“So much of what I did working at fancy restaurants was finding balance and composure in dishes and layering flavors. We took that same requirement for a dish to be a complete dish that could really make someone crave it and hold it in high esteem,” he says.
In normal times, that attention to detail was a boon; dine-in business accounted for roughly 90 percent of sales. The early days of COVID-19 reversed the split. After operating under a takeaway-only model for a time, Turkey and the Wolf now does about half-and-half, with off-premises still slightly edging out on-site.
Given this shift, Hereford had to consider how transit could affect not just flavor but also appearance. After all, social media has upped the ante on aesthetics. Back-of-house logistics also came into play. Turkey and the Wolf’s collection of carefully constructed sandwiches requires both time and technique.
“I could cook a steak way faster than I cook everything for sandwiches and layer them up,” Hereford says. “I don’t think that we’re in a better position than a fine-dining place to have closer-to-normal sales.”
Hereford recently partnered with Incogmeato, a new line of plant-based meat alternatives, which has allowed him to not only beef up the menu but also prepare for uneven volumes. Unlike more perishable ingredients, the alternative protein can be frozen without compromising quality. Plus, the new menu item featuring Incogmeato helped Turkey and the Wolf generate buzz on social media.
Ultimately the key to taking dishes off-site may come down to perspective. Instead of striving to perfectly translate a menu item for takeaway, restaurants have the opportunity to re-imagine their offerings. For Ordonez, that has meant finding inspiration in unlikely places.
“I find myself looking more deeply at fast-food operations like Chick-fil-A and trying to dissect how their food is still so good, even to-go. It’s forced me to see if I can find some commonality between fast-food operations and restaurants like mine,” he says. “Five to 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have ever caught me trying to compare myself to a fast-food chain, let alone try to learn something from it.”
The pandemic has also led him to explore the myriad ways food technology has changed how food is prepared, packaged, and consumed beyond a restaurant’s four walls. As a chef and hospitality veteran, Ordonez has no intention of abandoning the dine-in model. That said, he does see presentation potential—and even a bit of theater—in to-go meals.
“The anticipation of seeing the steam slowly billow up from under the lid to reveal the hot food underneath is like when a magician disappears an item and reappears it from a puff of smoke,” he says. “It’s like opening presents on Christmas morning, but they’re filled with food.”