Separating fact from fiction in the kitchen

Concerns about price gauging, unsanitary conditions are unfounded

I feel the need to address the expectations that people who buy food at a restaurant or cafeteria have versus the reality of the food they actually get.

It may sound presumptuous, but given my 11 years of restaurant experience in various establishments, I have a pretty good idea of what people will receive.

During my time preparing and serving food at Diversity Foods at the University of Winnipeg, I have heard several comments about food portion size and the prices of the dishes.

We are aware of how expensive the food we serve seems to be and no, we are not trying to rip people off by over-charging.

Rather, the problem seems to stem from the consumer not fully understanding the steps involved in how we price our food.

I’ll use an example of something simple, like an order of french fries, and break it down.

An order of french fries seems straightforward enough; just cut, fry and serve. However, there is more to the process than that.

First, we have to pay for a company to provide us with potatoes and pay for their delivery. A staff member is paid to cut and fry them.

Money also goes towards the equipment, oil, electricity for running the deep fryer and salt for after they’re cooked.

We have the cook who serves them to customers, the box or plate the fries are served on, ketchup, vinegar, pepper, cutlery, napkins, and lastly, the cashier whom you pay.

All of this has a cost that we have to add to the price of a plate of french fries in order to at the least break even and the company can make a small profit.

We understand that many students don’t have tons of money to shell out for food everyday, which is why we try to keep the prices reasonable and low.

We are not taking in some whopping profit like other places do. For example, I used to be a kitchen manager at a popular pizza chain, and their pizza bread cost only 45 cents to make. They charge people $4.99 plus tax for it.

Cleanliness is also a concern for many customers.

Though it’s easy to expect the worst, the truth is that many people who prepare food care about what they do

I again can understand the concerns people have about how clean the staff and facilities are. Anyone who has seen the movie Waiting is probably terrified of eating at a restaurant ever again.

That movie is in no way a representation of a real food service facility.

Many of us have our Food Handler Certificate, which involves us taking an extensive course learning about food-borne illnesses and how to prevent them.

As well, we have health inspectors who regularly come in to check out our workplace and make sure everything is up to code.

One oft-heard concern is that food handlers at Diversity Foods should be wearing gloves.

We wash our hands frequently and are trained not to touch several foods that will contaminate one another.

We usually only wear gloves when we are touching raw products that cause food contamination, like chicken.

With such great concern about hand washing on the cook’s end, it’s interesting to note how many people rarely wash their own hands before eating.

Given the fact that they could touch money, chairs, tables, handles and a multitude of other objects that carry bacteria on them before putting their hands on their own food, this seems a bit odd. 

The kitchen of a food service business carries a lot of misconceptions.

Though it’s easy to expect the worst, the truth is that many people who prepare food care about what they do.

Thomas Rousseaux is a chef with Diversity Foods at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 24, 2011)

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