2009 June: Ask Chef Jeff

2009 June: Ask Chef JeffQ: The pre-cooked chicken breast that I use for salads and sandwiches is a great quality — but it’s expensive. What are the alternatives?

A: You can spend upwards of $4 a pound on pre-cooked chicken, and in many applications it is well worth it. If you have enough refrigeration or freezer space to handle raw chicken properly, I’d look for great deals. Right now I’m paying $1.29 a pound for frozen, extra-large, boneless, skinless chicken breast. Trim it. Butterfly it. Marinate it, then cook it in the oven, grill or char-grill. You’ll save a ton of money and have a great product.

I’ve seen lots of advice on using scales on the make line to weigh toppings. My food cost is in line, and I don’t really have the extra space. What’s your opinion? Portion control is critical in any restaurant. It sounds like your food cost is under control, but as you grow your business and have other people making pizza, it could creep out of control. If you don’t have room for a scale, at least use properly sized cups to measure your cheese (which is your most expensive topping) and other toppings like sausage and hamburger. Use counts on pepperoni, and you’ll be able to maintain that good food cost and perhaps even improve on it.

I took over a pizza shop with 10 tables and want to make the place a bit more cozy and comfortable. What tips can you offer to give my place a new feel? First of all, I’ve always said a fresh coat of a different color paint is a great place to start when trying to give your restaurant a fresh new look. There are some very nice vinyl tablecloths that can enhance the feel of your pizzeria, and that would be a very cost-effective way to achieve what you’re trying to do. Make sure you get some nice salt and pepper shakers, plus crushed red pepper and a Parmesan shaker for each table. For some final touches, add some nice art or even some pictures of your family. Customers love looking at interesting things on the walls. Great music to listen to can really enhance a diner’s experience as well.

Money is tight and I’ve got a couple of the neon light fixtures that have bad ballasts. It would be costly to repair them and pay an electrician. What do you suggest? I’ve been in that exact position before, and it was actually cheaper for me to go buy a new fixture altogether and install a new one. I’m talking about the kind that fits into a drop ceiling. You’ll be thrilled once you turn that breaker back on and see how bright your restaurant is. ?

Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, is Pizza Today’s resident expert. Send your questions to: Ask Chef Jeff, c/o Pizza Today, 908 South Eighth Street, Suite 200, Louisville, Kentucky, 40203

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