Wednesday, April 15, 2009
How Do You Make a Menu?
We're shifting gears pretty drastically here in Central PA. Next week, I'll debut our spring a la carte menu and by friday night, we'll be into spring tasting menu mode. I've been working on the spring menu pretty much every hour of every day for the past two weeks. Ever seen those people who have that 'I'm just not here' look on their face? That's been me for the past two weeks. Both at work and at home. It's a really all consuming process. If you don't believe me, call the restaurant and ask Karen. She can bend your ear a little bit about my 'I'm just not here' look when I'm working on menus.
So, I thought it would be an interesting post if I described what goes in to producing the a la carte menu(we call it the 'big menu') at The Sheppard Mansion. Some of this might seem 'out there' to you 'normal' folks, but please remember, I've never described myself as 'normal'.
The first step is to outline the menu slots. We carry four first courses, four second courses and seven main courses. Within the first courses, usually two are meat based and two are seafood. These courses are usually hot. Our second courses are mostly the 'soup and salad' section of the menu and almost always cold. The main courses are divided into three fish and four meat courses. OK, so now the menu slots are assigned. Now, the hard part. What the hell are we going to put in those slots???
With each new season, I make a long list of the possible ingredients that I can work with. I then divide these ingredients into first, second or main course. Sometimes, it's a main protein that I want to work with(i.e. veal sweetbreads) and then the dish gets built around that 'star' ingredient. Sometimes, it's a supporting cast member that I really want to work with and I build the dish from the back to the front.(i.e.
morel mushrooms or ramps) Once I've slotted something into each slot, then I start to build the dish. Getting to the point where there is something slotted into each space isn't as easy as it sounds. I've spent two weeks with an open first course slot and just recently filled it.(Oh, joy!) So, like I said, once the slots are filled then it's time to build the dish. At this point, I make two lists. One list has all the ingredients that 'play well' with the slotted ingredient. The second list I make is purely historical. What already composed dishes or ideas could be tweaked or updated and put on the plate at TSM? Once I have those two lists, then I start to look at the ingredients in terms of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and crunch. This is where the post is going to get a little touchy-feely. If you're uncomfortable, I understand. Like I said, I never admitted to be normal.
So, here's what happens. I put the dish together and then taste it in my head. I try and visualize what it's going to taste like. I guess it could be considered taste memory. Every time I taste an ingredient, I make a memory of its flavor. Sometimes, walking through Kathy Glahn's garden, I'll take my pocket knife out and cut something straight from the vine and pop it in my mouth.(does it get any fresher than that?)
So, once I 'memory taste' it and like it, then it goes down on paper. After going on paper, then we move to cooking it and tasting it in the restaurant.(we're doing that this week.) Some things will work, some won't. Some products will be available, some won't. That's just the way it goes. We test and then retest. Once I'm happy with the finished product, it hits the menu. Sound simple?
OK, now a couple of words about our spring menu:
1) you'll notice peas, asparagus and morel mushrooms all over the menu. I don't apologize for that. This is the season for you to be eating those items and for us to be cooking with them. Spring will be over before you know it and you'll have 10 months to wait before having those ingredients again. The only time I try and not duplicate ingredients is on our tasting menus. If this really bugs you, get over it. It's gonna be more of the same in the summer. A menu littered with Tomato Lady tomatoes, corn and the best Central PA has to offer. Again, get over it or go to TGIMcFunster's and have the 'sneeze bar'.....that stuff's certainly fresh and 'seasonal'.
2) You'll notice that there are terms and ingredients on the menu that you may be unfamiliar with or have a preconceived notion about. Relax. Our service staff is the best restaurant service staff between Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Baltimore. Wanna challenge me? Bring it. It'll end badly for you. They're that good. So, ASK THEM IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS!!! Also, I haven't steered away from 'scary' items like pigs feet even though I've been told that the dish featuring pigs feet won't sell simply because of the feet. I'm not gonna change the name to 'pied au cochon'. It's delicious pigs feet, folks. Beef heart and tongue? You betcha. HAVE YOU EVER TRIED IT??? Would I put it on my menu if it tasted like ass? Seriously. Trust me. This is a topic for another post, but WHEN ARE WE GOING TO WAKE UP AND EAT FLAVORFUL FOOD AMERICA? Beef tenderloin SUCKS. It's flavorless, mushy protein matter. Period.
So, here's the menu, folks. I'll be updating the blog with our testing and process on each dish in the next couple of days. Cheers!
Crispy Veal Sweetbreads
asparagus, crab salad, garden tarragon sauce
Braised Amish Rabbit Leg
Garden herb tagliatelle, English peas, mint, bacon bits,
garlic almond cream
Cornmeal Dusted Soft Shell Crab
Warm potato salad, dandelion, old bay crème fraiche
English Pea Agnolotti
crawfish, mint and 8 brix verjus beurre blanc, sumac oil
Crispy Fried Rettland Farms Pork Rilette
Frisee lettuce, truffled deviled egg, sauce ravigote
Hawaiian Tuna ‘cuit et cru’
Baby arugula, radish, grapefruit, cucumber, pickled mushrooms,
Green, Eggs and Ham
Chilled asparagus salad, country ham, brioche, caviar, rhubarb vinaigrette
A Puree of Watercress Soup
Chilled lobster salad, garden radish
Pan Roasted Halibut
Pigs feet, mint infused pickled spring vegetables,
grilled spring onion broth
Tasmanian King Salmon
Samuel Martin’s spinach subric, glazed ramps, spring carrots,
morel mushroom cream
Crispy Skinned Suzuki
Beets and their greens, braised leeks, golden raisins,
Lemon thyme and minus 8 vinaigrette
roasted breast, morel mushroom and napa cabbage ballotine of leg and thigh, fava bean puree, lobster ‘gravy’, ramp biscuits
Degustation of Whitmore Farms Lamb
Roasted loin, merguez style shoulder wrapped in English pea pancake, turned carrots, Kathy glahn’s greens, lamb jus
Sheppard Mansion Farms Highland Beef
Seared Strip Loin, Beef tongue and heart pain perdu jumbo asparagus, bordelaise sauce
Rettland Farms Berkshire Pork Loin
Savoy cabbage, fingerling potato, smoked cippolini onions, rhubarb mustard