A wise man once said, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. The need to perform better and make profits leads people, whatever their line of work, to keep thinking of ways to improve their products and processes. Eventually one of these inventions captures the imagination of the consumer of the product and becomes popular. This leads to other companies involved with the same product coming up with their own adaptations. Ultimately when a large number of people begin to follow the concept it becomes a trend.
Thus any concept or invention that a chef or manager feels will help him get loyal customers is often implemented very quickly. However in such a demanding environment 90% of these concepts tend to fall flat. Recent research showed that in cities like London and New York nine out of ten new restaurants and newly launched food products do not last for more than six months. Thus any credible concepts are generally latched onto and applied.
Trends can be related to any area within a kitchen and restaurant. They could do with the types of food, service styles, new equipment and even personnel processes and management techniques. The idea of a chef-manager is one that is not entirely a new concept but one that of late has been gaining a lot of ground in many hotels. While initially the kitchen was a chef’s domain and the restaurant floor the F&B manager’s, it is not so anymore. Chefs now often control what happens in the restaurant as well. Several hotel groups have begun providing the necessary cross training to make this transition possible. This concept probably arose from the fact that the chef is generally the person who first thinks of the restaurant theme as well as the menu. Which is why he is probably in the best position to decide the service styles, the decor, ambience and even the food and wine pairing.
The next step to the idea of a chef-manager is that of a chef entrepreneur. While there have always been independent restaurants for several years, the last five years have seen a number of them coming up around the metros of the world. Almost 80% of these are conceptualised and managed by the chef who is at the head of the hierarchy. In spite of the risks involved with setting up a restaurant, most chefs are not averse to the idea as it allows them complete independence and gives them a huge stage on which is display their creativity and talents. Chefs like Hemant Oberoi, Sanjeev Kapoor and Imtiaz Qureshi are perfect examples. Thus the trend to allow chefs to move out of the kitchen is catching on quickly around the world.
Management styles within the kitchen too have begun to change considerably. Over the years, as the size of operations increased, hotels began to devise their own organisation structures for the kitchen which would be the most effective for them. One of the reasons for this was the fact that kitchens became more compact and a lot of mechanisation was devised for several tedious functions. Thus the difference between the job of a Chef de Partie and a Commis was not as pronounced as it was in Escoffier’s brigade and the basis of promotion too became different. In the late nineties however, several chefs began to experiment with management styles in their kitchens. A number of these are a step back to Escoffier’s kitchen brigade, with a few variations added by the contemporary chefs. While these began initially in independent restaurants, they have begun to be accepted by hotels internationally. Some of the popular new management styles based on Escoffier’s kitchen brigade are “La Methode Ducasse” and that of Chef Anthony Bourdian whose book “Kitchen Confidential” is now a management journal used as curriculum at Stanford and Wharton School of Business.
Food styles and eating habits too have changed over the years. Once again with the distances in the world growing smaller and smaller, chefs around the world began to work on creating more “international tastes”. Fusion or mingling of different cooking styles and flavours is one of today’s most accepted trends. Purists say that fusion is simply an excuse to not be able to make the “real deal”. They feel it amounts to cheating the guest of what he should ideally be getting and thus should aptly be called “con”fusion. Its patrons however insist that to be able to understand fusion one has to have a sound grounding in the basics. Whatever the argument “fusion” cuisine is here to say.
Changes too have been seen in the styles of menus and the recipes. The food eaten today is preferably light and there is a major accent on healthy and nutritionally balanced foods being served from the kitchen. Many chefs have moved to developing healthier styles of foods like Chef Anton Mosimann, who since 1985 has been developing “Cuisine Naturelle”, a culinary style which involves lower fat, flour and alcohol content. The introduction of genetically modified foods in the US and UK in the late 90s too has helped produce not just great looking and great tasting but also healthier foods.
Planning of the kitchen has now achieved a very scientific outlook. Sanitation and hygiene methods are being scrutinised and improved on a daily basis. New concepts and principles like those of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) have been devised to locate and eliminate the hazards and risks that one normally associates with the operations of a busy commercial kitchen.
The introduction of the computer in the kitchen has greatly eased laborious tasks like costing, standardising and indenting. Property management systems like Fidelio and Micro have also greatly improved restaurant-kitchen communication and speed of operations.
Mechanisation in kitchens is also becoming a widely accepted idea. Every day, manufacturers are coming up with newer products. And while the chef’s hands are his best tools, machines are tremendous when it comes to labour saving and speeding up the work. Cooking equipment like the advanced heavy duty flat top ranges and ovens that go beyond the functions of the conventional stack oven by incorporating functions with the latest infrared technology are being introduced and improved everyday. Latest equipment like steam jacketed kettles and steam cookers have proved a great boon in the kitchen as they do not just reduce cooking time but also preserve nutrition.
There have also been several experiments made in menus. Relatively new ideas such as the “Tasters Menu” introduced by Chef Saby at the Bellissima restaurant in Mumbai and Chef Manish Nambiar in India Jones at the Oberoi, Mumbai, have just bettered gastronomic experiences. Chefs now use different menus for different meal times based on customer influx and other commercial aspects.
Another change is in the way the menu is being written. In many places internationally, the concept of naming a dish is not really popular. Rather than a name followed by a description most dishes now have only the description. Take for example a sample from Chef Trotter’s menu, “South Dakota Bison Tenderloin with Cipollini Onions, Roasted Porcini Mushrooms, Veal Tongue and Porcini-Red Wine Emulsion”. Definitely a mouthful. And this is how all the dishes are being named in menus around the world.
Escoffier once said, “La bonne cuisine est la base de veritable bonheur” – good cooking is the base to good living. And a hundred years later, it is good to see that the world is believing him.