I am not sure with how many parts I will end up for this post title, but I thought I document how we get to the implementation of the new menu, phase by phase. Last week le patron (not to confuse with le chef) announced that it was time to start thinking about the new fall menu. As of September 15th he wants all the items on the menu, 7 starters, 7 main courses and 7 desserts to be replaced.
As usual he has some ideas of what he wants, the rest is open to suggestions by the chef and myself. Roughly one week before the new menu becomes official we will have a meeting between the three of us, where everybody is supposed to bring his proposals. So that means I have about 5 weeks to come up with my list of proposals. This is the third time I am going now through this process in the restaurant, and I must say it is one of the most exciting parts of my job and a major difference compared to my involvement in the previous restaurants.
General requirements and constraints are :
- products that are in season
- mise en place and plating possible in reasonnable time for 1.5 persons (me and my commis/diswasher who I count half in terms of his contribution time/capacity to the mise en place),
- using original combinations, spices, seasoning, presentation
- new direction : le patron wants 4 out of 7 starters and desserts to be "high", meaning somehow in vertical presentation, being more 3-dimensional than flat, having a certain height
- a little touch of "fusion" of French and other countries' or regions' products and techniques
- eqipment I have and don't have downstairs, both as constraint (one little gas flame), or opportunity (Pacojet, fryer)
Some of those requirements are not as clear as they seem though. We use ananas and mangoes a lot right now, you could say they are in season, but not necessarily in France. So I find this approach always a little ambiguous the way we implement it right now. The resource constraint is also not clear to me. Le patron has said last week, that he might hire an additional apprentice, that would work with me in the afternoon for the mise en place. May be. But whether or not htis will happen would change quite a bit the complexity of my proposals. With 2.5 persons you can do things a different way than with 1.5.
In addition le patron considers targeting a slightly different clientel, work with a PR agent, invite food critics, and slightly increase prices. He found that recently the average spending per cover (what we call le ticket moyen) has been dropping due to younger clients in their twenties, who mostly ordered tab water instead of wine. So I guess my proposals need probably to be a bit less playful than the sushi and some menu items could be based on a little more expensive products, like foie gras for example.
So here is where I stand today, I registered the wishes of the patron, I took my September/October/November monthly food magazines, verified the vegetables and fruit in season for fall, strolled the market. And I thought about elements that I would like to eat myself. The result is a first rather wild list of products and items that could be part of the menu.
potential products/ingredients for starters :
fig, chestnut, all types of mushrooms, sea weed, foie gras, haddock, topinambour, cabbage
potential starters :
terrine (more for practical reasons, possible to prepare only once or twice per week, fast plating)
some type of samosa using brick dough (I did mini samosas with ground curried beef recently as amuse-bouche and it was a big success)
potential desserts :
individual charlottes (Le patron wants it, not me)
some type of baklava
some type of cannoli
The idea of the Charlotte is already killing me. I have no clue yet how I am to organise a mise en place for that dessert.
Next steps : continued informal discussions with le chef, browsing my 200 cookbooks and rebrowsing the magazines, browsing cookbooks I don't own (if there are any), checking other restaurants' websites, food blogs, brainstorm with other cooks and pastry chefs, try to activate the right part of my brain...
While I find this process totally exciting, it also helped me to realize that it is not easy to be creative and come up with something new. Those chefs who change their menu daily, while delivering quality have my full admiration. Le chef for example told me that he is lacking inspiration and has not many ideas for new recipies at the moment, and that therefore I should replace him soon, which I always respond to laughing that he is talking nonsense and I only lack his 10 years of experience in some trendy upscale restaurants. But who knows, que sera sera...