Creating a great menu with chef Barry Vera
PUBLISHED: 10:01 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013
Have you ever wondered what it takes to create a menu for a top restaurant? Chef Barry Vera reveals all
AT first glance, a restaurant menu is telling of the effort put in to it. There are instant high and low points as you move through it. Do not be afraid to ask questions so you can get a clearer idea as to who knows their stuff among the staff, and also how a certain dish is going to actually be. Do not feel stupid - be honest, ask what is on your mind.
If a menu looks cheap, it gives little faith in what is to arrive on the table. As Gordon Ramsey states, avoid pictures on menus unless you are in McDonalds, and if you do see them, do as Ramsey advises, and get out of there. Some menus can also be totally out of proportion, way too long or too limited. On menus with 50 starters, meals are never going to be 'cooked fresh daily'.
Keep it seasonal
Following the seasons is important as are the suppliers. Our suppliers talk to us weekly with what is coming in and out of season - you shouldn't have a tomato salad on in mid winter - so we are constantly looking ahead all the time.
Each dish needs to be tested, to make sure the perfect delivery can be achieved in a busy service. Dishes need to be balanced not only for the variety to the customer but for the chefs in the kitchen too. I have worked in kitchens where one dish can cause so much stress and pressure because of the preparation, cooking and plating of that one dish. That doesn't mean to say it won't be on that menu, it may come later or be adapted.
Find new ways
Cooking these days is becoming far more of a science. Heston Blumenthal defiantly paved a way and made us more aware of this. I am fascinated by his food and some of his cooking techniques. We are constantly finding new ways to cook something to make the end product better.
I love the history behind food too, how it came to be and also looking for lost recipes. When I find them I then have to adapt it to modern times but the finished product will still evoke those wonderful memories for many.
We are looking also at some old fashioned cuts, like lamb scrag. I have this going on our new menu at the moment - scrag of lamb with cockles and mushy peas. It is a cut with some great flavour and, cooked well, it just falls apart.
Listen to customers
We also listen to what customers say, what they like and have liked on the menus. It's not all about what I want on the menu, I always look at it from a customer's point of view.
After a service I do go and talk to guests and take time to listen to their comments and feedback, this is how I can then understand how the menu is working and allows me to always be making it a great experience.
Attention to detail is paramount in every menu, but also in the whole dining experience. Customers want value and also sometimes go back to restaurants for one dish and this is where signature dishes come in. It's about being careful and thoughtful.
Barry Vera is executive chef at The Clarendon in Chandlers Cross. www.theclarendon.co.uk