“Made from Scratch” Revelation

If you’ve ever been to a Ted’s, you’ve no doubt heard the term “made from scratch” tossed around.  But what exactly does that mean?  Our commitment to high quality ingredients and meals that are made fresh every day is so ingrained into the Ted’s culture that we don’t always take the time to stop and make sure our guests know just how unique our dedication is to food that’s always “made from scratch”.  Until now.

I was introduced to “made from scratch” on my first day in the kitchen.  As a long-time fan of Ted’s food, I was intrigued to learn what happened behind the scenes.  I’m not sure exactly what I thought I would discover, but it certainly wasn’t the half dozen or so cooks working diligently to prepare fresh salsa, queso, beans, rice… everything.  Y’all, there was so much food that it blew my mind.

When I saw the vat (because it was so large that “vat” is the only appropriate word for it) of queso being made, I was amazed that they could possibly need that much cheese.  It had to be a good three and a half to four feet tall and at least two feet in diameter.  Full of queso. The most surprising part was when the manager saw my look of amazement and chuckled, saying, “that’ll last us until about three o’clock this afternoon”.  All I could say was WOW.

Still amused by my awe over the queso, the manager then put me to work helping to make a fresh batch of guacamole.  One of the cooks who had been cutting the just-delivered whole Hass avocados in half paused to show me how to peel the fruit.  He took a spoon and swiped across the inside of the peel so quickly and smoothly that it looked easy.  Then, he handed me the spoon and pushed the tub of halved avocados toward me.  Excited to get started, I grabbed an avocado and slid the spoon across the fruit, which surprisingly really was easy to do.  However, it was so easy that I ended up slicing right through the middle of the avocado half and it took me three scoops to get all the “meat” out of the shell.  So much for a quick task, and good thing those avocados got smashed up later on, because mine were not nearly as pretty as his had been.

Once I finally got through what felt like a million avocados, it was time for the fun part — smashing!  And it was fun — for the first five minutes or so.  Then he started getting picky.  “That one’s too big,” “smash this one a little more.”  If you’ve ever wondered if the kitchen staff at Ted’s is detailed in their food preparation, I can assure you, from personal experience, that they definitely are.  Of course, it wouldn’t be Ted’s if we didn’t take great pains to ensure that it is exactly right, exactly the same, every single time.  Our guests expect consistency and, across the board, our team strives to maintain that consistency.  If you don’t believe me, I’ll be happy to show you the six inch thick training manual that accompanied me on this venture.

After the avocados were appropriately smashed, he helped me add the tomatoes, onions, lime juice, and special seasoning blend that make up the Ted’s guac flavor profile.  I was a little hesitant to taste it, because as a general rule, I’m not a big fan of guac.  It was fantastic.  Maybe it was the fact that I made it myself, but more likely it was due to the freshness.  It was not even in the ballpark of the “straight from a tube” guac you can find at other restaurants.  Best of all, fresh batches of our guac are made throughout the day, so all of our guests get to experience the delicious freshness.  If you haven’t tasted it yet, you’re missing out!

Once the cook was satisfied that my guac met Ted’s high standards, I moved on to the sauces.  The one that stood out most to me was the tomatillo sauce.  Not only is this one of my favorite sauces to eat, but it was also the most involved to cook.  Generous amounts of fresh whole pablano, cilantro and tomatillo were diced up and combined in a large pan.  They were simmered until fully cooked nearly an hour later.  The smells that filtered up from the pan made my mouth water.  I was quickly learning that all of our ingredients were fresh, never pre-cut, and never frozen.  Clearly that made all the difference, because as I watched the slow, careful process, I began to understand how they were able to pack so much flavor into one tasty little green sauce.  I highly recommend trying it on your enchiladas or tamales if you never have.

My next stop was the grilling station where I learned how to prepare chicken and steak for our famous slow marinated fajitas.  As I unpacked some of the largest chicken breasts I’d ever seen, I asked the kitchen manager assisting me to explain the slow marinating process.  She proceeded to tell me about our centralized production facility where all of our chicken and steak go through the marinating process for 24 to 48 hours before being delivered to each of our restaurants. By having one location that handled the marinating process for all eleven restaurants, quality and consistency can be more easily monitored and controlled, she explained.

I was surprised to hear just how long the meat was marinated, and as I watch it cook on the grill before me, it dawned on me that by doing so, Ted’s ensured that the meat would remain moist and flavorful throughout the cooking process.  Maybe it’s just me, but when I grill chicken at home after letting it sit in a marinade for the bottle-specified 1-2 hours, it comes out extremely dry.  I’ve never experienced dry chicken in my fajitas at Ted’s, and now I know why.  Going the extra mile really does make a difference in the taste for the guest, and based on the popularity of our fajitas, our loyal guests are well aware of that fact.

My final stop was at the tortilla station.  One of our most popular items, guests of all ages enjoy watching our tortilla ladies turn the little balls of dough into fresh, warm tortillas.  It seems like a simple enough process, but like everything at Ted’s, the “made from scratch” element begins long before the guests arrive.  Every morning, our tortilla ladies arrive and begin making the dough balls that are used throughout the day for our guests.  If you took a peek in the kitchen before the doors open on any given morning, you’d see her kneading the dough to perfection by hand.  Once the dough was ready to be rolled into balls, she’d spread a generous amount of dough on the dough press.  A couple quick spins to the machine and she’d open the lid to reveal several perfectly rounded dough balls.  An hour or so later, she’d have enough to meet the needs of the incoming lunch crowd.

As I quickly learned, “made from scratch” goes much deeper than just words on a menu; it’s a part of the Ted’s culture.  We often get comments on how consistent the food is across all of our restaurants, and the secret is the detailed, careful way every single Ted’s employee is trained to make each dish.  So the next time you take a bite of our signature guacamole or hear a server say “made from scratch,” understand that it’s more than words; it’s a way of life at Ted’s.

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