Kyle Sampson has a deep understanding of the kitchen. He began working as a busser at age 15 before graduating from UCLA with a history degree. His passion for cooking reignited after he committed to an apprenticeship with the American Culinary Foundation in his mid-30s. He then went on to earn a culinary arts degree from Colorado Mountain, serve as a chef apprentice at Keystone Resort, and operate his own restaurant in Southern Utah. He followed all of that with a few cooking stints in several California restaurants.
Sampson now shares his kitchen knowledge with customers at the Chef’s Toys store in San Marcos, California. From how to buy the right equipment to how to build a balanced menu, Sampson has plenty of sage advice for aspiring chefs. Among his many flavorful morsels are:
1. Know Every Inch Of Your Kitchen
The most successful chefs know how many celery bunches are in their kitchen because they’ve done their homework. They ordered it, and they’ve kept track of it. Their kitchen operates like a well-oiled machine because they're so in tune with it. They know what's coming in and what's going out. There's very little margin for waste, and everything gets sold or utilized in some way.
2. Design a Menu
Have a detailed plan. Identify the menu theme and type of service – casual dining, fast food, etc. Think about your kitchen as a pie. You can't build a menu around everything coming off the grill. Let’s say you have a couple of convection ovens, a range, fryer, charbroiler, and griddle on the line. The menu should complement each of those pieces. If you don’t diversify the menu by food type and the equipment it is being cooked on, you're going to end up dragging the kitchen down. Ticket times will skyrocket because everyone is ordering off one station. If there aren’t enough choices, people may stop coming back. Even the best steakhouses sell chicken. As a chef, you need to be able to come up with a creative dish that utilizes a piece of equipment if it’s not getting used to its full potential.
3. Buy Equipment Based On Your Menu
You can put pretty much any equipment under a Type I hood. So, it really depends on what style of service and what kind of food your restaurant is going to offer. If you’re hoping to open a burger place, considered short-order cooking, then a large charbroiler or griddle, salamander, contact toaster, and big fryer are recommended. Those units will help you turn out burgers like crazy, which will drive more than 80% of your menu. The other 20% will be salads and desserts.
If you’re looking to start a fast burrito place, considered quick service, the most important piece of equipment you’ll need is a hot food well line to keep all your meat, rice, and beans hot. This setup also will allow you to fill, wrap, and serve your burritos quickly. If you desire to open a steakhouse, you're going to want a steak broiler. If you haven’t had a steak cooked out of an actual broiler, you’re missing out. This cooking method would be the alternative to pan or charbroil searing your steak and finishing it in the oven.
For most operations, a range, charbroiler, griddle, and fryer will be required. These are the backbones to every menu. If you've got these pieces of equipment, your possibilities will be endless.
4. Purchase The Right Equipment For Your Restaurant
The more stress you put on your equipment, the quicker it's going to break down and require service. If you buy equipment – such as an economy-grade, light-duty unit – based on price alone, you likely won’t be able to get the job done for long. If you're a new restaurant operator and you see an energy-efficient fryer for $750 off the sticker price thanks to an Energy Star rebate, you might get excited and purchase it.
However, when you learn that “energy efficiency” actually means “gas constriction,” and the BTUs on the unit go from 90k to 70k, you’ll soon be disappointed. That constriction on the gas line directly relates to your recovery time on the fryer! If you put a bunch of frozen french fries in this fryer, it's going to drop the oil from 375° (where you want it to be) to under 325°.
Once you finally get your cooked fries out and are ready for the next batch, you’ll have to wait 5 minutes before you can drop more fries because the oil's not hot enough, and heat has to recover. The fryer may be “gas efficient,” but it is going to constrict your food output and lengthen your ticket times.
5. Start With Inexpensive Pots, Pans, And Knives Before Upgrading
There’s a wide array of choices when buying restaurant supplies. Chefs’ Toys tiers them as good, better, best. If you’re just starting out and have a small budget, you don't need to get the best heavy-duty pot or pan. Go with a good one instead. Keep in mind that it will eventually wear out, but then you might have enough money to afford a better one.
If you’re new to the cooking business and unsure you will use or like a piece of equipment, get the good one first. If you feel the need to upgrade later, you won’t be out too much money. I use that philosophy with knives, also. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get the best in class. Vollrath Tribute pans are top quality and meant to go on a burner. They’re also induction-ready pans. They hold heat great but don't have hot spots. They’re also lightweight and heavy-duty at the same time. It's the closest you can get to All-Clad – and less expensive.
6. Make Sure You Have Enough Storage Space To Keep Up With Demand
Cooking comes down to what are you making, what you are serving, and how you are serving it. How many people are you planning on serving a day, and where is all that food going to be stored? There's a lot of thought that goes into menu planning and preparation. Decisions are dependent on food costs and the volume of business. The restaurant’s equipment is there to be a guiding force for menu creation, but it's the amount of money that operators spend on food in relation to how much space they have to store the product that can severely hinder production. You could have the most spacious kitchen in the world. But, if you don't have a walk-in refrigerator and you're operating out of two reach-ins, you can only serve or safely store so much food. Lack of refrigerator space and storage will directly limit your food output on any given day. Some small restaurants that have no space or limited labor may only serve customers until they run out of food, despite the hours they have posted on their doors. These places may be popular, but they miss out on additional hours of sales. Plus, disappointed customers who were turned away before the listed close time may never come back or bash the restaurant on social media. My advice: Get another refrigerator!
7. Partner With People Who Know The Food Service Industry
Mom-and-pop restaurants may say they can’t afford an executive chef or consultant to make decisions about building out their kitchen. But, it will be worth it in the end. Between correctly pulling paperwork with a city to working with requirements for historical buildings (where you can’t make changes the structure’s exterior, so installing items such as a range hood is prevented), these challenges can end up dashing dreams even before the restaurant opens.