it important to focus on the little things, like uniforms?
Gielisse: When I worked with a chef at a hospital down south recently, I put the staff in chef uniforms. No more t-shirts and jeans. That's not going to cut it. You elevate from the bottom up. I know there are sometimes tough fiscal decisions at play, but you need to set the tone. Little things contribute to that tone.
What are the toughest and easiest things to batch cook?
Gielisse: At Universal Studios in California, they can serve 40,000 people. Could you poach eggs for 40,000 people? Maybe, but would you want to? You have to think: What makes sense for a large batch? I paid attention to what people can execute well. I think we have a mix of good old standards and new recipes. Sometimes old standards turn out to be less complicated than people thought. One great recipe is chicken (p. 208) that's very simple and has a great sauce, but it's not swimming in the sauce.
What are the most significant differences in how batch cooking is approached now vs. in the past?
Gielisse: I have a 26-year-old daughter in law school. College kids are extremely demanding. My generation — their parents — has exposed them to so many more food experiences; they have higher expectations than we did. I would say college students are the most demanding consumer out there: they demand value, taste and flavor. Whether it's Stanford or Iowa State, it doesn't matter — food is at another level now. And batch cooking technique has had to evolve with that.
Communicating with kitchen staff about flavor is key in making sure you're on the same page. Here is a list of terms from the book to help you achieve uniformity in batch cooking:
Appearance and eye appeal
Finish and mouthfeel
Special Descriptor: Smokiness