Five "House-Made" Foods That Nearly Always Suck

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I applaud the back-to-basics ethos that's creeping through American dining recently, where chefs are taking seriously the idea of cooking from ingredients, rather than cooking from prepared foods. It's a sort of anti-Sandra Lee, anti-Semi-Homemade revolution that, in general, is improving American dining. More importantly, it's re-training American palates, which will pay off down the road.

That said, some of you need to actually taste your food before you serve it--and have someone whom you trust to tell you the unvarnished truth taste it, too. Certain foods should only be preceded on a menu by the words "house-made" if you actually know what the hell you're doing. Sometimes it's because there is one brand and one brand only that people like, and sometimes it's because you're an idiot and don't know how to cook these things. Read on for an incomplete list of these things.

5. Fake Meat

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This is at the end of the list because it belongs only to a certain sub-sub-sub-category of restaurants. It's tempting, when you run a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, to play with texturized vegetable protein (TVP) or other meat substitutes and try and imbue them with some flavor more appealing than sour cardboard. Unfortunately, pretty much nobody knows how to do it, and the result is me, sitting at a brightly colored table surrounded by batik prints, wishing the kitchen had sautéed the box instead.

4. Mac 'N Cheese

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Cheese sauce--the stuff that goes onto mac 'n cheese--is simple stuff. It's white sauce with cheese melted into it. Unfortunately, ninety percent of the chefs in this country need to go back to middle school home economics and re-learn how to make a damn white sauce. If I had a dollar for every gluey, floury mac 'n cheese I've eaten since my daughter was born, I'd be able to rent a goon squad to beat some sense into the chefs of America. You suck at mac 'n cheese, chefs. Please, please, please go to the South and learn how to make it properly.

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