My grandmother, and many like her, kept an account book for household spending. This was not the product of an overbearing marriage or mistrust on anyone’s behalf – it was simply how things were done at a time when habits had been formed during rationing after the second world war, and banking was manual and slow.
I spent a lot of time observing her kitchen on childhood visits. It was where my lifelong obsession with cooking began, and I can still recall a sense of balance in how she shopped and cooked; she was fond of naughty treats and lavish cuts, but she kept a stock pot, knew her way around basic butchery and was reluctant to let anything go to waste.
Later, as head chef in busy restaurants which relied on close control of tight margins to stay in business, I also kept a daily account book. We didn’t call it that, of course: day sheets, GPs, margins and P&Ls are the head chef’s stock in trade. But all we are really doing is keeping an account book, staying on top of incomings vs outgoings.
It was during a recent conversation with friends, all chefs or restaurateurs, that chatter turned to the increasingly complex task of running restaurant kitchens in the current climate – i.e. one where costs of ingredients, labour, rent and rates have all gone skyward, and the very task of finding people to work in hospitality has become Herculean, all while real household incomes and disposable spending are declining. As we talked, I wasn’t the only one at the table whose mind went back to our grandparents’ kitchens.
Just before the nexus of too many beers drunk, we felt we landed on a list of genuinely useful, practical tips and tricks that we as chefs use to make things go further, taste better and cost less to produce in the running of our kitchens.