You Get What You Pay for, by Christina Salkowski

BIO PICRaise your hand if you are on a budget.

Raise your hand if you have cut down dinning out to save money.

Raise your hand if you have ever been grocery shopping. Yes, grocery shopping. Everything that affects the common grocery shopper in the store affects the common chef in a restaurant. If you are buying groceries on a budget, so are we.  If you are paying more for pork per pound, so are we. At Gracie’s 21st Century Cafe and Catering in Pine Forge we do not let price interfere with giving you the best quality, healthy food,  however when a customer comes out to eat with us, they look, first, at the prices, then, from the prices decide what they want. There is another way that this chef wants you to look at a menu. I want you to think about what you pay in a grocery store for the items that are in the dish you want to order. Pasta is maybe $2.00 per pound, if you are paying $35.00 for a bowl of pasta at a restaurant, please STOP, unless there is a diamond ring on top!

This chef doesn’t know anyone or any restaurant who isn’t living on a budget; and I understand the desire dine out, but a financially savvy customer should think about what they are spending compared to what they are getting. There are only a few items on EVERY menu that might come close to costing what you are spending for them – proteins (meat and seafood!).

Steak is an item that comes into the restaurant at a high price, needs to be fabricated (cutting it to a standard serving size, taking it off the bone,  removing silverskin or fat) and trimmed, cooked to perfection, and is typically paired with a more expensive side dish, like a type of grain, a vegetable, and the dish usually includes a salad. Now you are getting every aspect of a meal for one price-that is a worthwhile purchase. Fish typically gets delivered to a restaurant as a whole side, with skin and pin bones, that takes fabrication and trimming. Usually the accompaniments with the fish, like an assortment of grilled marinated vegetables, wild rice, or exotic grains like quinoa and farro, are delicate but come at a price.  I have found that when consumers dine out and order fish, it’s because it isn’t a dish typically cooked at home, which in turn, also makes it a worthwhile purchase.

Items such as sandwiches and desserts can be a bit trickier to figure out. Take a step back and look at the ingredients that make up the item and ask yourself two important questions: “Can I purchase all those ingredients myself at Wal-Mart.?” And “Could I make that at home myself?” If they answer to either one of those questions is “No” – feel free to order without guilt, be my guest. If the answer to both of those questions is “Yes” – please take it from someone in the culinary industry and choose something more unique and exotic for your palate. I promise you won’t regret it, and neither will your budget.

The truth of the matter is we eat out to get ourselves out of a dinner rut; so order something exotic, exciting, new, and that is financially responsible.

I was born and raised in Boyertown Pennsylvania. I work at Gracie’s 21st Century Cafe and Catering, 1534 Manatawny Rd in Pine Forge, Pennsylvania, as a cook and as a server depending on the day.  I went to Berks Career and Technology Center For Culinary Arts in high School and then immediately attended The Culinary Institute of America where I graduated with honors and an Associates Degree in Culinary Arts and Hospitality. I am from a close knit Italian Family where I got most of my inspiration for cooking. My interests include baking and cooking,  mustang events with boyfriend, and food writing. I hope to start my own small business in the near future.