Culture and Society

How do you put together a restaurant menu?
Answered by Eric Ripert, Thomas Keller and 2 others
  • Eric Ripert

    Eric Ripert

  • Thomas Keller

    Thomas Keller

  • Patrick O'Connell

    Patrick O'Connell

  • Alice Waters

    Alice Waters

  1. Eric Ripert Chef/Co-Owner of Le Bernardin


    A menu has to be harmonious. You can't repeat five times the same ingredients in your menu. You can't have only broth, or vinaigrette, or heavy sauce on a menu. The menu has to be in sync with the season. I mean, in January, if you do a tomato salad, it's a little bit off. I mean, it's very wrong, actually. I mean, here in New York, at least. So, creating a menu is more, I would say, craftsmanship in a sense -- intellectual craftsmanship.

    Creativity is more instinctive. You don't control; you live with it. And creativity comes when it wants. So, I may be talking to you and have a flash. I'm not going to take a note -- I promise -- but sometimes, I find myself in the middle of a market and I'm very creative, and sometimes, I am not that much creative. And sometimes, I am in a plane -- and actually, in the plane is where I'm extremely creative. I don't know why -- maybe because I'm disconnected, and there's nothing to do, and I don't want to watch the TV, and I don't want to talk to the person next to me. So, suddenly, ideas come and I let my imagination run wild.

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  2. Thomas Keller Chef / Owner of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Bar Bouchon & Ad Hoc


    It begins with the ingredients, really. It's where menus are really formulated from is that list of ingredients. Now, this list of ingredients comes from, again, our farmers and our gardeners. Primarily it's based around what's available from the garden, what vegetables are available, because we know what our proteins are.

    We know we have a great source for oysters. We know we have a great source for veal. We know we have a great source for lamb, for the different fish, for the lobsters that we use. So it's really about building a composition of flavors, those profiles, around those different significant proteins, if you will, all around a significant concept. Maybe it's a salad. But it really begins in the garden and understanding what's available there.

    The great thing about the French Laundry and Per Se is this idea of collaboration, because at the end of the night -- the menu changes every day -- so at the end of the night, the chef, the sous chef and all the chefs de partie gather around the table, and we start to map out the menu for the next day.

    It's the interaction. It's the inspiring each other to find the dishes and the compositions. We know the different techniques for cooking them. It's just a matter of what that composition is. How is it going to be presented?

    Sometimes we don't really think about how it's going to be presented until the moment the next day when we first start putting the dish together on the plate. We think about it. In our mind's eye, we have it, but we haven't really done it before.

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  3. Patrick O'Connell Chef/Proprietor, The Inn at Little Washington


    Well, there has to be a cohesion. It has to have one voice, no different than a story or a book. These days that's the failing of so many restaurant menus. It's a kind of a cacophony. It's one of these, one of these, one of these, one of these, and you kind of don't know whose house you're in. It has to have a point of view.

    It's identical to writing a novel or a story. Each dish is a narrative. Each dish is telling you something, but each dish is relating to all the other dishes. In most cases, you have to be aware that somebody's going to willy-nilly take one of these, one of these, one of these, one of these, and put them together. So it has to work in that respect.

    At home, I always start with, not that I do a lot of cooking at home, but in advising the home cook, choose one dish. It doesn't matter what it is that you really want to feature, then allow the menu to work its way around that. It doesn't have to be the main course; it could be a dessert that is just killer. Usually, it has a kind of personality or an ethnicity that will allow you to stay in harmony with it with the rest of the dishes.

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  4. Alice Waters Owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant and Founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project


    I think everybody does it in a different way, but I think we've all come to realize that you can dream up a meal, but if you don't have the ingredients it can't be accomplished the way you have in mind. So I always begin with the ingredients -- always.

    So I want to know what's exactly in season, what could be picked that morning and brought to the restaurant, what could be taken out of the sea and brought to me. I mean, it's about aliveness, so that's where I begin.

    I want all the dishes to tie together in some way, and I fall back a lot on traditional combinations of food. I always think of lamb with peas first, and then I think of other things with lamb and peas. And I sort of embroider on that. I am looking for texture and color. I never want anything too sweet at the end. I have never been -- I always like fruits and cheese and a little bit of sweet. I don't want a big dessert at the end. I want you to feel full, but not too full.

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