Portion sizes

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With the continuing research on caloric intake and portion size, are their any Chefs here that have taken notice of the information out there and reduced the sizes of their portions?

Steak houses with their 48 ounce Porterhouse steak
Italian eateries with that pound of pasta on your plate.

Anybody?
 

pete

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I haven't been in the restaurant industry for a while (doing institutional foodservice for the last 9 years) but I used to laugh at the inmates I served who would whine that we were starving them. They ate an average of 2800 calories a day, with 3 oz portions of meat protein at both lunch and dinner. But when you're used to chowing down on half a Domino's large pepperoni and sausage pizza, or 2 Whoppers and a large fry, + at least 20 ounces of soda, following the recommended daily allowances seems like you are starving!!!
 
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I think restaurants aren't supposed to worry about the customers well-being regarding how much they eat.

People will order more food or take the leftover home anyway.

Unless you are an institutional chef like pete mentioned, that is.
 

pete

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I think restaurants aren't supposed to worry about the customers well-being regarding how much they eat.

People will order more food or take the leftover home anyway.

Unless you are an institutional chef like pete mentioned, that is.
I am of 2 minds when it comes to this issue. On the one hand, I agree with Pat Pat, that as chefs, it is our job to give customers what they want and it's not our place to tell them how to eat. On the other hand, one of the reasons Americans' are so overweight is because they see the portions at restaurants (which seem to keep getting bigger and bigger) and they assume that, those are the portion sizes they should be eating. So instead of the 3-4 oz. of meat protein that guidelines suggest we eat at a meal, we are eating 8, 10 or 20 ounces of meat. We eat 2 days worth of carbs at Olive Garden, because, "Hey, it's Endless Pasta, and I want to get my money's worth." Do chefs and restaurant chains have an obligation to, if not promote healthy eating, at least not promote such poor eating habits? The other part of me says, 'yes.'
 
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I am of 2 minds when it comes to this issue. On the one hand, I agree with Pat Pat, that as chefs, it is our job to give customers what they want and it's not our place to tell them how to eat. On the other hand, one of the reasons Americans' are so overweight is because they see the portions at restaurants (which seem to keep getting bigger and bigger) and they assume that, those are the portion sizes they should be eating. So instead of the 3-4 oz. of meat protein that guidelines suggest we eat at a meal, we are eating 8, 10 or 20 ounces of meat. We eat 2 days worth of carbs at Olive Garden, because, "Hey, it's Endless Pasta, and I want to get my money's worth." Do chefs and restaurant chains have an obligation to, if not promote healthy eating, at least not promote such poor eating habits? The other part of me says, 'yes.'


Good point Pete but we as Chefs DO have the ability to influence.
This is a chance to be heard around the world for all Chefs everywhere who are concerned about health.

We have discussed previously how Chefs are always underrated and never given the respect they deserve for their efforts.
Well if standing up better food choices isn't a stand, then I think our place in society has no other purpose than to cook food and take money for it.
Is that all there is?

Look at those celebrity Chefs through the years that have changed are eating habits.
We have Emeril who introduced us to Cajun cuisine, Rick Bayless, Mario Batali, on Italian and the rest all getting us acquainted with their interpretation of food.

Why couldn't the culinary industry create a persona in the same vein as a celebrity Chef who goes on the media to teach America how and why to make better choices?
No one is forcing anyone to eat a certain way, but you have to admit that food is and will always be a subject that people all have differing points of view on.

It has to start somewhere
 
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I dunno...my answer would be to look at how we sold prime rib at a private club back in the '90's:

Regular cut. $22.00
King's cut. $28.00
President's cut. $32.00

Most would order the regular, and only the idiotic or those wanting to share a larger cut would order larger.

There's no reason why we can't sell smaller portions---and with caloric values based on that portion size for a reasonable price---, with larger portions available for an up charge.

Makes sense, no?
 
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Great question.
I'm certainly no dietician and can't say I know all that much about nutrition but I've never understood why this has never been part of becoming a chef. Whether or not the customer cares about it, knowing and understanding the calories and nutrition in the food we prepare would seem to be a logical part of food preparation. Wasn't that the point of nouvelle cuisine?
As someone trying to lose weight, I've been considering portion sizes and calories lately. So far all the calorie books I've found include the nutrition information for just about every commercial product produced, none of which is necessary as I can find that on any package I buy. All I want is to be able to educate myself to be able to figure out approximately how many calories I'm eating in whatever is in front of me. Perhaps that's all a chef really needs to know, to be able to have some general idea of how many calories a dish has in it.
 
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I think the best place to be able to limit the portion size would be at a restaurant with a set menu.

No customer would ever order a second set if s/he aren't full.

At other places, we won't be able to limit how much the customers order despite our carefully controlled portion size.

Back in the day, McDonald's Filet-O-Fish used to be twice the size it is now. McDonald's has been reducing its size over the years to keep the price reasonable, so now I have to order 2 sandwiches instead of just 1 to satisfy my hunger.

Then there's the financial reason also. If we used to sell an 8 oz steak for $30, cutting the portion size down to 4 oz would mean that we can only sell this dish for ≈$17. That's a 45% loss of income for the restaurant.

I'm certainly no dietician and can't say I know all that much about nutrition but I've never understood why this has never been part of becoming a chef. Whether or not the customer cares about it, knowing and understanding the calories and nutrition in the food we prepare would seem to be a logical part of food preparation.

If you go to cooking school, then this is a big part of your course. The reason this kinda got lost in the real world, I think, is because it limits what we can make; a lot of great dishes I've seen are a nutritionist's nightmare.

It also doesn't help that, in school, this is the area where most students get their lowest marks.
 
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My, oh my what a subject...

I like nutritional education for all, especially for chefs. I always wanted to be able to give a great meal to anyone I fed, especially those like Celiacs, vegans, elderly, or any dietary requirement. I viewed this as part of my job and it really came in handy many times.

Customers will determine whether or not "American Heart Restaurant, where all our food meets American Heart Association portion guidelines" or "The House of Hollandaise, where all of our food is complemented by delicious Hollandaise sauce" succeed or fail.

There is room for everyone in the chef pool! It is up to each chef to follow their conscience as far as I'm concerned. I'm not going to protest, nor seek legislation to force portion compliance. It is fine by me for either of the fictitious Restaurants above to actually open. I would probably try them both! Good food is good food!

I remember attempting to convince a customer that well-done and covered in ketchup was not a good way to eat a steak. That was a "waist" of time... (portion control humor)
 
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Meh... There's been legislation for fast food restaurants to state the caloric content of their dishes for some time now.
Then again, the smaller the portion, the lower the calories, sodium and fat content which might be one of the reasons the filet o'fish keeps shrinking...
 
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This really is a great topic, and I'm not sure what the correct answer is. On the one hand I do feel a responsibility to serve food that's safe on every level I can- "first, do no harm". So I'll cut out trans-fats where I can, eliminate fillers and weird chemicals, not use things with weird carcinogenic colorings, etc. When possible I'll avoid the kinds of fish that typically have a lot of heavy metals as well.

But there's a point where it starts to become paternal, and I'm not comfortable with that. I avoid sugar and empty carbs in my own life but does that mean I won't offer desserts to my customers? I feel that the places like I run are indulgences, a place where guests will eat a couple times a week, maybe a few. I have "cheat days" where I will simply have something I enjoy even if it's not healthy. For example I eat kind of paleo/Atkins, little to no high glycemic stuff or empty carbs (eg white flour, sugar, white rice). But I have a weakness for Chinese, and occasionally I'll indulge in Moo Shu Pork or Szechuan Duck without feeling bad at all. In the summer I might have ice cream once or twice per month, too. Generally I have things on my menus that are just staples that you might eat but also things that are delicious that you probably shouldn't eat every day. Who am I to tell you not to eat Sheppherd's Pie?

Portion size is sometimes tricky. If I serve portions too large I waste profit or prevent a return visit (if the customer routinely has enough leftovers for lunch the next day you need to examine your portions). But having customers leave hungry is pretty toxic and can hurt your business as well. And some places the customers are really used to having that light meal from leftovers.

I try to serve a healthy amount of food, and by that I mean an amount that's satisfying but not 'gonzo'.
 
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Perhaps a steak place could offer that "deck of cards" sized portion and see how well it sells.
That Olive Garden "all you can eat Pasta bowl" could be portioned to 2 ounces on the menu.
That Chicken Parmesan portion with the 2 patties, sauce and cheese is enough to feed 4 people.
I could go on, but suffice to say all it would take would be one Chef to start
 

pete

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Perhaps a steak place could offer that "deck of cards" sized portion and see how well it sells.
That Olive Garden "all you can eat Pasta bowl" could be portioned to 2 ounces on the menu.
That Chicken Parmesan portion with the 2 patties, sauce and cheese is enough to feed 4 people.
I could go on, but suffice to say all it would take would be one Chef to start
Unfortunately, I disagree. It would take a lot of Chefs, or at least, a whole chain, or 2 or 3 to get the movement started. Unfortunately, I believe that the first couple of places to adopt your philosophy would tank very quickly, unless they are serving super high end food. I think that this country has gotten so used to quantity over quality that if they were presented with portions such as you suggest that would be the last time they ate there. Sometimes it seems that the prevailing philosophy is that unless you leave completely stuffed (to the point of feeling sick) or have enough leftovers for, at least, one meal, then the restaurant is ripping you off.
 
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I don't think concern over calories and nutrition limits what we can offer. If anything, it pressures the creative side.
While reading this thread, I'm reminded of the long, multi course meals of years past. In the Epicurean by Charles Ranhofer, the menus have six to eight courses. Surely the portions must have been smaller than what we serve now. Of course now we have tasting menus with that many or more courses but with really small portions and very high prices.
I wonder how you get customers in a mid level restaurant to order more than just an entree if the portions are so big? We also seemed to have moved away from devoting the time to multiple courses. No one seems to order a soup course, a salad course, an appetizer course, then an entree, then a dessert and no restaurant seems to offer that kind of meal experience. All of that would take time to enjoy as well as requiring smaller portions for each course as well as occupying a table for a much longer period of time.
Now it seems the general expectation on both sides is get in, get stuffed, and get out.
If a restaurant offered multiple courses, each made of healthier choices and smaller portions, how would you get the general public to order multiple courses so the house makes enough money to allow the table to be occupied longer? Do you do a la carte or prix fixe? Most menus have soup, salads, appetizers, entrees and desserts on their menus but few customers seem to order all of them at any meal. Is cost the deciding factor or is it knowing there will be too much food?
 
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I am not a nutritionist and have been taught under the mantra fat=flavor so have produced many high caloric meals to date. While I am somewhat self aware that some of these large portion dishes are high calories, from my chef business perspective I analyze portions more in the form of cost of my dish. I am in an area where massive portions are almost a necessity and the profit margins were just too tight to keep it that way without continuing to drive the price up. My slow solution has been to alter my plates I use so I can begin slowly making smaller portions (albeit plates still looking overflowing food) and it has allowed me to drop some prices on favorite items. In contrast it has helped me drive my starter sales more and do more fun items there and ultimately has driven my food sales higher and food cost has dropped in the process.
 
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