On Writing A Menu
Materia Prima will be a series of dinners revolving around the idea of seasonality, the importance of the ingredient and the coming together around a table. I thought about writing a small note on the process of creating a menu for such an event. The dinner celebrating Spring produce will be hosted by Clèmence Marchon from Pomme Pêche Poire and myself on the 23rd April at 47, Rue Des Bornes, 75011Paris.
What we aimed at when creating the menu was to be able to create a seasonal celebration of spring, translated in food. A taste of place for Italian cuisine, to be eaten in a plentiful communal feast amongst friends.
We will let you know how it went after the 23RD..
Menu for the night….
A selection of three types of crostini (choux kale and parmesan, Squash and Almond, cauliflower and black olives
Pan fried Sardines in a light semolina and parsley batter with zest of grapefruit
Artichoke and veal liver sautéed in salted butter and rosemary
Deep fried Courgette flowers filled with saffron ricotta
Simple Lemon and Vegetable clear stock (palate cleanser)
A very simple plate of Burrata set on top of extra virgin Tuscan olive oil sprinkled in fleur du sel; served with fresh bread.
Roasted Whole spring lamb, served with a sweet fresh herb mix gremolata
A selection of Market seasonal vegetables cooked in a variety of methods, served with a selection of Olive oils.
Cannoli alla ricotta
Catucci con vin santo,
Writing a menu is a very similar process to writing a play in three acts, there is the inspirational period, where you process all the information around you, imagine smells, tastes , ingredients that are in season others you have preserved from previous seasons and try to marry them in feasible dishes. Then comes the first draft where you write down a tentative menu, here in most part you will see that a lot of the ideas you had in the first place sound ridiculous and pretentious when put down on paper, you have to edit a written menu at least twice or three times to make it an entity that can at some point become alive on a table and for people to enjoy it.
Then comes the testing phase, where the written items on the menu will be cooked at least once preferably more, to check temperatures, feasibility for cooking the dish with the kitchen equipment at hand (in my case the stated equipment is so limited that I would not even bother mentioning)the testing phase has to be a flexible period that allows you to experiment with a dish, and not limit you in any way, if you do your testing right, the final dish will be richer as well as more precise in the initial taste you had running through your brain. Editing a menu is as important as writing your first draft.
Then comes the performance, cooking a menu for the first time is always nerve wrecking, you have people eating the food you thought of, people will be paying money to be fed with your food, it’s a huge responsibility and can send the most sensible of individuals into a nervous breakdown, but breakdowns are fun and useful to have they are an integral part of life, they help you grow and become better after a while, hopefully.
A menu should always revolve around the ingredient never around the ego of who is drafting it, and your job as a cook is a simple one; to cook that ingredient in order to improve it and to add an element to it that without your existence it simply would not have happened. Start with the freshest ingredients you can find, careful now I am not saying the most expensive, don’t be lazy to find the best ingredients most of the time you have to walk and go to places most others would not enjoy going, source your ingredients from different suppliers. One particular supplier might have the best Lamb but that does not necessarily mean he will have great beef, and places that sell great lamb will almost always never carry pork.
Shops and markets are there to teach you what ingredients there are at hand, keep an open mind to whatever flavours you do not know about, talk to whoever is selling the food, make friends, and make a habit of visiting the same shops on the same days of the weeks, spend money to taste ingredients and not to buy the most expensive items in the shop, buy a little bit of everything, be curious and enthusiastic about the food you are tasting, only then will your cooking be worthy of the ingredients you bought, and your guests happy to eat the food you have cooked for them.