You take the good with the bad, the praise and the criticism - it’s part of the gig! In this business you have to have thick skin, you can’t be sensitive; you must be receptive and willing to accept criticism as well as praise.

This is the credo we in the business often recite to ourselves

These words help us to deal with all that comes with this business. No matter who you are, if you are passionate about what you do, and you pour yourself into it, you will take it all very personal, it’s simply too hard not to. You are thankful for the praises and accolades, but it’s always the negative criticism that sticks with you. Some of us even have the really rough ones memorized! I’ve had many conversations with many different colleagues, and they all have some review or criticism that is embedded in their heads and hearts, trust me.

So with all this in mind, I thought I would share this with you, as it might give insight as to how this all works, at least here in my place. Every 2 ½ to 3 months, we change the menu - we change it seasonally. There is so much thought and discussion and ideas bouncing back and forth for this. There is an abundance of work that comes with this, often not shared with the customer because it’s not really pertinent to your dining experience. Here is the process, in detail, laid out for you - in some places there is more to it, and in some less. This should give you an idea of what it takes to create consistent, good food in a restaurant. Some places have a corporate office that does all of this - creates and ships the food in pre-processed bags to microwave or boil and serve, efficiently and quickly, 10 minutes or so at a time. We are not one of them. I have colleagues that change their menus daily…DAILY! You want to talk about dedication, hard work, passion! That’s not easy!

New Menu Process

  • Seasonality is key - start to line up your cast of ingredients, ideas, goals
  • Think of the cooking methods – again, seasonality is key
  • Start to develop the idea of the menu - not the final, just the idea
  • Put pen to paper - write out ideas, ingredients, cooking methods and flavor profiles
  • Bring in some of your items and start to cook with them - usually evening specials, and begin to format more ideas
  • Put pen to paper again - what worked and what didn’t
  • Begin to formalize recipes - based on what worked or what didn’t during testing
  • Call purveyors, line up supplies costs - these are typically in bulk , so you will break down costs further….not yet
  • Once price guides are collected, break down pricing: from case pricing to ounce cost or grams cost
  • Create a new inventory guide, along with pricing for each item
  • Write standardized recipes for each menu item - not just plates, but every manipulated and further cooked component, specific knife cuts, techniques, quantities and desired results
  • Begin to price out individual menu items and assure costs are in line with desired food cost parameters
  • Price menu appropriately - foie gras, caviar and uni are awesome, but are your customers buying that on a regular basis?
  • Write a glossary of terms - so that front of the house staff, as well as culinary staff, have a very defined idea of what they are selling (to include ingredients, cooking methods and processes, origin of items, etc.)
  • Assign each dish to a correct station - in most cases: garde manger/cold apps, hot apps, sauté, grill, oven, expediter. Every dish can’t come from the grill or the oven. This in particular is important - you may have written the most awesome menu ever only to realize that you have just overloaded the saute’ guy and the grill man only has one steak! Or the salad guy has all the appetizers and the oven guy has none….which requires further menu alteration, method alteration, and in some cases, ingredient alteration.
  • Create mise en place list for all stations - to include all items and the desired quantities of prep per station
  • Train the culinary staff on new items - we can’t close down and practice the dishes over and over until they are mastered. It requires my cooks to have speed, comprehension, basic skills and the drive to learn them in detail and accomplish. They must recreate the dishes the same exact way every time…this is not easy. It’s not just about what I can cook myself, but what I can get my staff to replicate day in and day out.
  • Prepare a tasting for staff and be prepared to discuss each item in detail - ask and answer questions.
  • Make correct edits to plates - change of ingredients or methods, which will result in changes in costs and pricing, which will result in changes in inventory, glossary, prep lists, and mise en place lists
  • Go “live” and introduce menu - allow an appropriate amount of time (usually very short, you don’t want to experiment on your guests) and make further edits based on customer response and or efficiency of approach
  • By the time this is really humming, it’s time to scrap it and start again!

So am I whining? NO! Complaining? NO! Am I being another chef saying, “Look how hard all of this is for me. You need to appreciate me!”? NO!

I simply want you to think about this when you go out and eat, and perhaps something is not to your liking - or even if it’s something that’s amazing. Before you quickly jump to use those new shiny terms and words you picked up from Food Network or the latest cooking show on Travel Channel, or from your favorite magazine food editor, on a review site or with your friends….and before you use terms like uninspired, or pedestrian, or underwhelming or earth shattering, mind altering, transcendental….try to think about the fact that cooking at home and cooking professionally are two very different things. We all want to be blown away by that next meal, we all want the most for our dollars and we want what we’ve seen on TV. I do too! But we don’t live in TV – and the process from conception to delivery doesn’t happen in a 30 minute segment including commercials. My goal is to produce an honest, superb dining experience and always have something new and exciting to offer our customers. And maybe, just maybe, have someone feel inspired and ready to come see us again to see what’s next…..