Huh? Menu? What?
The Fine Art of Composing a Menu
As a chef, I cook. But you know where I also spend a good deal of time? In front of the computer designing menus and creating recipes. I seemingly spend as much time in front of the computer as I do in the kitchen. But you know what? Putting together a menu can be a blast.
But, for many it's labor. Raise your hand if you ever feel bewildered, flummoxed, intimidated, like you just want to go sit in a dark closet and hope that the dinner invitations got lost in the mail.
Let's make it fun, shall we?
- First off, what do you like? Be selfish for a moment.
You've got to put your heart into what you're cooking, AND make it taste good. I'm going to get all airy-fairy here and say food takes on the aura of the cook. A discontented cook makes discontented food for potentially discontented guests. Guests feel, see and taste the love that you put into food. Remember the movie Like Water for Chocolate?
Before a plate leaves the restaurant kitchen and hits the table, any chef will say "does it taste good?" If I'm serving salmon, how am I supposed to know?
I make food that I enjoy eating, cooking, shopping for, and thinking about.
- What will your guests like? Are there any dietary considerations?
It was a little bit of a balancing act, but not impossible. As a joke, Fernando wrote and the board attributes he finds unattractive in people. I'll leave it at that.
Know your audience.
- Think seasonally.
Think locally. What's growing in these parts these days? Not much. A fresh heirloom tomato salad is not what I'm craving. My partner in life, bless his heart, brought home a bowl of cut tropical fruit from Costco the other day. It had been flown up from South America. Most of the fruit had no taste, what taste there was wasn't.
- Think regionally.
France. What region? Provence, along the Mediterranean? Here come's saffron again. Or Parisian, or Loire Valley? How about a French country truck stop (some of the best food), or a five-star Parisian restaurant? Oh, a bistro might be fun.
- Think courses, even if you're serving everything except dessert at the same time.
Recently I ran a French home cooking party. The guests were delighted to try new things including having the Plat Principal, the main course, BEFORE the Salade. Why? the salad aids digestion. I served the salad with the Fromage: (cheese). In a restaurant, a cart is brought to the table with a variety of cheeses made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk. The cheese actually helps break down proteins. Then, there might be Le fruit: The sugars in a piece of fruit create enzymes, also aiding digestion. Followed by Dessert and coffee: maybe but not always
- Combine complimentary ingredients.
They recommend cooking methods: boil, grill (YUM), and steam.
They give you recipes: Asparagus-Pistachio Soup Avgolemono, Grilled Asparagus with Olive Bread Crumbs and Olive Oil, Green Asparagus Soup with Morels.
- Above all, have fun!
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
"I always give my bird a generous butter massage before I put it in the oven. Why? Because I think the chicken likes it -- and, more important, I like to give it."
And my favorite:
"Learn how to cook -- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all have fun."