What does %22Scratch Kitchen%22 mean?

Customers frequently ask us, “What’s the secret to your food? It’s so delicious!” We look them in the eye and tell them, “There is no secret to our food. We just make everything from scratch.” Some people are confused when they see “scratch kitchen” under our name. “What do you mean by ‘Scratch Kitchen’?” they ask. “It’s a restaurant. You come up with recipes, cook the food, and serve it to people. That’s what restaurants do.” Not exactly.

Restaurants used to be local establishments, frequently run by Mom and Pop, that would serve their variation of a classic or come up with their own recipes to wow their guests with amazing flavors. Nowadays, many restaurants do not cook their own food. They simply purchase pre-made, frozen foods from a distributor, microwave it, and throw it on a plate. You may not realize it, but you are being charged a premium to go out and eat a TV dinner.

Frozen cookie dough can be purchased in dozens of different varieties. We make our dough in-house, from scratch.

Frozen cookie dough can be purchased in dozens of different varieties. We make our dough in-house, from scratch.

Exactly what types of foods are being bought pre-made from wholesalers? There are way more than we could ever list on here (over half of major food distributors’ catalogs are brand-name pre-made foods). They include things like pre-cooked grilled chicken breasts that even have the grill marks on them. Frozen portions of Chicken Kiev arrive already stuffed with compound butter (assuming it actually is butter) and breaded, ready to simply be thrown in the oven. You would be shocked by the number of bakeries and cafes that, while claiming to bake their own cakes in-store, use mix from a 50-pound sack version of the Betty Crocker cake mix you can buy in the grocery store. The same log of Pillsbury cookie dough that you buy in the grocery store comes pre-sliced as frozen pucks of dough.

pre-grilled-chicken

Pre-grilled, frozen chicken breasts come complete with grill marks.

There are a number of reasons why more and more restaurants are turning to mass-produced foods. It’s a lot easier to microwave a pre-cooked chicken breast than it is to trim the breast, marinate it, and grill it to the correct temperature. That leads to the second reason: food safety. Chicken and other proteins need to be cooked to the proper temperature. Produce needs to be washed properly before serving; buying pre-washed, pre-cut lettuce minimizes that risk. Another reason is consistency. Cake from a bag of mix will come out the same every time, without having to rely on the baker measuring out the correct amount of flour, eggs, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and so on for every batch, but cake from a mix rarely has the wow flavor that comes with a scratch made product.

The biggest factor, however, that restaurant operators consider when deciding to use pre-made food is the cost. The fat and gristle that gets trimmed from a chicken breast was paid for in the per pound price of the chicken. A pre-cooked chicken breast has no waste. When lettuce arrives washed and cut, you no longer have to pay someone to wash and cut it. You also don’t have to pay to train that person.

Devil's food cake mix from Pillsbury. The same cake mix you can buy in the grocery store, sold to you as a fresh cake at a premium. You don't even need to add eggs!

A 50 pound bag of devil’s food cake mix from Pillsbury. The same cake mix you can buy in the grocery store, sold to you as a fresh cake at a premium. You don’t even need to add eggs!

All of this together makes a convincing argument for simply buying frozen food and reheating it, but there is one thing that keeps us making our food from scratch: the quality is simply better. We’ve tried the pre-made crab cakes, the thaw-and-serve pies, and the bulk-produced potato salad, and it is all unquestionably bland.

By making our products from scratch we also are able to avoid the use of many additional chemical ingredients (preservatives, food colors, stabilizers, emulsifiers, etc) that so many consumers are trying to eliminate from their diets for any number of reasons. For example, the following are the ingredients found in Pillsbury’s devil’s food cake mix that are not found in our devil’s food cake recipe:

SOYBEAN OIL, PALM OIL, SODIUM SILICOALUMINATE, MODIFIED TAPIOCA STARCH, CAROB POWDER, DEXTROSE, SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE, PROPYLENE GLYCOL MONO AND DIESTERS OF FATTY ACIDS, MALTODEXTRIN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, TETRASODIUM PYROPHOSPHATE, XANTHAN GUM, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, POLYSORBATE 60, CALCIUM ACETATE, GUAR GUM, CELLULOSE GUM, RED 40, SOY FLOUR.

Which would you rather eat?

Manufactured foods sold by national distributors need to be sold around the country (and sometimes around the world), and those foods are formulated with the many varying tastes across the country in mind. However, instead of focusing on making each food as appealing to as many people as possible, the large producers focused on making each item as inoffensive to as few people as possible. The end result of this strategy is that the foods served in most restaurants are flavorless, over-salted, quantity-over-quality, sustenance delivery systems.

We realized early on that, as Momma put it, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” That is why the vast majority of our menu items are made in house, from scratch. We make all of our salad dressings instead of opening a jug. We cook our soups instead of reheating them in a plastic bag. We cut and soak potatoes for our own French fries instead of buying frozen. We zest and juice limes for our lime aioli. We dry-brine fresh cuts of certified angus top round for a minimum of three days and slow-roast it in a low oven for 10 hours to make the roast beef that goes on all of our sandwiches.

When Tracey first started Dixie Picnic, even she was amazed to find out how much pre-made food other restaurants were serving. Many food distributors started their relationship with us by trying to sell us pre-made food. We stood firm on our decision to make as many of our products as possible from scratch. . There are certain items that, because of their production complexities, we outsource to people who can make them better than we do. Today, we are proud to say that 90% of our menu items are made from scratch. We think that’s pretty good considering that the French government presents a “maitre restaurateur” (master restaurateur) award to those restaurants using at least 60 per cent fresh ingredients.

Good, honest food takes time, and it takes work. If we were to purchase the same potato salad, chicken salad, bread, and cake mix that every other restaurant uses, there would be no reason for you to come back to us when you could go somewhere else and get the same thing. We put a lot of care, effort, and pride into our food so that you can truly enjoy it, and we think you will.