The morning started with a review of food-related stories in the news. The NY Times featured a story about the French food critic Francois Simon, supposedly the model for the evil cartoon critic Anton Ego from Ratatouille, and how he cooked in a kitchen for a few days and allowed volunteers to critique his cooking (they were as vicious as he, unsurprisingly). In Park Slope, the Get Fresh Table & Market announced they would start table service for breakfast and brunch -- interesting, because they're initial concept was selling pre-portioned and processed ingredients in kits and the like to take home and cook yourself.
The 2nd Ave Deli, a favorite of mine and my father (and my friend Yana), is opening a new location on 1st Ave on the upper east side to be closer to the old folk clientele who complain that even their new location on 33rd and 3rd is too far. At least between 1st Ave and 3rd Ave, it averages out to 2nd! Richard closed the discussion with a few wacky stories, ending with a man who accidentally shot a toilet to pieces at a Carl Jr. in Utah as he was getting off the pot. It seemed he had a license to carry concealed, but not the common sense to keep the safety on while taking a crap!
We moved on to a menu work shop. Richard distributed a random menu to each table, and then we brainstormed and presented what we felt we knew about the restaurant strictly by the menu. My table got Outback Steakhouse, a pretty extreme example. The top of the cover has a drawing of what looks like a bouquet of tombstones, with the tag "Home of the Bloomin' Onion". Friendly, casual, tongue-in-cheek, between the 'G'day Mates' and the kangaroo, no Australian cliche will be left behind. On the inside, between the "Aussie-tizers" and the hand written typeface with a lot of exclamation points, this is clearly a "fun" child-friendly and child-like theme restaurant, with Crocodile Dundee as a key cultural touchstone. And yes, they will throw whatever you want 'on the barbie'. Ick.
After the break, we got into the nuts and bolts of writing a menu entry. A menu is the primary marketing tool of a restaurant, among other things -- and more often than not, there are no pictures, just written descriptions. To paraphrase an old saw, writing about aromas and taste is a bit like dancing about architecture.
Richard busted out some dos and don'ts. DO: Provide variety in method, ingredients and flavors. DON'T: use subjective terms (like a "USDA Prime" steak vs. a "tender steak"), mix and match within one menu item -- it's low rent and renders the item nebulous.
Richard gave the example of Burger King introducing "Extra Crispy Fries" a few years ago -- a massive flop. How crispy is extra crispy? Better to call the product "twice-fried fries" or something, promising a method rather than a final subject experience.
Any menu item can be built from a selection of five basic elements:
- Temperature: the most optional, as many times people can assume
- Method of Cooking: always, unless understood. A cake is not a 'baked cake', but if a piece of fish is deep fried, you better say it.
- Main Ingredient: Introduce early on to establish value. "Grilled Shrimp with Pasta" is high value, but if the dish is a mound of pasta with some grilled shrimp on top, "Pasta with Grilled Shrimp" will less likely make the client feel ripped off.
- Part: "Chicken Breast Panini" adds value to what is considered cheap meat. "Chicken Scrap Stew" does not.
- Modifier: What makes the dish special, especially needed for classic dishes.
- Complimentary Modifier: Goes along with the natural property of the main ingredient. ex. white fish with lemon -- both are simple & clean.
- Offset Modifier: Contrasts with the main ingredient. Ex. Duck L'Orange -- duck is gamy and fatty, the orange is fresh, sweet and acidic.
Class closed with a lecture from career services and the resources available to the student body. Monday is a holiday, people, so we'll continue next Wednesday. See ya!