Writing a Menu “The Easy Part”
Writing menus is an art form. Menuese is the term we use for the words chosen to describe the menu items. The first draft is an outline, broad and focused on the main ingredients. As an example: cold sliced scallops as opposed to jumbo sea scallops seasoned with meyer lemon and Hawaiian pink salt. Next, I think about each dish and how it looks, tastes, and feels - yes feels. How will my guest interpret the different feelings between smooth peanut butter or crunchy peanut butter on their tongue as they bite into a new dish? Visits to farmer’s markets, meat counters, fish markets and regular supermarkets (which I love) swirl in my head. The ingredients I find there set the order, complexity and the building blocks of the dinner.
Cooking is a very personal and intuitive journey for me. I trust the fragrance, the texture, the very sight of the ingredients will direct what and how I combine and ultimately cook my meals. So, as I begin to slice, dice, marinate, and cook the dishes they take on a character - my character.
The winter citrus salad voyage begins on a freezing day in hell’s kitchen where I took my cart and begin walking from one market, to another. In the markets are tangelos, cara cara oranges, meyer lemons, pomelos and pomegranates. I can't resist the intoxicating aromas. I carry them home and carefully, reverently lay them out on the table and breathe in great drafts of the combined fragrances. As if in a dream, I begin to visualize a beautiful, refreshing salad.
I have always loved grilled squid accompanied by salads with chickpeas and potatoes. However, beets were also plentiful in the markets, they commanded me to roast and combine them with chickpeas to sauce the plate and to become the chips for dipping in the sauce. Roasted chicken soup, roasting vegetables and bones on bread stones in the oven. The stock was heady and inebriating, filling the room with a feeling of peace and comfort.
Dill, swiss chard, and tiny meatballs called to me as potent and powerful. Each guest was silent as they inhaled the aroma. Beef a la Ficelle demanded its presence, a simple dish.
As the guests arrived at this dinner, the broth was simmering, waiting, hanging out for the tenderloin to swim in the broth and absorb the nectar of hours the bones had spent roasting and simmering on the stove. The dish needed very little, parsley root and leaves, some broth and topped with whole grains of sea salt.
Saffron gently showed me the way to dessert. A cake with pears!
Some butter. Yes, butter, flour, sugar and a fruit. The excitement grew. Then, a dollop of clabber cream - a finale fit for the most discerning diner.
Another dinner with new and old friends.
Now, onto the next.
I'm thinking porchetta, for that is a journey that takes days to produce and the time makes the difference. Join me on my porchetta trail.