Making fancy ingredients from scratch at your restaurant isn't as hard as it sounds. Some chefs think it's best to spend part of their budget on premade ingredients, such as spice blends, sauces, infused oils, vinegar, and spirits, and others think it's too much work to task their cooks with.
However, you should know that adding some fancy ingredients to your prep list will make a major impact on the impression that your menu gives your guests. Customers will respect your establishment if you make most of your menu items in-house. And remember that "fancy" doesn't always mean "expensive," so you don't have to spike everything you make with saffron or truffles. To inspire you, here are a few ingredients you can start making in-house.
1. Hot Sauce
It's incredibly easy to make hot sauce from scratch, and for chefs, it's just as easy to give these homemade ingredients a fancy twist. Just mix fresh chiles with salt and vinegar, let the flavors marry, and you'll have a basic hot sauce. But, as a chef, you can always get more creative by adding enhancing flavors such as citrus, herbs, sweeteners, and fresh fruit.
Consider creating a signature hot sauce—or several—to make your restaurant stand out. You might want to reserve it for specific dishes, and have a bottle brought out whenever those dishes are ordered. Or you can leave a bottle on each table so guests can try it on anything. You can even let it shine in your Bloody Marys and other cocktails.
Hot sauce is also something you can bottle and sell to add an income stream to your business. Make it sound fancy, and you'll be able to charge a higher price.
2. Infused Oil, Vinegar, and Spirits
Customers love gorgeous colors in their cups and on their plates, and infusions are your ticket to pleasing their eyes. It's simple to infuse oils with fresh or dried herbs; just make sure you do it safely to avoid spreading dangerous bacteria. The finished product should be a vibrant green oil with deep flavor that can accent pasta, pizza, meat, and vegetables. You can even infuse oils with spices, chiles, garlic, ginger, shallots, scallions, lemongrass, and other aromatics.
Vinegars can also be infused—especially with fruit. For example, try infusing high-quality white wine vinegar with raspberries, cherries, or figs. Or you could create something new like wild blueberry and thyme-infused balsamic.
Your bartender can even mimic this tactic with house-infused tinctures, bitters, liquors, and liqueurs, as well as homemade grenadine and other flavored syrups.
3. Signature Spice Blends and Rubs
Sure, you can score delectable premade spice blends, but it's more cost-effective to concoct your own. You can even consider trademarking, bottling, and selling your signature spice blends as a way to branch out and boost your bottom lines.
Chefs like Emeril Lagasse made millions by creating signature spice blends out of simple individual spices they bought in bulk. Use your expert palate, along with trial and error, to develop detailed recipes for blends until you hit the mark. Then market them to your customers by incorporating them into new signature dishes. If a dish sells and demand for it is high, consider taking that blend to market.
4. Pickled Vegetables
It's super easy to pickle vegetables, but the impression they make is quite strong. Consider pickling vegetables other than the obvious (cucumbers, carrots, or beets). You could even go the extra mile by fermenting vegetables such as cabbage to make your own kimchi.
When it comes to making fancy ingredients from scratch, know that you're creating a better experience for your guests. Start with these tips, and before you know it, you'll be elevating the impression that your restaurant has on anyone who eats there.