I applaud the back-to-basics ethos that's creeping through American dining recently, where chefs are taking seriously the idea of cooking from ingredients, rather than cooking from prepared foods. It's a sort of anti-Sandra Lee, anti-Semi-Homemade revolution that, in general, is improving American dining. More importantly, it's re-training American palates, which will pay off down the road.
That said, some of you need to actually taste your food before you serve it–and have someone whom you trust to tell you the unvarnished truth taste it, too. Certain foods should only be preceded on a menu by the words “house-made” if you actually know what the hell you're doing. Sometimes it's because there is one brand and one brand only that people like, and sometimes it's because you're an idiot and don't know how to cook these things. Read on for an incomplete list of these things.
5. Fake Meat
This is at the end of the list because it belongs only to a certain sub-sub-sub-category of restaurants. It's tempting, when you run a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, to play with texturized vegetable protein (TVP) or other meat substitutes and try and imbue them with some flavor more appealing than sour cardboard. Unfortunately, pretty much nobody knows how to do it, and the result is me, sitting at a brightly colored table surrounded by batik prints, wishing the kitchen had sautéed the box instead.
4. Mac 'N Cheese
Cheese sauce–the stuff that goes onto mac 'n cheese–is simple stuff. It's white sauce with cheese melted into it. Unfortunately, ninety percent of the chefs in this country need to go back to middle school home economics and re-learn how to make a damn white sauce. If I had a dollar for every gluey, floury mac 'n cheese I've eaten since my daughter was born, I'd be able to rent a goon squad to beat some sense into the chefs of America. You suck at mac 'n cheese, chefs. Please, please, please go to the South and learn how to make it properly.
The macaron, done right, is ethereal. It's two chewy cookies cradling a small dollop of filling inside, but it's much more than the sum of its parts. Macarons are fast becoming the new cupcakes. Unfortunately, it's much harder to make an acceptable macaron than an acceptable cupcake. Let's just go down the list of offenses: underbaked or overbaked cookies, bizarre flavor combinations, too much filling, fillings that are too loose. Some of you, I swear to Moses' backup mule, create these things by looking at pictures on the Internet. You need to go to France and eat proper macarons before you make them on a commercial scale here.
2. Salad Dressing
You do not know how to make ranch dressing. No, no, you do not. You also apparently do not know how to make Thousand Island, bleu cheese, or any other kind of dressing–and then there's vinaigrette. The abominations I've encountered in the name of vinaigrette would make any Frenchman blanch. How did you manage not to learn to make a standard vinaigrette in culinary school? Vinegar and olive oil–much more of the latter than of the former–with salt and pepper. Maybe some mustard to make it sharper and emulsify better. Sugar–and I am including balsamic vinegar in the "sugar” category–does not belong anywhere near a vinaigrette, yet most of you just dump it in. You are why I always ask for cruets of oil and wine vinegar, and why I make my own dressing out of the contents of the condiment bar.
Give up already. Seriously, just stop trying. Americans have been very, very clear about ketchup: we want Heinz. Yes, it's got that high-fructose corn smegma in it. Yes, it's made from completely unsustainably farmed tomatoes. Yes, it's pretty much the dietary devil in red form, and we all love it. Your house ketchup, spiked with cutesy additions like cinnamon or pistachio or mesquite-toasted orange peel, makes us want to vomit itty bitty frite pieces all over the table. If you want to make a fry dip, make an aïoli, or an onion dip, or a mustard sauce–and do not give me the attitude when I ask for normal, non-awful ketchup out of a bottle.