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5 Restaurant Foods That Are Secretly Store-Bought, According to Chefs

Have you been fooled by these dishes before?
FACT CHECKED BY Meaghan Cameron

We're here to share a little secret with you: Many of your favorite local restaurants don't make everything on the menu in their own kitchens. Some of those fresh, delicious foods are proudly store-bought. Why? There are several different reasons, and all of them are valid.

One main reason is many chefs understand the importance of focusing on what they personally, and the team around them, actually do well. That's why many restaurants will outsource baked goods and desserts, which require a bit of a different skill set than say, making a flavorful roast or perfectly searing a piece of fish. 

Another reason to outsource? There may be someone locally that creates a perfect seasoning, sauce, or another menu item that they want to highlight for their guests. This builds partnerships and fosters a sense of community.

It can also help build consistency, says Grant Kneble the owner of Freddy J's Bar & Kitchen in New Jersey, who told us, "Using pre-made desserts, bread, and sauces developed by expert chefs and food manufacturers can help ensure that the same level of quality is maintained across all restaurant locations."

We asked chefs what they outsourced and why it makes their menus even better, read on to find out their smart secrets. 

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Breads and Baked Goods

baked goods

This one came up consistently with most of the chefs we spoke to. With so many great local bakeries across the U.S., it's one part of the menu chefs are happy to outsource to more experienced bakers. 

We spoke with a baker about how outsourcing bread can actually mean the restaurant is serving a higher-quality item. Natasha and Ed Tatton of Bred, in Whistler, Canada explain, "The main reason restaurants outsource the bread is quality: organic naturally leavened additive-free freshly baked bread (like we make) is an art form and a science in itself."

Plus, mixing, proofing, baking, and resting bread is a time-consuming process. "True sourdough is a three to four-day process, and there are many factors which can affect it, so you have to pay attention to the fermentation," they said.

It's really a science, the Tattons told us, "For example. in the ski resort of Whistler, we have a temperature fluctuation of -20°C (-4°F) in the winter and 40°C (104°F) in the summer. These temperatures can slow down or speed up the fermentation accordingly. It's difficult for a restaurant kitchen, with so many sections, to maintain a consistency in their bread. Bread also takes a long time to bake and requires a very high temperature and a lot of steam, so it may not be possible to share space with other items in an oven and will affect the production of other menu items."

Dennis Littley, chef and founder of Ask Chef Dennis explains why most chefs let the experts handle the bread, saying, "Baking bread can be a time-consuming process that requires precise measurements, rising, and baking times. With a wholesale bread supplier, the restaurant can have a quality product readily available for customers, whether fresh-baked or frozen, without worrying about the time it takes to prepare it."

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Gluten-Free Breads

gluten-free bread loaves on display

Another reason restaurants outsource their bread is so they can offer specialty items like gluten-free breads, says Littley. "For example," Littley explains, "if the restaurant wants to make gluten-free breadsticks, it would require a separate oven or thorough cleaning to avoid cross-contamination. A bread supplier can deliver freshly baked gluten-free breadsticks, ensuring that they are safe from cross-contamination."

Sauces and Toppings

pouring sauce

For smaller restaurants, like Mark Renson's 18-seat Ambition Coffee & Eatery in Schenectady, NY, it's about focusing on what he does the best.  Renson considers, "What do I want to make and what do I want to buy just to make my life easier?" 

"I buy hummus, pesto, and pico de gallo. Because of our restaurant size, staffing issues, and uncertainty of business, buying those products allows me time to do other things," Renson told us. "Like baking our homemade boozy muffins which are unique to our restaurant. My mind isn't full with 'I gotta make hummus' and allows me to focus on having a unique product."



Chef and author Allen Bixby says many restaurants don't have a dedicated pastry and dessert chef, so outsourcing sweets is fairly common. He told us, "Most people who are the cooks in restaurants cringe at the idea of baking. The old adage 'cooking is art, baking is science' is true, and not everyone excels at science."

"Very technical and delicate, the expertise needed is pretty high and usually requires a dedicated person for it," says Bixby. "Finding a spot with their own dessert chef is delightful, not all places can afford that kind of specialization."

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Puff Pastry

Puff Pastry

Another baked item that's just so difficult for a busy chef to make, says former chef David Nicholas of Chef Word"As a former sous chef working in a variety of high-end kitchens, there is one item I never witnessed made from scratch and that is puff pastry," Nicholas says. "The amount of time it takes to fold, roll and chill each layer makes it a very long-winded process and the results are very similar to buying it ready-made from a quality source." 

Tanya Edwards
Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya