Want to know how real chefs make food in their kitchens, before their customers get a taste?
It’s called “family meal”? and usually means a big meal that the chef makes for the rest of the staff.
Before service, everyone on shift that night sits down and eats together. Family meal is the perfect way to connect with your fellow staff members before the insanity of a busy dinner shift hits. It’s also the perfect way for the kitchen to reuse leftover food and cook straight from the heart, instead of ‘by the book’.
Since everyone is sitting together, the family meal also gives the manager a chance inform the staff about important things going on that night. They’ll run through specials, what’s 86’d (ie what the kitchen or bar has run out of), big parties or special guests that have reserved tables, or give a heads up on items that need to get “pushed” (ie, encourage your customers to buy)
Isn’t that just like how you imagine a good family meal in your own home to be? The best meals use up whatever is currently in the kitchen to make a big, satisfying meal, then everyone sits down together and hashes out their days and plans.
It’s a common misconception that a restaurant family meal is made up of the close-to-expiring or past-prime things in the kitchen; on the contrary – since the cooks will be eating it as well – it’s usually deliciously comforting. Here, the kitchen staff can relax a little, and cook something for the pure joy of eating, without worrying about timing or how pretty the plate looks.
In many ways, I think a life in the restaurant industry prepped me for parenthood. And there’s no better trick to bring home than the concept of a family meal.
There are a number of ways you can bring the restaurant family meal into your own home! Family meal is made with love but is never a big production; it’s always filling and is made by taking inventory of what must be used first before it goes bad. Family meal is never something fancy, and definitely isn’t something that takes ages to make.
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The way I keep the concept of family meal alive in our kitchen is by making sure my pantry is well stocked with familiar ingredients that I can prepare with my eyes closed. These are my ‘go-to’ items, ones that can be easily combined with ‘must-use-immediately’ ingredients.
For us, that looks like a pantry stocked with white rice, black beans, egg noodles, soy sauce, tomato sauce, shredded cheese, peanut butter, brown sugar, chicken stock, bread crumbs and hot sauce.
There are other pantry staples I like to have on hand, but this short list is my kitchen must-haves; if I’m ever in a bind on a busy night and need to figure out what to feed these people, stat- I turn to simple dishes made primarily with something from this little roster, plus whatever protein and vegetable I need to get moving out of that refrigerator before it goes bad.
Want to bring the concept of ‘family meal’ to your own kitchen?
It’s as easy as making your own short list! Think back on the last five dishes you made that you and your family loved and see what fits these criteria:
- Are there any common ingredients?
- What was it about those dishes that your family loved so much?
- What can you do to make your family meal come together fast, whenever you need it?
- How can you ‘riff’ on the idea of your favorite meals to give you a little flexibility the next time you make it?
I hope you’ve got some great ideas for figuring out a few tried-and-tested ‘family meals’ of your own! If you want some inspiration, here are a couple of my favorite family meal recipes, along with itemized lists of their common ingredients so you can stock your own pantry, plus full grocery lists for each recipe!
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