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Crafting the Perfect Menu

Comments Off on Crafting the Perfect Menu 14 January 2013

 

Did Beethoven compose his 5th Symphony in a day? Did Picasso paint the Mona Lisa before breakfast? Was Gone With The Wind a simple short story thrown together one evening? To those questions you would shout a resounding NO! There was passion, research, suffering and love that went into each of those works of art and I believe the same time and effort should go into writing a menu. Okay maybe not the same amount of time, we would all starve but the same passion and effort should be expected from any artist seeking to create art. I follow a simple philosophy when crafting a menu, weather it is for a restaurant or a catered affair like a wedding, birthday, bar mitzvah, graduation, office party or even a funeral, one thing is ever present in a menu I have written. Enthusiasm, enthusiasm for the people that inspired it, enthusiasm for the ingredients that weave throughout it and most importantly enthusiasm for the individuals that will be enjoying the carte du jour created for them. When conceptualizing the menu for a new restaurant or tweaking the menu at an old watering hole I find it is important to create a story, a story of the food and the farmers, heritage of the community and of the location housing the restaurant. When I embark on the journey of crafting a menu for a catered affair, I spend time getting to know the person or people that the menu is being created for. Does the birthday girl have memories of sugar plum fairies or grilled cheese sandwiches served with tomato soup? Did uncle Don eat bacon at every meal, God rest his soul?  I am searching for food memories that stand out from their past, ingredients that touch them on an emotional level, family traditions… Secondly I embrace the seasons, and the bounty of that season, always at the vanguard of the time of year is the local offerings. What is rising from the Earth around me, grazing on the land of the valley to the South and swimming in the sea to the West and of course how is it farmed, raised or caught. Thirdly what makes it better and different than anything they have had before? Will I olive oil poach the fish for a soft, supple texture or grill it over red wine barrel staves to add an oaky, earthy element to enhance the experience. Lastly, I have always found that personality is a strength on a menu as much as it is on a stage. Once a menu is created and decided upon the real work begins, how does that menu translate to the dining room, the banquet hall or even the childhood home of the bride to be… how will the perfect menu be perfectly executed? If I slice the steak before it is plated will it retain its heat long enough to get to the guest hot? A great menu that cannot be executed is only fun to read once! Now I have said for years, anyone can cook a steak but you have to be able to sell the sizzle… I joked earlier that creating a menu is much like an artist painting a masterpiece, I’m not lopping of an ear or anything crazy like that but it is true for me, I want to find the right canvas, I must select the perfect colors and I must have the final image, the piece de resistance set in my mind. Now unlike cooking which has come very naturally to me, I have had to work very hard and taken a lot of criticism to get to a point where people pay me to criticize their menus. 

 

I have been writing and proofing menus for a very long time and have seen my fair share of mis worded, over capitalized and poorly described menu items. I love it when someone connects a title to an item like a California Burger but smothers it in Mushrooms and Swiss cheese, because nothing says California like mushrooms and Swiss?? Really? Is that like a Denver omelet with tomatoes and sausage?  I am all about creativity and expression through my food but there are some, call them fundamentals that are kind of adhered to. If you’re going to serve a “Classic” like fish and chips you can throw an Asian slant at it by dipping it in tempura and serving it with a cucumber slaw and salted wonton chips but you don’t throw bleu cheese into a Chinese Chicken Salad and say look how creative I am, It doesn’t work! Another favorite is when a salad description reads sun-dried cranberries and later in the same item tells me of the sundried cranberry vinaigrette… is one dried by the sun and the other dried-by the sun? And am I really suppose to believe that you simply couldn’t justify charging me $9.00 for my sandwich because $8.95 is all it really cost… Charge me the .05 no one is falling for that one anymore… I don’t feel like you saved me money! Yikes, that was a bit of a rant! Oh and Picasso did not paint the Mona Lisa… Just seeing if you were really reading!

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