Monday, July 20, 2009

Rant: Boring Menus

I have been thinking a lot lately about culinary creativity and innovation. It has been spurred on by some recent meals at intriguing places, by chefs who are passionate about constantly creating new dishes to tantalize and delight their patrons.

But, there is a dark side as well. A world of boredom and monotony, restaurants with menus that rarely, if ever, change. These establishments are like robotic factories, churning out the same dishes every day of the year. Their chefs do not seem to relish the challenge of producing new and interesting meals. Instead, they repeat dishes over and over so much that they could probably prepare them in their sleep.

I have nothing against a restaurant that maintains certain signature dishes. But, I think restaurants should regularly change a number of their menu items, especially to reflect seasonal availability. Any chef can make the same dishes all the time. But the truly passionate chefs won't be satisfied to do so. They will want to be inventive, to expand their own culinary horizons. They will constantly be seeking to better themselves, to better their dishes. They relish the challenge and their patrons benefit.

Let me provide you a few examples of chefs who exemplify this type of ideal. First, Chef Peter Ungár of The Dining Alternative. I have attended several of his special Chef's Table dinners, and I have never been served the same dish twice. Second, Chef Matthew Barrows of Myers & Chang. He is constantly working on creating new dishes for the restaurant and I have tasted at least one of his works in progress, a delicious seared scallop in a sweet corn sauce. Third, Chef Charles Draghi of Erbaluce. His menu is always changing, except for a couple signature dishes, and he creates very innovative Italian cuisine.

I won't give you examples of the boring chefs as they should be clearly evident to you. All you have to do is consider those restaurants where the menus never, or rarely change. Such chefs should stop being zombies in the kitchens, repeating the same tired old actions day in, day out. Support those chefs who dare to take the challenge.

1 comment:

Jacqueline said...

I agree. Does the world need yet another tuna tartar? I say no. The chefs I like best are the ones that enjoy creating new things and delighting diners. Not the ones who churn out the standards to "give the customer what they want." Draghi is right up there and last night's dinner was so much fun and so delicious. How could he put so much flavor into things that looked so simple? Amazing.