Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Miss a question? Go here.
Sure, the world has its fair share of problems. But for much of it and right now, inflation is the biggest: more specifically, rising food prices.
Over the past few months, prices of agricultural staples like corn, soybeans, and wheat have jumped considerably. The drought here in the United States is being blamed for much of it, but dry weather all over the globe isn't helping.
How are Valley chefs and restaurateurs dealing with rising food costs at their establishments and what sacrifices have (or haven't) they made? I asked a few and this is what they had to say:
Romeo Taus, Chef and Owner, Romeo's Euro Cafe
Know your guest profile. Cater to the foodies but price your food for the core group of guests. Some portion adjustments (smaller) are made where it makes sense. Seasonal specials with lower food costs, increase average sale (soda, teas, coffee, appetizer, extra salad, dessert, etc.), server training stressing value, quality and creativity. We have not adjusted prices since 2007.
Chef Jacques Qualin, J&G Steakhouse
The first rule of the kitchen: never compromise the quality of products we are buying because of rising prices. To protect the guest and keep things balanced, we will shift from using an expensive ingredient by replacing it with one of equal quality and similar value. This also keeps our menu increasingly seasonal and fresh.
Chef Craig Emmons, New York Flavor
If an item is not popular on our menu, we consider replacing it. We also look for an alternate product that is more cost effective but does not lower quality. This is sometimes achieved through looking at different brands and/or pack sizes. Sometimes we consider raising the price. We do not switch to cheaper products that will save us money but sacrifice quality.
Chef Ehren Litzenberger, BLD Chandler
We're dealing with the rise of food costs by looking for other items that we can get deals on and working with vendors to receive case count discounts - we'll order a certain amount and receive a price break.
Amanda Bayuk, Manager/Event Coordinator, Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House
While we are able to raise prices on some items due to increased costs, others stay the same. Guests are only willing to pay so much for certain items. We sacrifice a high food cost on some items and on others we are able to make a greater margin. The one element we are unwilling to sacrifice is quality. It's not worth it to bring in an inferior product just to make our margin look better.
Chef Jeremy Pacheco, Lon's at the Hermosa
Staying creative -- finding different cuts of meat we could use that may be less expensive. Utilizing combinations such as duck breast with duck confit or pork trio.
Chef Stephen Jones, Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails
Within our menu we use a lot of cross utilization of products to combat rising food costs. We also tend to stray away from what everyone else does in the sense of common dishes around the Valley, so we get creative and bring in unique products that are relatively cost effective make them delicious. It is cost effective for the consumer.
Kelsey Oisten, Director of Marketing, Cabellero's
Although the rising food cost is unfortunate, it has made price-matching each vendor Caballero works with necessary. We have had to take more time and consideration when ordering our supply and have had to increase our menu prices slightly to maintain a quality that we would not like to compromise.
Chef Steven Zimmerman, Sheraton Crescent Hotel
We only buy what we need and what we can sell. We source local and seasonal items to obtain the freshest ingredients and to keep costs down. We push our most profitable menu items. The biggest sacrifice I've encountered is not being able to incorporate too many exotic foods into the menu. This doesn't allow my staff a chance to experiment or learn about them.
Justin Micatrotto Co-owner, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers Restaurant
Since our menu is based on a single item and our product is fresh, we typically deal with large fluctuations during the year. We can't push any other items so we focus on our service model which limits waste when executed properly. We work to maintain a standard and push higher guest counts to absorb any price fluctuations.
Christopher Gross, Chef and Owner, Christopher's Restaurant & Crush Lounge
Look for other items to balance out the higher cost items. Put things on the menu like pigs feet, veal breast, and use lobster roe to make pasta. We clean our own meat, so the bits and pieces go into the hamburger that we grind. We make our own bread and all the pastries, ice creams, and sorbets.
Tim Vasquez, Regional Manager, Someburros Restaurants
We take a systematic approach to rising food costs. We have longstanding relationships with our vendors, so we work together to get the best deal possible. We increase our focus on reducing waste. We try to minimize mistakes and make sure all portion sizes are correct. Lastly, as a company we'll absorb the increases as long as we can without passing the increases on to guests.
Gregg Troilo, Proprietor, British Open Pub & Grill
We are trying very hard to not pass increases in food costs to our customers. We have dropped such items as steaks and shellfish temporarily due to their high cost. No sacrifices as far as quality and quantity go; however, I personally am not taking a pay check in an attempt to lower costs in payroll.
Cullen Campbell, Chef and Owner, Crudo
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Well, my regulars really like my prices so I just make less money. But on the brighter side, my second job as a dancer is really taking off!