For newer culinary-arts teachers, ordering can seem a daunting task. But it’s really quite simple, says Chef Weiner, who suggests three basic ways to order for day-to-day teaching (while taking into consideration two common snags). His chief advice? Under order.
By Adam Weiner, CFSE
This article is dedicated to the newer instructors. If you are experienced in ordering for teaching purposes, then feel free to skip this article and join me again next month.
If you are new to teaching, you have only been ordering for your class for a short time. By now you are probably banging your head into the wall, particularly if you have never ordered for a foodservice facility.
In the beginning, new chefs and instructors tend to over order. This is only slightly burdensome for non-perishables and freezer items (although sooner or later space becomes an issue). This can be a real money loser for perishable items that can’t be frozen.
WORK VERY HARD to under order. Remember, your job is to teach the students how to cook—not to feed them. If they only get a half serving (or even a taste), so be it.
There are three basic ways to order for day-to-day teaching:
- Figure out what you are going to prepare in the next two weeks. Write out your list of ingredients including quantity. Order.
- Keep a standard supply of core ingredients (e.g., ground beef, chicken, sugar, onions, carrots, pasta, rice, etc.) and occasionally add additional items to shake it up. For example, order a pork loin and divide into pork chops.
- Use a hybrid of the two. Stock specific items, but occasionally do specific menus and order in the items for that.
Personally, I do about 80% No. 2 and about 20% No. 3.
Sound simple? It actually is. There are two major snags:
Catering. Most cooking classes are going to be asked now and then (or more frequently) to do catering events such as graduations, back-to-school nights, facility meetings, visiting dignitaries coming for lunch, etc. If that’s the case, you need to order specially for that event, and be careful of delivery days.
For example, my delivery day is Monday. If I have a large event on Tuesday morning I have to order for delivery the week before. If I get the delivery on the Monday before a Tuesday morning event, then I don’t have Monday to have my students prep.
The hardest is impromptu catering. My current executive director is very good about giving me notice. However, I have worked elsewhere with people who have come to me and said, “I need lunch for 10 people in one hour.” This often happened on the days that I was not planning on preparing food. I was going to teach kitchen safety, have students do their restaurant-design project, have students work on their ServSafe certification or teach the mother sauces. If this impromptu catering is a facet of your life, then you need to keep a more extensive standard supply of core ingredients available. (See ordering technique No. 2 above.)
If you do catering, and particularly offsite catering, you need to make sure that you always have a supply of trays, dollies, serving pieces, plates, forks, etc. available.
Sharing Your Product and Supplies. Many programs (including mine) have two or more instructors sharing product and supplies. This requires a high degree of oral or written communication. If one person plans to use a lot of something, she or he needs to notify the person doing the ordering well BEFORE the product is used.
I work with Chef Rod, who will turn to me and say, “Adam, next week I’m going to be teaching pizzas. We are going to use bread flour, mozzarella, tomato sauce and the sausage.” This allows me time to factor this into my lesson plans, and my ordering.
Imagine how much better this is than if he just left me a note that I wouldn’t receive until I walked in the next day that said, “Hey Adam, today we made pizzas and we used up all of the bread flour, sorry.” I would be out of luck if I had planned to teach artisan bread making the next day. (By the way, he’s never done that too me! And yes, I know that I am very lucky.)
Communication is also key to making sure that product doesn’t go to waste. For example, suppose you are going to teach making Buffalo wings and you need 20 pounds of wings for all of your classes. However, your supplier has them frozen in 30-pound boxes. You need to notify the other instructor as soon as possible, so she or he can incorporate the remaining 10 defrosted pounds into her or his plans.
There is one more problem with sharing product, and that occurs when one teacher or her or his students use products ordered by the other instructor. Animosity runs high on this one. The best way to avoid this problem is to have clear, unambiguous, full-page, brightly colored signs. Mine says: “Save for Chef Adam, Don’t Use Without His Permission.”
Chef Rod, whom I mentioned above, came in early one day and told my students that he had extra apples and that they were free to use them. One of my students noted that they said “SAVE FOR CHEF ROD.” I explained to Chef Rod that you have to have a hard and fast policy that “SAVE FOR” signs are inviolate—otherwise, you are opening a Pandora’s box. If the teacher who put on a label no longer needs to have that product reserved, she or he just needs to simply remove the label.
Again, more than anything else, the best advice I can give you is to under order.
Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events throughout the nation.