Menu development

Mar 8th, 2006

One of the most frequently asked questions of guests attending one of our classes is how we come up with our menus. I thought I should take up a few lines and explain since that is what I am working on at this moment.

Menus are a funny thing! Without trying a lot of chefs have a daunting task to develop menus for their restaurants, considering the factors to keep in mind. For instance, will the ingredients be available when I need them? Will the price be stable enough to keep it on the menu? Will be able to maintain the quality ? Does my staff have the right skills?

Take, for example, salmon – anyone following the news probably knows that the run this year (meaning when salmon start their migratory journey from the ocean back to their place of birth for spawning) appears to be falling short of projections. This could result in 700 miles of coastal fishing being closed. WOW! Fewer salmon drives up costs. So what do chefs do?

We have choices and it usually comes down to simple economics. Is the cost that your guest will need to pay to make it worthwhile, acceptable? And, do I bring in filets or whole fish or something in between?

Overwhelmed yet? Well, I am probably a little ahead of myself. This all makes for great background – but menus at least for us, come together a little differently. Magazines, internet, cookbooks, television, etc. all have contributed to the inspiration for EVOO menu development. For me personally, I take time to see what is new in the trades and see what the consumer sees, Gourmet Magazine, Saveur and Cooks Illustrated seem to be three good resources for that. We have a fairly extensive culinary library which helps to round out my research when I am in development. Then comes the fresh sheets – these are quick blurbs from the farmers that let you know what is season, what may be coming into season and what is in limited supply. It all makes for a grab bag of choices that comes together when we start putting items down on paper.

Our general rule of thumb is, if it grows together (in season) than it usually tastes good together. Lenore is the best partner in the world to have. Besides being a talented educator, retailer and savvy business person, she also is a great culinarian with a wealth of technical application. She checks my menus for redundancy of food and cooking styles and makes sure that the items make sense. She challenges my thought processes and has me expain how the item should come together in front of the guests. She’s always saying, “What are the learnings?” Good stuff that translates into good menus, crossing my fingers. Well, I hope this was a little enlightening and it seems that I used more than a few lines, oops…ciao for now – Bob