Written by: Jack Wyness AKA Big Dog
Find out What goes into creating a menu & with a brief overview of the process.
Creating a brilliant menu and then being able to actually execute it consistently, is extremely time-consuming and complex. The idea of throwing some dishes together and cooking them is far from the truth. Some people are lucky enough to be taught by a mentor on how to create and design a menu, but this is something that I came across as sort of a baptism of fire a few years ago, making me self taught. There are set principles to engineering a menu, however, if you are paving the way for a new concept then at some point you will be on your own anyway.
The high street is very different to fine dining and with this comes many of its own constraints. You need to think about the price point, which then leads to quality and type of ingredients you can use. Then how many starters, mains and desserts you will choose, offering enough choice for anyone who might walk in. Also based upon how many chefs you have in your team and how many covers your restaurant is expected to take. Very much unlike a taster menu, where the chef decides what you will be eating and in what order. There are pros and cons to this. Set menus can become monotonous, and ala carte can become hectic, both with their own pressures.
“I think if you strike that balance right you end up with a happy team and happy customers.”
The balance of protein types is very important, coupled with the percentage of carbohydrates. White meat, red meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan options all need to in proportion too. It’s very easy to steer into a top-heavy section because this is something that the chef enjoys cooking or preparing but it’s all about walking that fine line. That line is cooking what you’re passionate about so when you get out of bed every day you enjoy what you do, and cooking for your guest’s needs and wants, which is first and foremost the most important factor. I think if you strike that balance right you end up with a happy team and happy customers.
Seasonality and locality are usually hyper important when designing a new menu, however, when cooking foreign cuisine it doesn’t really apply. With that being said you have to be mindful of the time of year as you would be hard-pressed to sell a cold gazpacho in the depths of winter.
One the theme and the dishes have been established they then go through a selection process where they are tasted by all staff members for feedback. Then they are costed to see if the margins will work. If you are experienced at this, then usually you won’t have to drop any dishes as you already have a good understanding of how much the ingredients cost when creating a dish.
“Mouthfeel, texture and colour all play an important part in dish construction.”
Mouthfeel, texture and colour all play an important part in dish construction. Salt, Fat, heat and acid are also critical in hitting the sweet spot. I would say this is much less important in french classical food, which tends to be quite rich and heavy, but is definitely required in Pacific Rim cuisine. If you can get all those steps correctly balanced, 9/10 you will be on to a winner.
Costing, if done correctly can be quite a drawn-out process. Weighing out all the ingredients to the gram, then its test and adjust until the product is perfect. Once you are familiar with the relevant spreadsheets, modern-day technology can speed up the process.
(It is essential that this is followed by the chefs when cooking, as the margins are usually tight, so profit goes out the window if specs are not followed to the wire.)
Presentation is usually last on the list, although still important, your menu shouldn’t be driven on style over substance. Typically in fine dining, chefs can get drawn into “textures of…” But personally, I think this leads to disaster except on rare occasions. Yes, it shows technical skill, however, if your primary ingredient isn’t that special, then you’ve already lost before you began.
When it comes to the art of plating, it takes skill, precision and time. Being on the high street, you lose most of that plating time, as you have fewer chefs and more covers to deal with.
Our plating is quite simple, yet effective. Lots of vibrant colours, with a street food style. Recreating that feeling you get when you’re on your travels in a foreign country.