Restaurant Failure Myth
A businessweek article by Kerry Miller debunks the “9 out of 10 new restaurants fail” myth.  The real figure is about 60%, the article says, consistent with the failure rate of new businesses generally.  Article blames banks for perpetuating the myth in order to refuse loans or charge higher interest rates to potential restaurateurs.  Reasons for restaurant failure remain: lack of initial capital and the restaurateur’s failure to devote enough time (24/7, abandon family) to the business.  [thanks bob del G]

Pâté Technique
I’m a fan of Mark Bittman and always check out his cooking column in the NYTimes dining pages.  He’s a good writer, offering solid information without fluff.  I was delighted when last week he took on the pâté de campagne a subject I explore at length in Charcuterie, and something I care about and want to encourage.

But he leaves out one piece of the pâté equation that is fundamental to its success; failing to acknowledge it, in fact, is probably the most common reason for failed pâtés and sausages.  Temperature.  When you mix or puree ground meat and fat, the meat and fat has to be really cold or the fat will break out of the mixture when it’s cooked, resulting in a dry meat loaf with an unpleasant texture.  Best results happen when the meat and fat is very near freezing.  Bless Bittman for encouraging home cooks to take on the pâté de campagne, and keep your meat cold.

The Return of the French

I spoke with my friend Eric Ripert last week who’d just returned from France where he’d had several meals at two- and three-star restaurants and was delight to hear him say this.
    “Michael, the French are back,” he said.  “For a while I was worried.”
    He’d often spoken about how hidebound the French could be, remaining too rooted in the dogma of Escoffier and even the newer tenets of nouvelle cuisine, while unfettered American chefs blazed new ground.
    “It’s still traditional,” he said, “but modernized.  It’s really really refined and delicate. … You need ten-thousand cooks and asparagus cost seven dollars each, but still.”
    Maybe it’s time for writers and critics to force their gaze away from the circus of Spanish gastronomy back to the place where haute cuisine originated.  Eric’s prediction is hopeful news for Francophiles.

Could I have a side of Marlboro’s with that bacon, please?
A new study links consumption of cured meats with lung disease.  I’m in the skeptics camp, and the study doesn’t suggest why increased nitrite consumption would lead to lung disease.  But there it is, see for yourself. [from Heath the wooly pig man, thanks.]

Salted Water
A few people remarked on the color of the peas soup I showed in a previous post and asked about it and one reader wondered about the salted water.  I believe in salting water heavily for green vegetables.  I learned it from Thomas Keller and we wrote about it in The French Laundry Cookbook in a brief essay called “Big-Pot Blanching.”  The ratio: 1 cup of kosher salt for each gallon of water.  Some chefs, such as Heston Blumenthal, question the necessity of the salt in terms of its resulting in the best possible color.  But I speak from experience: the most vivid color and best flavor results when your vigorously boiling water tastes like the Atlantic ocean.


46 Wonderful responses to “Notes from kitchens”

  • kristin

    Yea! The French are back! I guess I don’t get the whole Molecular Gastronomy thing, so hear Chef Ripert say that is great news to those who really like to eat.

  • Chippy

    Mikey, I really do enjoy your passion for matters culinary, even down to intricacies of pâté de campagne.

    But for the love of Vishnu!

    Can you please dispense with the name dropping, “look who I know!”, “my good friend Julia Child faxed me from heaven last night…”, “I just got a postcard from Antonin Careme”…etc, etc.

    I makes you seem un pocito cheesey. Stick to the facts, perhaps?

  • ruhlman

    it’s a tough call chippy. if i don’t acknowledge that we’re friends, then someone accuses me shilling for the guy. If I do, then I’m a name dropper.

    I guess it doesn’t seem like name dropping to me, because I don’t think very highly of him.

  • Chippy Redux

    I hear you loud and clear. It’s the albatross of your celebrity.

    You participate in one golf threesome with Chef Ripert and a carefully sourced fluke and people question your motives.

  • sorcha

    I don’t buy into single studies that link anything to anything, anymore. We don’t live in the same kind of vacuum that the studies are conducted in – there are a bajillion other factors that affect who gets what disease when.

    Anyway, FWIW I don’t see any name-dropping going on here. Michael wrote a book with the guy, for heaven’s sake. I think that alone is enough to imply that they developed a friendship.


    … “Do you know me?” asked Rocco DiSpirito in a 2003 …


    What a sick-wind-bag this guy was and so very full of himself he had no room left for cooking.

    I saw one show and that was enough of this guy-clown-chef?

    I’d have fired him long before that show got on the air.

    He’s one of the reasons restaurants fail so often.

    by Wilbur M. Reeling
    epicurean raconteur

  • fiat lux

    w/r/t studies – the most important thing I took out of my Statistics class was the following: “Correlation is NOT causation”.

    So very many of these ‘studies’ find a correlation between A and B and then we see a spate of stories in the media about how A causes B. They are not the same thing. Correlation means that there is a connection between A and B, but the actual cause could be one of a number of different things, including (but not limited to)
    – A could cause B.
    – B could cause A.
    – Both A and B could be caused by some third factor that was not included in the study.

    Long story short — take all these media reports on new scientific studies with a very big grain of salt (although maybe not the 1 cup/gallon used in Ruhlman’s blanching recipe).

  • French Laundry at Home

    Michael: Did you also add sugar to the water when blanching peas? Or just salt? I made Keller’s English Pea Soup this past weekend and the green was gorgeous. And, I hate to admit it, but I noticed a bit of a difference in using both sugar and salt in that dish.

  • annie

    Wow…keep the meat cold for meatloaf…that explains ALOT! Never understood why when I grab everything at the last minute fresh out of the fridge, it always comes out so juicy with a nice loose texture and last week it was dense and strangely gritty…ingredients just not cold enough. You’re my hero.

  • annie

    So funny, but I will be visiting my friend Ian Kelly in a few weeks in London, an english actor who wrote and performed a one man show here in NYC, a few years ago about Antonin Careme, in a theatre series called Brits Off-Broadway. Ian first researched and wrote a book about him then wrote and starred in the play. At the end of each performance he served meringes and madeleines, that he cooked during the performance.

    How’s that for name dropping?!

    Last year, he did likewise with Beau Brummell.

    Name dropper or shill, oh the names you drop…keep ’em coming.

  • Judith in Umbria

    People who have spent their lives in an industry, know people in the industry. There seems to be a prejudice among blog readers lately that bloggers have to be “downhome ordinary dudes.” If your natural language is a bit more educated, or you don’t split infinitives, or you know someone famous, you get criticized for it.
    If the great leveler works on us all, why read anyone?

  • proeats

    It seems to me that there would be an awful lot of holes in your posts if you do not credit sources or acknowledge names in your stories. I appreciate the connectiveness of this industry.

  • Wayne

    In regard to salted/cured meats and dangers of lung disease via nitrates. I wonder if that would be more an American phenomenon as in Europe all their meats (Bresaola, Lardo, Mocetta,Guanciale et al) do not have to have the same amount of preservatives in them.

  • Isaw Manok o Baboy?

    re: cured meats & marlboro… oh no! this does not bode well for me. and bourdain.

  • e. nassar

    Funny! I noticed the same ‘omition’ in Bitman’s recipe. Gald you brought it up too. Also, he does not advise to weigh the finished pate down or to bake it in a bain marie. I know I’m nit picking, but after cooking from Charcuterie, I cannot help but notice these things.

  • rockandroller

    Where do you fall on salt and/or oil in your pasta water? Yay or nay?

  • ruhlman

    e. nassar: yeah, the baking it in the oven rather than in a bain is another thing that he should be doing. he’s trying to simplify things for the home cook and i’ve nver done a pate hard baked like that so i didn’t feel right calling attention to it.

    rocker: yes, you salt pasta water so that your pasta is properly seasoned. didn’t you read making of a chef?! and oil in not usually necessary though if you’ve got a lot of orzo in a small pot it can maybe prevent the starchy foam from riding up, but otherwise oil is not necessary.

  • rockandroller

    I completely concur about the salt. It’s a running disagreement I have with my husband, who did NOT read Making Of…but has actually worked in kitchens, whereas I’ve never been anything but FOH.

  • ruhlman

    eric said three of the the restaurants he went to were Meurice, Senderens, and Michel Sarran in Toulouse

  • cathelou

    Just add some nitrite/nitrate-flavored bacon fat to your salted water and you’ll have some great veggies there!

  • TheFoodist

    Good to see someone setting the record straight on the “failing restaurant” myth. You hear about places failing all the time, and Ive worked in a few that have.

    From my experience its just as stated, lack of capital and lack of lets say commitment. I dont know, Ive always been told if your going to open a privatly owned buisiness expect to spend a good portion of your life in the place for a few years.

    I dont agree with Chippy at all. If theres someone you respect and you think highly of, and if theyre worth thier wieght in salt why not mention them. Yes, there is a “Good ol Boy” network still very much alive in the industry. But read and research the person yourself and make your own judgement. But mentioning the name of someone or making reference to thier advice or comments is perfectly fine by me.

    Hell, I wouldnt have found half the authors, artists, muscians I like so much had someone not mentioned them.

    And last but not least, Extra Salty water works wonders for green veg, and sugar helps alot in cutting down that salty flavor and adding balance.

    But thanks again for the link to the Myth artical, I was really glad to see it.

  • Shannon


    When is the Cleveland episode of “No Reservations” supposed to air? I checked the schedule and there’s no sign of it.

    I thought it was supposed to air this month.

    Or was that whole thing just a joke and I’m gullible?

  • clarkehead

    Thanks for the tip on the salted water, Micheal. That pea soup was gorgeous. I’ve been making a lot of pureed soups lately, especially asparagus, and the color is always somewhat muted when I’m done. I can’t wait to try this technique next time.

    Again, this is what I love about cooking – there’s always something new to learn and try. Thanks for giving us tips from the pros. 🙂

  • Michael Rosen

    Ok the french are not back!!!!! I just got back from a truly poor meal at Ducasse at the Plaza Athene. $900 euros for 2, 3 of the 7 courses had “foam”, of course he was not there guess he is opening a new outlet in bangladesh.I mean you do one seating and you can’t even season food properly, where is the fucking salt and pepper!!!!!!!!The poulet rouge was hammered beyond any thing at burger king, A roasted chicken breast with soggy skin? The service I must say was fantastic but Thomas you need not worry he has nothing on the Laundry!

  • Maya

    Ruhlman, I can answer that question. A few years ago there was a breakthrough in cancer research.

    They found that in stomach cancer it was not the OLD cells that became cancerous, it was the NEW stem cells. They are sensitive to irritation. It changes them as they are changing into “real” cells.

    That means that inflammation (or anything that causes irritation) changes stem cells and can morph them into defective cancer cells. This was huge in cancer research.

    It explains why viruses, smoking, ulcers, pesticides and yes, meat or chemicals can irritate parts of the body (I assume the nitrate causes some kind of molecule that gets into the lungs) and become cancer. BBC had the story.

  • kevin

    I had the “9 out of 10” failure line used on me by a local bank after they refused our request for a loan to open our restaurant. And this was after a year and a half of working with them, keeping them familiar with our business plan, progress, etc. Thankfully another bank saw our idea and said yes. Startups definitely have an uphill climb because of that myth.

  • ruhlman

    “i don’t think highly of ripert”

    a friend asked me if i really meant this.

    i thought it was obvious i was being facetious, but apparently not, so:

    Eric is an enormously talented chef and businessman, devoted father and a good friend. In fact, in this era of questionable decision making by celeb chefs, Eric is so faultless as to be almost spooky. Last time i ate at le bernardin, it was one of the five best meals of my life.

    there it is.

  • Bob delG

    The salt in the water business is complicated. If you cook most vegetables in salted water they will cook faster -dried beans are an exception- (see McGee pg. 285)-a good thing when the veg has a hard casing like peas but not such a good thing if it’s a soft leafy veg like spinach. So if you are going to use a brine to cook a tender veg. it’s advisable to shock it in ice water to stop the cooking ASAP.

    And salting the water for past is good for two reasons 1) to season the pasta (as per Ruhlman’s advice) and 2) to keep the pasta from getting sticky. Salt slows the gelatinization of starch (so does sugar). With salt in the water the starch on the outside gels slower thus giving the starch inside time to cook before the outside overcooks.

    Just for fun try loading up some water with salt. Dump in a couple of cups into two quarts. Boil it and try to cook say, 4oz of pasta in it. The cooking time will be like an hour.

  • rockandroller

    Interesting, Bob. But I wonder how much heavily salting the water affects the saltiness of the food? My mother has been told to watch her salt (although I personally think the salt-blood pressure connection is not really proven) and thus doesn’t want me to salt things while cooking when she comes over for din. But I wonder how much it appreciably makes the food actually saltier. To me, it’s like someone requesting you not cook with wine because they don’t want to get drunk – doesn’t most of it cook away? And in the case of salt, is what is added to the food when cooking an amount such that it should be reduced or eliminated if someone is really watching their salt?

  • Maya

    Thanks, Bob for clearing up the pasta-salt question I had for so long!

    R&Roller, I was wondering the same thing. It always tasted saltier to me but it could just be in my head! 🙂

    BTW you’re right, salt does not raise blood pressure however reducing salt can LOWER your blood pressure therefore protecting people with hypertension from dangerous conditions. 🙂

  • Bob delG


    That bit at the end of my last comment was not meant to be eaten. It’s a demo to show how salt inhibits the gelling of starch. If you ate that, it’d be awful 🙁

    Additionally, bec. salt does not evaporate readily it doesn’t cook away like water or alcohol but becomes concentrated. So for example, if you add salt to soup and cook it for a long time it’ll become saltier per until volume/mass as the water evaporates.

    I ate in France last week and was not in the slightest bit impressed. The food was quite ordinary, not particularly imaginative and in no way on par with the best American restaurant fare. But I suppose that you friend Mr. Ripert was referring to the France that is in Europe? while alas, the France of my banal gustation was in Epcot.

  • rockandroller

    Yes, Bob, I knew the last bit was simply an extreme example. I hope I don’t come off as that dim 🙂

    But I think your explanation answers my question – adding salt definitely sounds like it could appreciably increase the sodium content, especially the longer you cook something. I’m just thinking for fresh pasta, which only cooks for a minute or a few minutes, depending on the noodles, or a veg you just want a little cooked, is salting the water really such an issue for someone watching their BP? This is more a rhetorical musing than an actual question.

  • Claudia

    Bobby D, serves you right for eating in “France” at Epcot – faux Tour Eiffel aussi, no? And whose Faux French were you eating, anyway? (Next time, save the bucks and schlep back home to NYC to Le Bernardin for Chrissakes, will you?) So – you become Ruhlman’s sub Blogmeister and you forget your hometown? You turn your back on your people?!!!

    (Just a little Italian guilt – you were obviously punished enough for Epcot . . . by Epcot!)