Developing a menu

Joined Dec 10, 2002

I'd like to know how you go about progressing a menu. I think I have a pretty good idea, but I'm always interested in how the pros do it. I know the basics such as:

champagne goes with everything
white before red
dry (white and red) before sweet (white)
excption: sauternes with foie gras as a second/third course

Food styles:
Light before dark
Cold before hot
Raw before cooked
Soft before chewy
Creamy before crispy/crunchy
Light before heavy
Mild before spicy
Savory before sweet

Soup styles:
Clear before creamy
Creamy before thick
Cold before hot

Food entrees:
Vegetable before protein (fish, shellfish, poultry, fowl, pork, beef/lamb)
Fish before shellfish
Shellfish before poultry
Poultry before fowl
Fowl before pork
Pork before beef/lamb

All the above before dessert

Tasting Threshold:
Salty before sour
Sour before savory
Savory before sweet

Basic (French) Menu Composition:
Three courses: Cold app or soup, Main course, Dessert
Four course: Cold app or soup, Hot app (fish/shellfish), Main course, Dessert
Five course: Cold app, Soup, Hot app (always fish/shellfish), Main course, Dessert
Six course: Cold app, Soup, Hot app (fish/shellfish), Main course, Salad, Dessert
Seven course: Cold app, Soup, Hot app (fish/shellfish), Intermezzo (sorbet), Main course, Salad, Dessert

Items in bold represent the new progression in the next course.

So, any productive assistance out there? How do you handle your dinners? Do any of you go this deep into developing a menu?

Joined Aug 11, 2000
NOPE!!! or maybe without thinking about it.....most of my menus and dishes have balance. I think more along richness throughout the menu, if there is a cream/fat based dish I'll not load the menu with additional ones, and will have an acid based one soon after.
More veg than meat is norm for me, and I rarely do not have a salad of some type. I like different textures in a, fried parnips in a baby green salad or I love Kirk Warner's beet salad with baby greens, chevre custard and frico....veg, smooth and creamy then salty crunch.

So, I guess your outlined rules are followed to a point but not if there is something really great that fits the theme.
I like to do funky shtuff like "forest floor pasta", wild shrooms, with pasta in a mushroom based sauce with alittle cream and sauteed fiddlehead ferns....that is a blast, I still smile thinking about it.
Last menu....
chevre with proscuitto and whole wheat crackers
baby artichokes, fingerlings, stuffed peppers, parsnips with aioli
2' bread sticks with calamata butter and pistachio butter
salmon with seabeans

baby greens with parsnips and viniagrette (40yr basalmic with great oil)
forest floor pasta
carrot ribbons with chippoline onions in a veg stock sauce

B-day cakes

Champagne served throughout also assorted white and red....I didn't do the wines but know that basically you got to choose your fav.


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
The rules you have listed are merely guidelines. They make a lot of sense and many ''traditional'' dinners follow those guidelines. But they are not set in stone. For each guideline you mention I can name an exception to it. So use it to help yourself along, but do not use it as the end all, be all of course progression. Be creative! And use your own judgement. Some menus you create will break every rule you have stated. That's fine, as long as it makes sense and follows a somewhat logical thought process.
Joined Nov 20, 2000
What they said! The guidelines you mentioned are all sound and are the fundamentals of good pairings. However they are just the basic fundamentals. I rarely thought conscientiously about it. I usually started with either a basic theme or a request and worked from there. For instance if it was a Chaine dinner I would figure the wines that would be used and match the pairings from there. If it was hot out, I would figure an entree and work around that, ditto for cold. If it was a theme such as Artichokes I would base it on that. In other words all progressions fit the whole picture to match whether it "broke the rules" or not!
Joined May 9, 2003
I'm too lazy to type it all up:p, but there's a great book that gives top chefs opinions on menu development...Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. I use it daily as reference.
Joined May 28, 2003
wow. I'm in big trouble :smiles: I didn't know anything about those rules! I think the others are right, balance... but not all rules are all right, all the time. For example, I like red wine with fish, especially tuna. But I also like bold flavors in a lot of stuff, so things have to match. Then again, there are still a million things for me to learn, so maybe I shouldn't drink red wine with cocopuffs. Bad Chef. :)

By the way ShroomGirl - I love the name of that pasta! Very cool idea!

Joined Jan 24, 2003
Just stick to whats in season & move with the seasons it keeps your menu fresh & your cost base down. Cook whatever your good at & have enough appeal for everyone without having a massive menu.its better to do 6 dishes wonderfully than 12 averagely. Rules are for breaking sure know the basics but always follow your head.

Latest posts

Top Bottom