Maybe I’m just a huge food snob, but when I see people getting excited about going to chain restaurants like Applebees, Chili’s, or Friday’s, I just have to shake my head in wonder. Come on, really, the food their sucks. It all tastes like it has been stuffed with preservatives and microwaved and the menu is enough to put me into spasms of yawns. Plus, it’s expensive. I will gladly pay good money for good food, but not much pisses me off more than having to pay for a crappy meal. This happened to me a couple of times last week when I had to go out with co-workers for working lunches and all I could think about was how much yummier my sandwich of homemade roasted chicken on homemade oatmeal bread with locally-grown tomatoes and red leaf lettuce would have been. Luckily one of the lunches was free, but at the other place, 90% (literally) of the things on the menu were deep fried. Anger. Much anger.
Here’s where the snobbery (and maybe a bit of being too proud of my own abilities) comes in — I don’t go out to eat much because I can cook better than 90% of the places out there. I’m not saying that I can hold a candle to a Mom-and-Pop-owned hole in the wall Italian place, a fabulous local pizza joint, or a to-die-for breakfast cafe, but let’s face it — most of the food being hawked at Americans is rubbish. You owe it to yourself to do better than that.
Judging from my experiences in restaurants throughout the country, there are two things that the generic American diner seems to want:
Most restaurants are thrilled by this because it’s a cheap formula for success. It doesn’t take much money — either through hiring well-skilled cooks or by buying quality ingredients — to make dishes that have both of those key ingredients. It’s like these people have never heard of oregano, sage, or rosemary, much less nutmeg, ginger, cumin, or coriander. The food is incredibly bland yet is guaranteed to be three times what you need, nutritionally devoid, clog your arteries, and raise your blood pressure! (By the way, if you serve me a salad and the greens are comprised of iceberg lettuce — which has all the nutritional value of water and is a shame to the word ‘vegetable’ — you will automatically be relegated to the list of “gross place to eat.”)
In contrast to many restaurants, when I’m cooking for myself or for friends I know what will make my tastebuds happy and will keep my friends eagerly accepting my dinner invitations:
1. Fresh quality ingredients
2. An interesting menu that finds delicious ways to incorporate things like veggies
3. A heavy hand with herbs and spices
And that’s where the big difference lies: restaurants care — above all — about turning a profit. If they turn a profit because their food is good, then great. But the corollary is that if stuffing your food so full of sodium and saturated or trans fats in huge portions to put you into a caloric stupor means they make money, they will do that too. In contrast, my sole aim is to make good food. End of story.