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Culinary Waves: Keep food fresh with rotation, labels

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Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson

There are several important concepts for chefs to keep in mind in relation to food rotation. For keep-it-simple purposes, the basic idea is to rotate the food stock so that the old is used up or tossed and the new is the last in the line.

We have seen it done in the grocery stores, where employees put the new stock at the back of the line. It’s the same concept on board the yacht. “First in, first out” is another way to say it.

We need to do this to be sure to get rid of old stock that will either expire, turn rancid or grow mold. No one likes to find the weevils in the wheat, or realize that the food they have just consumed was expired. I know I have, and it was not a good feeling.

Too many times I have seen chefs just shop and then stuff the galley shelves with no rhyme or reason. There needs to be some sort of inventory system on board to manage the huge amount of food that crosses the yachts walk-ins.

I keep a simple inventory on hand that helps in the process of ordering. Every chicken breast used, I mark down. When I get to a certain amount in the freezer, I know its time to reorder. I do the same for staples, such as martini olives and all purpose flour.

I always have a backup, but for special orders or for charter guest requests, I only order one or two so once it runs out, I know it won’t be used at a later date unless it becomes something worth having on board. An example would be an expensive champagne or caviar that is not normally served on a routine basis.

To rotate stock, I start with a working inventory list. Basically, I open the freezer and list the proteins, the desserts, the breads, etc. Then I record the number on hand (OH) that I have. Based on menus that I create for the following week, I will consider whether I need, for example, a certain protein for future use. If not, I use it up.

If it is something I will continue to use on a daily basis, such as fresh spinach, then I need to make sure that any newly bought spinach is put to the back of the line, and expiration dates need to be marked on each item.

If I just put it in the freezer with no date, then the chief stewardess or the second chef will not know how old the item is. So label, label, label. Use a label maker, or tape and magic marker to put the date on the food item.

If it is about to expire, use it up. Make sure the oldest of the food items is in the front and the newer items in the back. Even with fruit, juices, condiments, etc., use the same system. If the food item has expired, throw it out.

As a chef, I buy what I base my menus on. Sure, there are last-minute requests or special food items that need to be bought, but labeling these items keeps it fresh and simple. If it is a special type of chicken or steak, be sure to write it down. Even organic chicken, as opposed to regular chicken, needs to be accounted for.

Some computer food programs offer accounting software for inventory systems. This has other benefits as well, such as helping to keep food costs down, and aiding the chef in placing orders. Too many times, I have been at the crossroads of what I should buy because I had not finished my menus.

I recommend printing the labels out before you go shopping. That way everything can be labeled as soon as it arrives on board. When ordering through a provisioning company, ask them to label the item and the date it was packaged.

Plan menus, then use them to create inventory lists for shopping, so it’s clear exactly what and how much is needed when at the grocery store. Do weekly inventory and know what to toss.

A chef who keeps the food fresh will be a star on board.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.

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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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