Keeping food costs in line is the bane of any chef’s existence. With such small margins, every money-saving tactic makes a difference. To help you boost your bottom line, three chefs share their three best hacks to save money on food costs.
Jeff Sladicka, director of culinary at Grill Concepts, Inc. a Los Angeles-based restaurant group that includes The Grill on the Alley, Daily Grill, and Public School
Be smart about cross utilization
We have a soft herb salad that features micro herbs and micro lettuces, which have a very short shelf life. We are using those products in several dishes so that I can get the usage I need, they’re constantly staying fresh, and we’re never throwing them out. You will have single-use ingredients, but make sure you don’t have too many perishable ones, which can cause issues with poor quality and eventually waste.
Manage your prep
Be aware of who is prepping your products and when. Prep cooks sometimes come up with their lists based on their schedules or because they only want to do the task once a week rather than several times. If chefs aren’t careful, they’ll have prep cooks make batches outside of the normal quality or shelf life of the product.
Keep your eye on the clock
Use timers to ensure you don’t overcook anything. For example, we use lardons in a lot of applications at Public School. If you burn a tray of lardons, that’s a very expensive mistake. Even simple ingredients, like nuts, can be a very costly error if they’re over-toasted.
Executive chef Saul Montiel of Cantina Rooftop in New York City
Go straight to the market
Rather than working with a seafood purveyor or another middleman, we visit the New Fulton Fish Market in Hunts Point. The product is priced lower and is as fresh as it gets. We kill two birds with one stone while we’re there by stopping at Hunts Point Produce Market next door to buy whatever is in season – from squash blossoms for our gringa dish to pomegranates for our fruit guacamole.
Use leftovers for family meal
We save the best leftovers for ourselves. For example, when we portion salmon cuts, we trim off the ends and save them to make fajitas for the staff. That allows us to offer a better family meal at a lower cost while keeping morale high and food waste low.
Consider your options
We have at least two or three vendors that supply meat, fish, and produce. I call each of them every day to get a much better deal on most of our ingredients. I don’t make a purchase until I’ve figured out who has the best price, and I often play them off each other.
Jon Nodler, chef-owner of Cadence in Philadelphia
Look beyond the prime cuts
Every week, the restaurant receives a whole lamb and whole fish, such as kampachi and halibut, so they are always trying to figure out how to use every last bit. By using the off-cuts – such as the lamb’s heart, liver, neck, and sweetbreads, and the fishes’ collars – they yield more sellable product when butchering.
Leave no scrap unused
There’s a root-to-shoot approach with vegetables to maximize yield. Radish greens form the backbone of salsa verde or chimichurri, while carrot tops go into chutney. Roasted fennel leaves are dehydrated, pulverized into powder, and mixed with salt and pepper; the results taste like vegetarian pepperoni.
The restaurant does such a phenomenal job of eliminating food waste that they’ve been able to cut back on their trash services. Instead of having four pickups a week, they have to pay for only two.
Photo credit: Marnie Hawson.