Planning a menu

Planning a menu

By
Justin North
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740665377
Photographer
Steve Brown

One of the things that excites me the most about having a restaurant is the fun I have putting together dishes and entire dégustation menus.

To my mind, balancing the flavours, textures and colours of a dish is as important a lesson as any other cooking technique.

In classic French cooking, there are certain expectations about the ways in which ingredients are put together to produce a dish or a meal. Thankfully, the modern emphasis has shifted away from rigidly following these ‘rules’ towards a more flexible reinterpretation of tradition, reflecting our faster-paced lifestyles. However, a number of non-negotiable aspects of the French meal remain: food is always accompanied by bread, and most meals include a salad or a vegetable dish.

As I discussed in the very first French Lesson, flavour is where it all starts. It may seem like common sense, but putting different flavours together on a plate or within a meal requires a bit of experience. While some of our flavour preferences are innate, it’s also about developing what I call your ‘cook’s brain’ – that is, the part of your brain that tells you which things taste good together, and which things do not.

It all comes with practice, of course, which is why I emphasise over and over again the importance of tasting your food. The analogy I use with the apprentice cooks I work with is that you need to build a tasting palette in your brain – a bit like a painter’s palette. Over time, you will create an enormous memory bank of flavours. You will also develop the ability to mix these flavours together and imagine what they will taste like.

Similarly, the more you taste different dishes and ingredients, the more you’ll learn about their intrinsic textures. You’ll learn how to ‘feel’ these textures in your brain – and you’ll begin to understand the ways in which these textures and flavours are affected by various cooking techniques.

Whether you are planning a simple family supper or a fancy six-course dinner party, the same principles apply when you’re putting together a menu. In the same way that you plan a journey by learning to read a map, in order to create a meal you need to engage in a bit of ‘mind-mapping’. You need to be able to imagine the cooking journey and the final destination – the way each dish will look, the way it will ‘feel’ and the way it will taste.

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