I believe this question can have various answers depending on what type of restaurant we are speaking of. You would be amazed at how many items on a menu of some of these “chop shop-turn & burn” restaurants actually outsource. Sometimes it is a matter of logistics and lack of labor to actually make these items from scratch. Most of the time though, it is simply a chef who is too lazy and uninspired to take the time to craft these elements correctly. I have some seem some terrible substitutes and shortcuts used by chefs that sincerely discredit our profession. Pre-breaded “coconut shrimp”, pre-cracked eggs, and a laundry list of dessert items are but a few examples. The list of ingredients that these terrible restaurants use is endless. A very common shortcut I have seen many chefs take is using stock bases as opposed to making real stocks. Stocks are the foundation of great cooking. I would submit to you that if a chef is not making real stocks, he or she’s whole menu is not worth noting. That being said, many restaurants that are on a higher level do take shortcuts as well. Although it is not nearly to the degree of these lesser quality restaurants, there are some common ingredients that are often sourced from large suppliers. Two that come to mind are pasta and various charcuterie items. When I say pasta, I do not mean the “penne ala vodka” you get from Tony’s pizza down in your local shopping center. I am speaking of respectable restaurants serving “homemade” pasta dishes in which they do not even make the pasta. From my perspective, if you are going to serve fresh pasta, then make the pasta yourself or do not serve it at all. It is impossible to replicate hand-made fresh pasta with the equipment used to produce these fresh pasta sheets.
I made fresh pasta dough by hand, rolled it out, and cut it everyday for a year straight for a restaurant I was working at. Pasta dough has a life of it’s own and must constantly be tended to while working with it. It is time consuming but the final product is beautiful. Ravioli’s and all other pasta types are also among these items.
There is a much deeper underlying issue in this question that I believe is worth noting. A serious dilemma is occurring amongst our modern day civilization in which the consequences are coming to light at an alarming rate. The way we are mass producing all types of foods, unnaturally cultivating produce, and mishandling animals intended for consumption is altering us in ways most people could never imagine. I recently read an article by Mikka Luster that does a remarkable job at shedding light to this matter. In it he writes, “We have handed the work of our artisans and crafters, makers, and doers, to Ikea, ConAgra, Kraft Foods, Monsanto, Walmart, and the trucks and trains and boats from faraway lands. Time to take it back.”
The prestigious title of “chef” implies a master craftsman of food. If chefs among the world are not combating this disaster, how can we expect the masses to? It’s “Time to take it back” people.