Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sandwich Collapse

I had marvelous company for lunch the other day in a beautiful setting. Everything was great - too bad the half-sandwich was a structural design disaster. It looked beautiful, about three inches thick, sprouts hanging out the sides, crisp lettuce stacked high. The top slice of bread was almost floating above the rest of the creation. The plate was garnished nicely and the accompanying cup of soup was delicious, although it too could be re-thought.

As soon as I picked up the sandwich, the sprouts fell out in one clump. Next, the lettuce squeezed out the back and a couple of avocado chunks escaped, plopping onto the plate.  Left in the sandwich was a slice of cheese and a couple of slippery tomato slices. There was supposed to be cream cheese somewhere in the mix, but I didn't run across it. Too bad, because cream cheese could have been the mortar binding the ingredients together.

I worked on many sandwiches during my food service years. I can hear you laughing -  "worked on a sandwich? What's to work?" If you're possibly going to serve thousands and thousands of them, you consider the design carefully. Case in point: Subway sandwiches don't fall apart on the plate. They know how to make a sandwich so that every bite has all the flavor elements in it. They're not the Rolls Royce of sandwiches but they're made to stick together. 

We always had somebody sit down and eat every new item created for a menu. Too often, during the R D stage of menu development, you stand around in a kitchen eating bits and pieces, taking a bite here and there. It's easy to miss the impact (and the challenges to consumption) of the thing in total. Another problem is the temptation to be dismissive about trivia. Yes, mustard it is extremely trivial in a non-culinary context but in sandwich construction it's important. You have to spread the mustard from corner to corner on the bread - not smear a blob in the middle. This sounds so idiotic but when you're trying to get 1000 cooks all making a sandwich the same way, you have to be clear and you have to be simple. Mustard is muscle in the sandwich world. It enhances aroma, adds depth to flavor, helps keep certain ingredients in place. It makes a huge difference and you have to convince the sandwich makers that it's important.

At some point, you have to test everything under real life circumstances.  Say, put a woman in a white blouse, sitting in the actual chair, in the actual restaurant; present the actual sandwich on the actual plate with the actual garnish and watch her eat it. If the half sandwich I ate today had been so tested, most of the problems would have been obvious and corrected. Better still, have the owner do the testing. Of whoever is manning the cash register

Once, during a sandwich roll out test for New World Bagel in New York, I stood in line to purchase one of our test sandwiches. The woman standing in line in front of me turned to me and said, "If I owned this place, I'd shoot  myself." No focus groups necessary after that test. We re-did everything.

Back to my lunch. I re-assembled my sandwich somewhat and began again to eat it. Now I had to lean way forward in the chair and keep my head two inches from the plate because it was going to collapse again. Finally I gave up and ate the sprouts, avocado and tomato with a fork and squished down the rest of the sandwich (hard palm pressure) so that I could eat the bread and cheese together.

One sloppy sandwich would never discourage me.....I'll return to the restaurant because it has so many redeeming qualities - fantastic setting, great wait staff, fair pricing and plenty more items on the menu to choose from. And carp about.


  1. I hate it when that happens to a sandwich. And come to think of it, it happens often. I guess there just aren't enough sandwich testers around to make sure a sandwich stays together. Or maybe not enough mayo and mustard. Last nite we went to a taco feed. The tortillas were the pre-fried type - way too crunchy. I stuffed two tortillas with everything (except the meat!) and they were totally impossible to eat. A big mess. I had to just smash the two tacos into bite size pieces and eat them with a fork. I wonder who tests those tacos made with pre-fried tortillas!

  2. Anonymous8:12 PM

    My Dad was always a stickler for table manners. We had to sit up straight and use utensiles properly and leave them in the 5 oclock position on the plate. He despised Mexican food because he said taco's you have to lay on your side to eat them and burritos you lay on your stomach. He even ate chicken legs with a knife and fork! Is that a Canadian thing Helen? It never stopped me from handing unliked food down to the dog under the table! Beth C