Monday, April 28, 2008

Camp 2008 -- Dealing with menu fatigue

For much of culinary history, the chef quietly worked the back of the house. He sought little glory for himself or his food as the customer was his main focus. The chef always looked for ways to satisfy their wants through food and the dining experience.

In some environments -- the small, chef-owned restaurant, for instance -- the chef traditionally had greater freedom to craft a menu that pleased his creative yearnings. As long as patrons returned to the restaurant, he was free to create innovative meals.

Each year I change the menu for the senior banquet, which is held on Thursday evening. In 2007, the menu consisted of sauteed chicken breasts with mushroom sauce, creamy mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and iced chocolate cake. I usually try to match the menu with the theme for the banquet. As you can see, disco was the theme for 2007.

Other settings, the chef was (and still is) bound by rules that restrict his creative spirit. In camps (plus schools, hospitals, prisons), the kitchen's role must always fit in with the institution's mission. The camp chef has a great responsibility toward the nutritional needs of those under his care.

I bring this point up because every cook is driven to a degree by the an innate desire to create and serve new dishes. I'm sure this comes from a personal desire to satisfy one's "inner culinary self."

Each year I struggle with the impulse to drastically change the menu for camp. Even though I believe that I serve a good menu -- one that's well accepted by campers and staff alike -- the chef in me wants alter several menu items.

Each time I contemplate changing the menu item, my motivation comes to mind. I always ask myself, "Am I getting tired of the dish?" Even if the answer is yes, I usually keep it on the menu because the kids like the dish.

The luxury of changing the menu to satisfy my personal desire is a "nice to have" element of being a camp chef. I always have to fall back on the camper's needs in terms of nutrition and meal satisfaction.

Besides, constantly changing the menu can work against you. Kitchen staff and the campers rely on a steady menu from year to year. Volunteer cooks benefit by being able to replicate the same meals each year with minimal training. And the campers look forward to certain dishes each year as June approaches.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very thoughtful post. I think too many chefs want to be the "celebrity" chef and they not only ignore the needs and desires or their customers, but they sometimes have a tendency to belittle their customers if the customers don't particularly like the meal or the type of food being served. I think one of the reasons restaurants fail is the chef's arrogance toward the customer.

    You are a wise man, my friend.