Chef's Blog

Solage Calistoga's Executive Chef Brandon Sharp shares his passion for cooking, life and all things Napa Valley.

August 20, 2010

Changing the menu is more than just up and switching around some print and a few ingredients. Tonight we had two dinner entree menu changes, lemon steamed sole with black corinth grapes, icicle radish, pickled shiitake, broccoli, cashews, and lime, and petaluma chicken a la plancha with calasparra rice croquettes, salsa diablo, sun gold tomatoes and sugar snaps.

The process goes something like this: the sous chef(s) and I talk about new ingredients, focusing on upcoming produce to drive the flavor profile of the menu item, while also knowing that, if we’re considering an entree, the “main” item on the plate, at least as it reads on the menu, will be the protein. We order samples of everything to taste, then compose the dish over a day or two, jotting down amounts and techniques as we go, all in the middle of our regular prep and service duties.

When the first version is done, we taste it with as many kitchen managers as are present and all give our feedback. For instance, the first version of tonight’s chicken dish had romesco sauce instead of salsa diablo on it, but the oil in the romesco kept the sauce from adhering well enough to the chicken; Ryder suggested something thicker and water-based. We have plenty of overripe heirloom tomatoes on hand just now, so I made a tomato gravy with fresh rosemary from out the back door, white wine, onion, garlic and lots of chili flakes–thus diablo. I brought it down till it was quite thick, then stirred in some chunks of stale bread and let it rest fifteen minutes. That bread soaked up any remaining moisture, so when I passed the sauce through the food mill, I ended up with the thick, spicy, hugely tomatoey puree that the first draft of the dish was missing.

That was the fun part. The onerous part is the ordering, changing of order lists and reprinting, changing of prep lists and reprinting, composition and printing of recipes . . . all the mundane work that translates into reproducibility and consistency.  The prep cooks are trained on the new recipes, the line cooks are trained on the new mise en place and pickup.

New verbiage for the menu item, as well as a long-paragraph description for the servers, who all taste the dish in pre-shift lineup for a couple of days running. At last, the first new chicken or sole leaves the kitchen for a paying guest in the dining room, and the work of the past few days or week is dropped like rocket boosters.

SO when our guests tell me they wish I would change the menu more often, well, so do I. But it’s a busy kitchen, and as the man said, I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

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