Thursday is the day for 'In the News', and today it took up almost half the class. Upfront and center was the Bruni's review of Daniel, a slavish 4-star ode to a beautiful space and pretty food. I questioned Richard about Bruni's view of the service as incredibly present and detail oriented -- surely the staff knows who he is and caters to him? It seems Bruni has a legion of less high-profile foot soldiers who also hit up the restaurants at other times to help confirm what the reviewer interprets.
It seems Gordon Ramsey has a 3rd show being imported, the F-Word. According to Richard, celebrity chefs control a lot of what the public think about food and dining, but the danger in that is that the celebrity chef industry gives control to a lot of non-food experts. Case in point: according to polls, the highest paid chef in America today is....Rachel Ray, a woman who isn't actually a cook.
We reviewed this blurb about the recent closing of NYC's Fiamma, a bellwether of bad economic times to come for a lot of fine dining establishments. Another story from the Times shows a restaurant which needs $6 million gross minimum to stay open it's first year, and based on it's model and the times, is absolutely doomed. Richard briefly told an anecdote, but held back some details because he hopes to have the main character come in and speak to us. It seems some South American baker wanted to open up a second location in NYC. By hiring the wrong people, the budget want from $1.25 mil to over $5 mil -- which is a tough nut if your selling cakes and coffee. On top of that, the lease for the space which all this money was spent on was improperly negotiated and ended up with a 1 year lease! Suffice to say, the place didn't stick around.
Richard left us with a story from the Kansas City Star: Raccoon: It's What's for Dinner, most appropriate after last week's NY Times feature on squirrel. Who knew that the 1938 1st edition Joy of Cooking contained raccoon dishes?
Next we broke into groups for another menu entry workshop. Every student was supposed to write three menu items from their concept restaurant. My concept is in flux and will try to write it this weekend. Pastry didn't write anything, and Northfork was absent today. Chicago gal's concept is for a neighborhood authentic Mexican eatery. I won't go through the whole process, but I'll show you one entry, along with Richard and the class's work on it:
Mole Negro: Braised Chicken Breast smothered in traditional Mexican mole sauce (an unsweetened savory sauce of herbs and chocolate.) Served with our traditional rice, refried beans and choice of corn or flour tortillas.And the commentary: Braising is not the best method for cooking chicken breast -- it will be tough and dry, and will fall apart. Either offer multiple parts of the bird or change the method. It says it's 'smothered' in sauce, while 'smothering' can be read as another, contradictory method. No parentheticals. Don't repeat the word Mole from the name of the dish, just describe the sauce. And if we're aiming for authentic, you must be accurate -- Mole is about the chocolate, but also very much about the chiles. As much as you may want authenticity, it may be compromised to suit your clients -- if you're opening shop on the Upper East Side for Ladies Who Lunch, then whole chicken breast and tamed spices may be in order. The language of the sides miss some opportunities to show value -- "refried beans", what, from a can? Or some marvelous concoction brimming with smokey pork and cooked for 36 hours?
Slovak Ricky Martin's 3 menu items were a notable disaster, notable not for the technical side of their composition, but their content and contempt for the average eater. Beef tar tar with quail egg, goat cheese croquettes with panko, petit lobster rolls -- small dishes for twits. Raw ground beef with raw egg may be the one 'out there' dish on a more comforting menu, but then lumps of goat cheese? Blechchch!
Richard finished up the class with listing the main food groups of a dessert menu. They are:
- Fresh Fruit
- Cake (texture)
- Hot/Cold (can depend on season)
Next week, we delve further into the details of writing a menu.