Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Field Trip #5: HuHot Mongolian Grill

Yesterday we went on another field trip with our homeschool field trip club. We visited HuHot, a new Mongolian grill restaurant located in the Apache Mall. Check out their website at http://www.huhot.com/.

Mr. Matt Cory, owner of the newest franchise of this 27-location chain, gave us a tour of the seating area, grill, and kitchen. He began with a map of the United States, with states that have at least one HuHot restaurant highlighted in red. Those states included Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Washington, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, and now, the first location in Rochester, Minnesota, which opened recently in January 2008. The chain's headquarters are located in Missoula, Montana, home of the first HuHot Mongolian Grill. The owner of the chain began his experience in the chain restaurant business as the son of owners of all the Godfather's Pizza restaurants in Montana.

A 70-foot mural adorning a long, curving wall of the restaurant is one of the visual highlights of the seating area. The Rochester HuHot is the only location to feature such an elaborate mural. The same artist travels to each new HuHot location to paint murals on the walls of the restaurant featuring the signature, curving dragon.

Patrons can choose from about thirty fresh ingredients to include in their stir-fry, such as bamboo shoots, baby corn, snow peas, mushrooms, you name it. To make the selection even more appealing, there are 48 sauces and oils from which to choose to flavor your custom-made entree, from sweet all the way to HuHot spicy.

We proceeded to the grill, which is visible from many areas of the restaurant, where patrons' food is grilled while they watch and wait. To the children's delight -- and even the grown-ups' amazement -- the two chefs at the grill created an enormous flame while they watched. Mitchell stepped back a few feet into Troy's waiting arms. Surprisingly, no tears or angry, frightened cries this time. Little Mitch is growing up. The grill was shipped here from California in three pieces. It weighs 2700 pounds, as much as a small car, and required the strength of seven or eight men to lift the pieces and install them. Most foods are quickly cooked at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, but the grill can reach temperatures as high as 550 degrees, and the cooks boast smooth because the hair has been singed from their arms.

We entered the kitchen, with swinging doors labeled "in" and "out" and observed the appetizer and beverage area, as well as the deluxe dishwasher. Nic asked, "How do you do dishes?" and Mr. Cory noted the importance of the employees who run the dishwasher and keep up with the workload during the restaurants' busiest times. The water temperature inside the dishwasher reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Near the back of the kitchen was the prep table, with different colored cutting boards for vegetables and various cuts of meat, to help avoid cross-contamination. The cutting boards are bleached at the end of each day, restoring their discolored appearance to sparkling-new conditino. That area of the kitchen is also where the restaurant receives their shipments of fresh produce and other ingredients used in meal preparation. In anticipation of the busy weekend, they receive 177 boxes of goods.

The contents of the walk-in-cooler, chilled to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, are also visible through glass doors to the eating area of the restaurant. Dozens of ingredients are kept fresh, prepped and ready to go for the eating rush hour. The temperature of the walk-in cooler rose to about 40 degrees from our body heat while we were inside.

The kids also went inside the smaller, approximately 4 feet by 6 feet freezer, kept at a constant 4 degrees below zero. Someone was inside -- in short sleeves -- taking inventory!

On the way out of the kitchen, Mr. Cory showed the kids how soda is reconstituted from 3 gallon boxes of syrup, labeled "post mix fountain syrup" and carbon dioxide, into the fountain beverages many of them enjoy drinking. Most HuHot restaurants sell Coca-Cola products, but Mr. Cory was approached by Pepsi-Co when he was opening the restaurant, and he liked their competitive prices, and he personally prefers their products, so they received the contract for this location. I noticed that each beverage has its own "recipe" for mixing, like one part syrup to three parts water, or one part syrup to five parts water.

Just as we were about to exit the kitchen, Nic noticed a big metal drum standing on a stand on the floor. Mr. Cory explained to Nic, Max, Mitch, Troy, and me how the pasta cooker works. It is essentially an enormous double boiler, with a crank to turn to pour out the hot water and pasta as needed. Next to the pasta cooker is a rice cooker that is almost as big, and next to that, a giant-deep fryer. With his love for fried food, I know Troy was wondering if he could ever fit one of those into a future gourmet kitchen of his own!

When we thought our field trip was over, the best part had just begun. Mr. Cory surprised us with a plate of appetizers and a dessert plate with caramel, raspberry, and chocolate sauces for dipping.

At the end of our field trip, while the kids were enjoying their treats, (after Troy had already said hello to a pastor he recognized from a local church) Troy continued talking with the owner of the restaurant, and as part of this small world in which we live, and Troy knowing someone wherever we go, they realized they had attended the same junior high school in California, just a few years apart.

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