Updated: Oct 30, 2019
Welcome to the fourth installment where every Wednesday I explain everything that it takes to be a Chef in my eyes. This series will by no means be exhaustive, but I will certainly do my best. If you're a Chef and want to share your opinion I'd love to hear what you have to say. Aspiring Chefs: if you have questions feel free to reach out. I'm always looking for an excuse to talk food.
First: I'm going to ask a favor; When you're done reading this make sure to comment at the bottom. If you think I don't know what I'm talking about say so, heck share it with your friends and say "look at this guy calling himself a Chef, he has no idea what he's talking about." If you agree let me know, share it with your friends, you know how we like to see that other Chefs see the world similar to ourselves, get a good laugh out of it.
Ok so far in this series we have covered the importance of Passion as well as a commitment to quality in regards to your effort and a commitment to food quality. Today I will be talking about what may be my favorite part of being a Chef: Menu planning.
There are so many different angles to cover with this topic; this is the one that really gets me excited. Menu planning is much more than just writing down some food that all sounds good. Menu design is what sets the flow for the restaurant as well as determines the viability to the restaurant concept. Before you continue reading I want you to think of your three favorite restaurants and consider what I have to say in relation those restaurants.
The first thing you need to have in mind is the demographic of your clientele. In truth there may be a whole other post about just this topic specifically for Chef/Owners since there's so much to unpack here. We are going to operate on the assumption that you have one plot of land to work with and no other options for the sake of this post. (Yup, I just decided there will be another post in the future covering "choosing a space ergo your demographic", stay tuned.) When you begin building a menu it helps a great deal to look around the area. Are you in the city? How old are the people you can see from the door? What nationality/ background are they? What restaurants are in the area? The trick here is finding, who are you selling to nearby, what do they have available to them right now and how can you set yourself apart.
Menu design. You may still think that its only about making food people want to eat. What we need to keep in mind is that it sets the tone for the restaurant as well. Imagine walking into a saloon style restaurant only to find they only serve frozen yogurt or you walk into what looks like an Italian restaurant and are served 75 cent cheeseburgers. You don't need to see those places to know that it doesn't feel right. The food needs to match the restaurant and visa versa. I may be a bit biased, but even though the outside of a restaurant is oftentimes what drives people to come in, I still believe that the restaurant should be built around the food. If you are serving warm soups, steaks, heavy sauces you may want to choose deeper colors in the decor and heartier materials such as wood.
While planning the menu you should be designing a flow. Personally I prefer Prix fixe menus as it allows me to direct the experience exactly as I wish and ensure the greatest possible experience. This unfortunately isn't very popular anymore, but luckily as a Personal Chef for-hire I get to make those menus all the time. The trick of making a menu as it relates to flow is ensuring the items play nicely together in one way or another without over whelming any one aspect. When you're making an ala cart menu I like to try to work it so that its as difficult as possible for them to make a meal (amuse buche, appetizer, entree, dessert) that doesn't work together. For myself when I make a prix fixe menu I like using what I call "the roller coaster design". Depending on the season will change whether I start up or down, spicy or cool, sweet or savory. The next part of the meal is generally the opposite though I also like to scale in that direction as well. The point is; though they are individual dishes I like to think of the menu as a whole. I actually list the 3 books I always have at my side when I build a menu in a previous blog post titled: The Definitive List of Cookbooks.
The next part that you is very important to consider is: how will you cost out your menu. I will go into greater detail in a future blog post discussing product sourcing and portion control. Many restaurants go out of business simply because they just took a guess at how much they should charge without taking into consideration fully everything that the revenue from your food needs to pay for often including the food itself. Something you need to keep in mind goes back to touching on your demographic. You can't charge too much for your demographic or else they can't afford it, but you can't charge too little depending on your demographic as they will assume you have a cheap product and won't be interested.
Many people assume that being able to cook is all it takes to become a Chef. We are now four editions in and I haven't even touched on the ability to cook yet, so I hope you understand the difference between being a Chef or Personal Chef for-hire and being a talented line-cook.
Are you an Executive Chef, Sous Chef or talented line-cook looking for a cooking job near you that can give you a spring board into entrepreneurship? Visit https://www.digestthepassion.com/chef-setup to request information to join our Network of Personal Chefs and please don'f forget to follow our Facebook Page!