Diversity in a menu.

Joined Jul 24, 2001
Here in CT , I have observed that you don't encourage people to use the same ingredients in courses in the same menu.

I wonder why.

I love to have a main ingredient and play with the techniques within courses. It's like symphonic music. You have a main theme that develops and enriches in tunes.

Example. Wine leaves for first course: Dolmades with abgolemono

Main course: Lamp wrapped in wine leaves

Dessert something with lemon, a lemon sorbet maybe , to close the circle that avgolemono opened.

What do you think?
Why you don't approve this approach when you built your menus?
Joined Jul 31, 2000
This is a very good question Athenaues...

Theirs a great deal of thought that goes into menu development, with balance and seasonality at the forefront.

If you are preparing a wonderful meal for your self and friends, it's always a fun idea to theme out the menu. It is a way to show case a certian ingredient or ingredients...

When I design menu's I always take balance of cost, texture, taste, aroma, and plate presantations into account.

I'm not sure that we are adverse to seeing the same ingredients in the flow of a meal,for me it's more about suprizing the sences everytime you bit into something....

It's like following the basic rule of menu flow, to start salty/savoury and finish sweet..its' what the palete naturaly understands.

Also..the rishness of a meal must be considered, is there to much pastry? are there two butter enriched sauces back to back and then finishing with a dessert with an anglaise base/or custard. you will over work your taste buds to try and find acids to cut through all the butter/cream and or pastries.

Certainly you can run a theme that gives you, let's say "crispness" in each course..like a simple fresh tomato salad,but served in a potato nest with a lovely and light vinaigette, followed by a lamb napolian staked with parmesan laces instead of puff pastry with a light fig/balsamic drizzle.

and finish with a trio of sorbets in an almond tuile with fresh seasonal berries thrown about.

You have light, clean flavors..but you also have a nice seem of crispness running through the menu.

I also think that IMO, that the American eater seems to think that if they see or eat the same things throughout the meal (and it is not a theme) that the chef is not creative.

I think another fun way to entertian your guest or custamers is to offer the main center of the plate item in numerous ways..what I mean is offer sushi grade tuna, but prepare it in thre distictly different fashions,sashimi,tartare,seared with a latin nuance for a first course, then maybe veal done three ways,a baby chop with morels, a gratin, and a roularde, then maybe finish with an apple sorbet,a mini apple souffle and carmilized apples..I don't know..these are just quick ideas of the top of my head, but when well thought out you can really have a blast and be extremly creative.
Joined May 29, 2002
To what extent do you need to take the audience into consideration when designing a menu? Does it avail one much to build subtle nuances of flavour and texture when you know that the diners will be unable to appreciate your finesse? Or do you do it in any event purely for your own satisfaction in maintaining your standards? Or do even an uneducated palate subliminally appreciate those finer nuances?
I can put together from my circle of friends two groups - one would have a deep appreciation of Athenaeus' subtle play with lemon, another would be totally oblivious to it and prefer to have ice cream and chocolate sauce for dessert in any event.
Joined Sep 21, 2001
I think of the meal as a whole experience. While there are subtle similarities and connections between the courses, it is also the counterpoint, the harmony, the theme that are all expressed in different ways. To me, ingredients are the piece music of the meal, the theme may be simple or obtuse, but the "whole" of the meal needs to be taken into consideration. Sometimes the absence of an ingredient is as important as its' inclusion.
I disagree with G2 on one point. The secret to reaching the "ice cream w/chocolate sauce" people, is to find what THEY value as a culinary experience and to work from there. Everyone has some form of appreciation level, we just have to find it. Never forget. We practice for our own benefit. We play for the audience....
Joined Aug 11, 2000
when designing a menu, the first thing I want to know is who's coming....second question is budget....
Homemade vanilla ice cream with farm eggs and cream with a great gaunache. Some people will care about food and some won't ever go out of their way...
With the mushroom events I've done,mushrooms are what brings us together. So having a variety of wild shrooms throughout the meal was important to me...
Joined May 26, 2001
The menu Athenaeus proposes is fine with me -- in fact, when can I come over? :lips: ;)

Having a "variations on a theme" menu is no problem, as long as the variations are distinct in one or more menu element. Cape Chef already mentioned them: To my mind -- and palate -- fatigue is the one thing you want to avoid. CC's example of too many rich sauces is perfect. "Too much of a muchness" is boring, and difficult to eat. But differences, even subtle ones, can show off the theme in a clearer light. It's even a little bit of a game: can the diners figure out the theme? CC's "crisp" example is good for that (although I might worry that the presentation of 1 and 3 were a little too close). Even if the diner is not consciously aware of the theme, I'd bet that most times it would be appreciated because of the flow of the meal.

Many of the best pastry chefs here in the US are fond of serving many variations of one ingredient or flavor on one plate -- for example, all items including chocolate, or lemon, or caramel. The variations come through texture, temperature, use of complementary flavors, and presentation. Customers love those.

What I originally objected to in GSquared's menu was that both the first and second courses were "something wrapped in a crunchy casing." I said keep the first but eliminate the second because 1) personally, I'm not a fan of sauced foods in puff pastry (immediate sog), and 2) that way there would be a break between the crunch of the starter and the crunch -- with a different form and taste -- of the ending.
Joined Jul 24, 2001
I didn't reply immediately to this, cape chef, because I wanted to think about it.
In fact I went further and I TRIED to start thinking like you in building a menu!
I mean GSquared wanted oysters? Ok. What to serve with oysters.
For a strange reason when I built a menu I start thinking the first and last course and then I decide about the main course. Since I am a bit old fashioned, I like intermezzos too so I have to squeeze an intermezzo in my menu as well...
To return to my original question I tried to think what you would serve with oysters.
French fries maybe? :D

No luck :( I would serve a seafood risotto with a muscat granita intermezzo or fish baked in salt crust.
Joined Nov 20, 2000
What he said!
Brad in reading what you said, it reminded me of when I was cooking in restaurants....I miss the creativity of my menus. I don't get the chance to stretch out at home like that both logistically and financially. I'm jealous!:cry: If I ever hit the lottery........(I ain't opening a restaurant!) I'll be a menu consultant or something or just create a menu just for me!
Joined May 29, 2002
Athenaeus, I have to question risotto with the oysters, if that is what you meant. To my mind and taste, a risotto would not provide within the same dish a counterpoint or a complement to the oysters. Oysters should be the supreme centerpiece of the main course, and anything that dilates their impact should, imho, be avoided. I would agree with Anneke and simply serve a wholegrain bread with the oysters.
I do like the idea of a granita, though.
I still think that menus are too frequently designed to conform to the creator's sense of taste, balance, texture, etc., without enough creative thought being given to the audience. Not a single post in this thread seems to consider this aspect. With all due respect and in all humility (and it might simply be the audience of this thread that is condusive to academic musings) it reminds me of nothing as much as the haute couture fashion industry - the average consumer out there is quite incapable of appreciating what the fuss is about, and would prefer to don his/her Levis in any event.
Joined Jul 31, 2000

I would say my post is done %100 with the client in mind.

Balance, taste, texture,cost, creativity are important to my clients.

I find now, more then ever the the consumer know's what she/he wants.

As to Athenaues risotto with oysters, I agree to just fold them in without a texture counterpoint may be redundent of soft textures, but dredging the oysters in some ground aborio flour and crispy sauteeing them may be just the foil to the risotto, IMHO
Joined Nov 29, 2001
This was one of the first basic rules taught at Kump. I have to say I agree completely. Repetition of a single ingredient or technique can easily bore the palate. Foods should be prepared to "play" off one another, or at the least, complement one another.
Joined Jul 24, 2001
I agree with cape chef. Cooking is an Art that needs an audience. other wise doesn't exist :)

I also agree that people are really aware of what they eat if they are willing to pay the price of Haute Cuisine.
It's exactly the same with Haute Couture.
You chose Yves Saint Laurent , because you think that his creations will illuminate your personality.
You choose Cape Chef to guide you to the orgiastic dance of tastes :)
Chrose to introduce you to the elegance of his approach towards food ( if you follow his posts you will know what I mean)
You will ask me to cook something that reminds you of the simplicity of my homeland.
Clients choose and chefs have THEM in their minds above all.

I chose the example of risotto as a bad example :)

I think that when you built a menu you focus on who is going to eat your food.
Cape chef answered that he thinks that the American...audience needs diversity. I agree.

BTW when are you going to post about the kitchen of South Africa ??
Joined May 26, 2001
GSquared -- I think it's more of a symbiotic relationship between the menu maker and the eater, at least in restaurants.

Let us assume that an unknown chef opens a new restaurant. S/he serves food created according to his/her particular vision. Customers learn about the restaurant and its food via different media -- reviews, passing by, word-of-mouth. They decide to try the place, or not, depending on their reaction to the descriptions of the food (among other factors). If they are pleased with the chef's creations, they return. If not, not. If unsure, they might return to decide. What they probably WILL do, is tell their friends about what they loved or hated. And so it spreads, in a classic wishbone pattern. The customers learn to accept the chef's ideas on food.

For his/her part, the chef is keeping an eye on what is selling and what is not. Assuming s/he is not a wild egomaniac (a la Paul Liebrand, to my mind), there are adjustments to the menu. No matter how much the chef adores something, if the customers refuse it off it goes. The chef learns to accept the customers' tastes within the context of her/his own.

After all, someone who prefers McDonalds to all else would probably never go to Daniel Boulud, so DB does not have to provide a Big-Mac type of burger. However, he can remake the burger in his image, so to speak, and it will sell because his customers are used to that sort of thing even if they've never had it before.

I can't imagine someone of CC's abilities cooking on a regular basis for customers who only want deep fried fish, french fries, and onion rings. But a cook who can and will do those dishes well finds an audience -- no matter how unbalanced the meal might be.

Of course, cooking at home for a captive audience of family and/or guests is a whole other issue ...
Joined May 29, 2002
I take your point, Suzanne. I guess that always cooking for a known audience at home is what skewed my perspective somewhat. Having said that, I would be interested in knowing how many professional chefs out there are in fact in the situation where they can design and build a menu according to their particular vision - Here I am, here is my food, come and pay to experience it. Do these form a sort of "upper echelon", the Yves Saint Laurents of the culinary world, with the caterers, the chef in the local pub etc. located a creative level lower, the Biggy Bests of the culinary world?
Joined May 29, 2002
Athenaeus - I will have to contemplate a bit & will post something about South African cuisine when my mind is clear about it - maybe around the topic of ethnic diversity and its influence on local cuisine.....
Joined May 3, 2002
we have often a three to five course meal with a theme,
fish or berries and the classic asparagus.
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