Even the best chefs can do with some help at times. With this intent, F&B solution companies today present infinite options, which can be time-saving for chefs and bartenders alike
By Mini Ribeiro
In today’s fast-paced world, time is premium and thus, convenience is key. Globally, a rise in clean label claims across multiple F&B, including soups, prepared meals and sauces, is being witnessed and there is a demand for these products. Equally popular are syrups and pre-mixes for bartenders, who love to jazz up their cocktails in a jiffy, using these.
Hotels and restaurants, which do volume business, are under constant pressure to simultaneously improve delivery speed and reduce costs, all, while providing quality. Furthermore, with shortage of trained manpower, rising labour costs and the discerning consumer demands for exceptional food served quickly, chefs are facing challenges, as never before.
Preparing food “from scratch” is more often considered counterproductive and impractical, and traded for the use of “convenience foods.” Innovation in the food service industry is a combination of technological innovation and knowledge. Innovative, integrated food solution companies offer the entire spectrum of food solutions – soups, marinades, cream toppings, sauces, dips, sprinklers, gravy bases, etc. The list of offerings is endless and the products versatile.
Armed with innovation, quality and service, most well-known F&B solution companies, thus help grow the F&B business, by meeting needs of the ever-expanding industry. Enabling chefs to balance efficiency, speed, quality and consistency, these companies want to act as facilitators. Thus, chefs need not be putting their energies and efforts into time-consuming mundane tasks or spending long hours over a cooking range.
Yet, most of the F&B industry does not view these offerings, too favourably. Most chefs, pride themselves for being kitchen magicians and do not approve the use of these and vehemently stay away from these products, preferring to make their own sauces, stocks et al. And it is not as if the quality of these solutions is questionable. It is just that, freshness is something chefs are fastidious about and are not willing to turn to any shortcuts, where freshness is compromised.
Executive chef Arun Sundararaj, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, says, “We, constantly endeavour to present our guests with unique culinary experiences. For our signature dishes, we particularly focus on creativity and innovation, freshness of ingredients and authenticity of the recipe and taste. We don’t make use of readymade F&B solutions per se. However, we create our own base sauces and creams like home-made mayonnaise, gravies, tomato-based ketchups, even homemade ice-creams.”
Others, create their signature dishes using some of these “secret ingredients” but prefer not to wax eloquent about it. There are yet other chefs, who have cleverly embraced this trend and use these food solutions, sparingly and skillfully, never compromising on the quality of their food. And just because a sauce is ready-made, doesn’t mean chefs can’t add their own ingredients. That’s where his knowledge and ability to innovate, comes in.
Chef Vikram Ganpule, executive chef, Hyatt Regency Chennai, is honest and forthright. “In general, I like to stick to the traditional “mother” sauces as they form the backbone of taste and flavour. However, when it comes to syrups, creams and spices, a medley of these are now available and we use them in conjunction with our base sauces, to further enhance or introduce new flavours. For example, truffle cream paste in a mushroom risotto or a proprietary sriracha for burritos or non-dairy creams to give stability and structure to dairy creams.”
Savings in time and costs, better portion and cost control, ease of training and evaluation, added eye appeal, product consistency and convenience in storage, are some clear benefits of these solutions.
Chefs must be confident of their expertise and abilities, know how to make the classic sauces and stocks, which are the cornerstone of good food and must continue to do so. Yet, shying away from these ready food solutions, is not necessarily the answer. Guests, want variety and consistency and with limited number of hands and time, these F&B solutions come handy. As long as nutritional requirements are met and quality standards adhered to, food solutions can prove to be a blessing. It actually gives a chef, ample time to look into the plating and presentation of a meal, which actually transforms the dish and adds to the ‘wow’ factor today.
Chef Sundararaj agrees, “As far as chefs’ demands are concerned, mostly it depends upon an individual’s requirement. It has definitely made the job much easier because of ready availability of these food solutions in the market.”
A small portion of a restaurant’s total food costs, yet, some of these food solutions make an enormous difference in the flavour of the dishes and elevate any dish from ordinary to extraordinary, if used wisely. And many chefs acknowledge that.
Bartenders and mixologists too, are equally fussed about fresh ingredients and flavours and there is not much preference for ready-made solutions. Sachin Mylavarapu, EAM, food & beverage, The St. Regis, Mumbai, declares, “Quality and consistency, are the two major parameters. Moreover the freshness and originality of our syrups and juices are crucial. Anything wrong with those could be unpleasant on the palate.” Yet, he is quick to add, “Companies like Monin, have strong R&D departments and concentrate on common, as well as, unique and unusual flavours. However, we believe that these flavours are produced on a very large scale and are better for mid-range bars. Thus, we create our own flavours.”
But with their need for consistency across many units and less emphasis on cutting-edge techniques, chains prefer to source commercially produced syrups, which helps explain the explosion in flavoured syrups. And in the modern world of mixology, where every ingredient is scrutinised for its particular adaptability, delivering reliable flavour is critical. As long as beverage solution brands are able to that, mixologists are happy to experiment, albeit in a small way.
Clavin D Souza, head, innovation, The Bar Stock Exchange, Mumbai, quips, “We have a great team that makes these solutions in house, however, there are some syrups we purchase from vendor companies for ease of taste. These reduce the time taken to make a cocktail and most importantly, for a growing brand that has multiple outlets, drinks taste the same wherever you go.”
Again, banquets are an area, where large volumes are required, so hotels relax the rules, here. Mylavarapu of The St. Regis, Mumbai, admits, “We are using Monin, however we are limiting it to our banquets.”
Karthi VK, bar specialist and assistant F&B manager, The Oberoi Bengaluru adds, “Bars and beverages at high-end restaurants, like ours, should give their diners fresh ingredients. But, if there is a large event or banquet function, then you can take support of certain high-end and premium flavour mixes, as the demand level for churning beverages of a consistent quality is high in this context, and here certain bottled flavours help.”
Bartenders also accept that fact that no matter how creative they get, it is easier to procure some syrups rather than make those. Pure maple syrup is for example, used to get depth into a cocktail, but now some interesting variations are available, so bartenders opt for those.
Apart from providing quality products emanating from strong R&D, as per industry standards, most F&B solution companies offer other assistance too – recipes for chefs, demos, working closely with chefs and bartenders to ascertain what they need.
Yet, many still find them falling short of requirements. “Although they do their research and have a wide range of products to choose from, but from an innovative bartender perspective, the choices are limited and usual. They do not really step beyond certain commonly used flavours and expectations. I think a mix of both are required to make a bar successful,” elaborates Karthi VK.
Chef Ganpule opines, “I think going forward there is a need to create a platform where both parties—producers and users, can share ideas on what needs to be done and the direction R&D needs to go. Their R&D is throwing up a lot of products, but there are a few that are not used and a lot of them fail, when compared to International top brands.”
Not wasting time and skill, creating menu and bar essentials, could be an option for chefs and bartenders alike, in years to come, but for that, food and beverage solutions, must be a combination of tradition and innovation. For now, these are opted for, only when absolutely necessary.