Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Tasting Menu, Part Two - From Concept to Execution

So, here's Part Two. Like I said in the first post, everywhere you go, chefs and restaurants have different ideas about what a tasting menu means to them.....I thought I'd throw down some thoughts on what you're getting into at The Sheppard Mansion and the ideas that go into putting these menus together.

First, we need to start with a plan. So, here's the road map that we plug dishes into at the restaurant.
A. Canape
B. Canape
C. Canape
D. Bread Service
1. First Course
2. Fish Course
3. Poultry Course
4. Meat/Game Course
5. Cheese
E. Coffee Service
F. Pre Dessert
6. Dessert
G. Cookies

Hopefully, You'll notice that there are both numbers and letters. The numbers signify the actual 6 courses that are advertised as the 'tasting'. The letters signify small bite sized courses and bread and coffee service. These canape/pre-dessert courses are our way of saying thanks for not ordering the beef tenderloin and crab cake!(not that there's anything wrong with that.)

So, now that we have a road map, let's get into the nitty gritty of what I'm thinking behind each course. As far as overall concept goes, I'm looking to build from lighter to heavier flavors throughout the course of the meal. Also, I'm trying to 'push and pull' a little bit right up until the meat course and then relax the tension through the dessert. I know this sounds a bit over the top, but remember this is to be a gastronomic experience, not crab imperial at Phillips.

Canape A: This is usually our signature Swedish Peanut potato topped with black truffle creme fraiche and our own bacon. Yes, it is usually the same from week to week(the canapes may or may not change with the tasting menu....that's my one opportunity to bring some memory recognition if you've had the menu before, since there is rarely a dish duplicated in the 6 course menu)

Canape B: Almost always a pureed soup. Warm soups in the winter, chilled in the summer.

Canape C: This is more than likely where we'll slide in something unusual.(I know what you're thinking 'As if bone marrow stuffed french toast and pig's tails wasn't unusual enough') This course really just depends on what has come it. For example, we just got a hog in, so we'll most likely have some 'hog bits' as a canape C.

Bread Service: Yes, I know every Hanoverian is screaming for their warm bread and butter as soon as their butts hit the seat, but during the tasting, you'll have to wait until this course. Besides, you didn't even know you were getting the first three canapes, so shut your pie hole. We make bread an actual course because we're especially proud of the breads(pretzel rolls, the Sheppard Roll and mini baguettes) we bake at the restaurant and it also provides us an opportunity to share our house churned/kick ass butter.(this homemade butter is for tasting table only and is churned fresh on friday before the tastings are offered. If you wanna know how time consuming it is to produce your own butter, e-mail me. I'll give you the e-mail of Alan Taulbee, the guy stuck with it on his prep list! Also, for those of you who have had the tasting recently, the butter thingy is new. I've been getting bored, so I decided to churn our own butter.....)

FIANLLY, the First Course: Ok, you may have noticed that there isn't a salad course as part of the tasting. 9 times out of 10, the first course also serves as a salad course. It will be something light and hopefully a good opening to the meal. The things I concern myself most with here are that it is a notable course to start your tasting. Some of my favorite first course ingredients are foie gras, lobster, beef tongue pork belly and truffles(of course).

Fish Course: Kind of self-explanatory....However, since this is a tasting and each course leads into the next, I try to establish a common thread between dishes, so since this fish course is moving into the poultry course, you may see elements on the fish plate that may seem unusual to you as a stand alone dish, but when the next course comes out, it makes sense. An example could be something like paring some fried chicken livers with a lightly smoked tilefish or even using a sage and poultry based broth for the fish.

Poultry Course: Again, by the title of the dish, you get the picture. Poultry. Not too much more to say other that I wish PA Dept. of AG and our esteemed legislators would get their act together and make it easier for small farmers like Beau Ramsburg to bring his AMAZING(by AMAZING, I mean the best chicken I've ever eaten. Period. and some people think I have a pretty good palate. Heck, even the GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA GAVE ME HIS FIRST AWARD FOR CULINARY EXCELLENCE.....) poultry to market. It blows my mind that you say it's OK for me to eat steroid injected Perdue chickens that have been raised in their own shit, but you make it next to impossible for small farmers to cut through all your factory farm lobby red tape and bring wholesome, sustainable products that will make PA the LEADER in niche agriculture to market at a reasonable price. Come on, ladies and gentlemen. Screw your heads on straight and get this right......OK, back to the post. Did you really think I'd make it through a post without going off?

Meat/Game: So, I say meat/game because in the fall and winter, this course could contain venison or some other type of game that is more flavor forward than the poultry course. I also like to feature our Sheppard Mansion Farms beef on this course.

Cheese: Honestly, cheese is a hard sell in the 717. It really breaks my heart, because I think that artisanal cheeses are the second truest expression of the land(the first is wine). The other thing that tears me up is that we have so many fantastic American cheeses available to us. The last thing that tears me up is that nobody seems to want to buy a cheese course unless it's served as an appetizer with ring bologna and crackers. So, I've been considering cheese and our cheese course a lot lately. What I've come up with is something that I think satisfies the central PA palate and allows me to bring cheese into the equation. THE STICKY BUN. We actually call this course, Cinnabon because it's a prune and argmanac sticky bun with pecans and melted brie is the 'icing'. If anyone out there is producing an AMAZING brie style cheese in the Mid-Atlantic, please shoot me an e-mail. I'd love to use it on our menu.

Coffee Service: French press/Sheppard Mansion blend/custom roasted across the street at Merlin's. Enough said.

Pre-Dessert: Just a little something to get you ready for the sweet course. How about an egg nog creme brulee?

Dessert: Who knows? Recently this course has featured peppermint glazed doughnuts with dark and white hot chocolates(so good, that this dish is now on the regular dessert menu). This is our opportunity to show off our sweet side a little bit and also use some of the amazing fruits available to us in this region. It's also a good time to show off our ice cream making skills or use some chocolate.

Cookies: Finally.....a little package of cookies to take home and eat with your coffee the next morning. Yes, cookies with coffee. Why not?

1 comment:

ostman said...

The cheese course would actually be one of my favorites; I'd love to learn more about cheese in general.

Glad to see the custom Merlin's roast. Difficult to drink "coffee" in the generic sense after experiencing coffee roasted by someone who cares.