PLANNING TO PLEASE
Personally, I have never liked long and over complicated menus and I always prefer to narrow them down to a specific type of cuisine. Too many restaurateurs try and conjure up long-winded menus in the hope that they will appeal to just about everybody. I feel that those restaurants tend to lack any real personality and customers find the menus difficult to navigate. More importantly, chefs and waiters can also find these menus difficult to work with, making them unable to memorize all the dishes you offer, their ingredients and their preparation. You may also find yourself faced with food waste from the ingredients you stock for unpopular menu items. A small, well refined menu gives customers only your best offerings, cutsdown on waste and helps your cooks and service team to do their jobs better by transmitting the culinary message of your establishment.
When you are planning a special meal at home, the same principles apply, and that means providing enough variety and contrast for the meal to hold interest from the first course to the last. To balance a menu, you must develop a feeling for which foods complement each other or provide pleasing contrasts.
And you must avoid repeating flavours and textures as much as possible. These principles apply whether you are planning a banquet menu, where the diners have no choices or a large à la carte menu, where customers have many choices. Of course, with an à la carte menu, the customers’ own choices determine how balanced their meals are going to be and sometimes they inevitably make bad choices. When you are planning a menu, think about flavours, colours and textures. The importance of a nutritionally balanced menu is also to be taken into consideration.
My philosophy revolves around the idea that good quality natural ingredients, prepared in a simple and uncomplicated way can produce some of the best flavours and tastes. I focus on using fresh, seasonal produce and combine them to create what I hope are new and exciting dishes. I then like to try and add a modern twist to the dish for example adding Mediterranean salt flakes and olive oil to a Chocolate Truffle because it really brings out the best flavours of the chocolate. Other classic dishes with a modern touch on the menus may include Yellow Gazpacho with Avocado Sorbet and Marinated Salmon or Hake with Quinoa, Mussels, Saffron and a Tomato Ragout. Generally I’m aiming for clean tastes but with a depth of flavour, less is often more I find. Years of experience, however, are required to develop this kind of creativity and a feel for what makes certain combinations work. Over the next couple of weeks we will be practicing and perfecting the dishes on our new menu. Here are a couple of recipes that might find their way onto the final draft.
YELLOW GAZPACHO WITH SMOKED SALMON & AVOCADO
This is a wonderful, light, colourful chilled soup that I adore in the summer.
It’s a yellow version of the classic Spanish recipe with a twist!
Ingredients: serves 4
6 ripe yellow tomatoes
2 Spanish Cucumbers, peeled, deseeded and chopped
1 large yellow bell pepper
½ Medium onion, peeled and chopped
2tbsp sherry vinegar
200ml good olive oil
1 Garlic clove
300ml mango puree
6 Ice cubes
Salt / pepper
1 avocado, peeled and diced
8 slices of smoked salmon
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and marinate for at least 30 minutes. Place in a food processor and blend to a fine consistency. Pass through a fine sieve and chill for at least 2 hours.
To serve, Place 2 slices of smoked salmon in the centre of 4 chilled soup bowls add the diced avocado. Pour the chilled Yellow gazpacho around and serve immediately.
Grilled Tandoori Chicken Salad with Coriander & mint yoghurt
Ingredients serves 4
2 chicken breasts, cut into long strips
80g Greek natural yoghurt
1tbsp chopped coriander
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
½ red onion, peeled & sliced
20 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 bunches of rocket leaves
2tbsp olive oil
Coriander & mint yoghurt
150g Greek natural yoghurt
4tbsp chopped mint
2tbsp chopped coriander
1 garlic clove, chopped
juice of ½ lime
Blend all the ingredients in a food processor and season to taste.
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 tbsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp turmeric
½ tsp cinnamon
2 cloves garlic
2 red chilies, deseeded
100g onion, chopped
15g ginger, peeled
juice of one lime
2tbsp tomato paste
1tbsp tamarind puree (optional)
1-2 tbsp water
Sea salt to taste
Dry roast all the spices in a pan over a low flame, untill they begin to release their aroma and essential oils.
Place them a food processor and grind all the spices to a powder.
Add the garlic, chilies, ginger, onion limejuice, tamarind and tomato puree, then blend to a form a paste adding a little cold water if necessary. Season with sea salt. Store in an airtight container for up to 6-8 weeks.
Marinate the chicken strips with 2 tablespoons of tandoori paste, the chopped coriander and 80g of Greek yoghurt for at least 30 minutes. (for a more intense flavour, they can be left overnight in the refrigerator)
Heat a griddle pan over a high heat, brush with olive oil and cook the chicken pieces, turning occasionally, until nicely glazed and cooked through.
To serve, dress the rocket, avocado, tomatoes & red onion with a little olive oil and sea salt. Divide between 4 plates. Add the tandoori chicken pieces and drizzle with coriander & mint yoghurt.