The Menu Puzzle

David Thornton, Chef of the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter at University of Arkansas, shares with us what it’s like to create a menu for a group of individuals that have varying tastes, wants, needs, and of course, opinions!  Think about your own menu planning and how it is challenging to cook for yourself or small family.  Now, throw in another 50 plus young men and think about what each meal means.  Here is a little bit into his world from “The Chef’s Eye View: The Menu Puzzle”

Chef’s Eye View:  The Menu Puzzle

We chefs and unit managers want to give our clients the food they love while still giving serious thought to both health and variety. For me, making sure the house members love the food is priority one. However, add in the cultivation of palates and introducing new flavors and designing a menu can actually get complicated. In fact, designing a weekly menu is a lot like putting together a puzzle.

Luckily, we have The Crave Sheet. This single piece of paper posted just outside the kitchen has been invaluable for me as a chef. The guys list out all those home cooked favorites they’re missing and I use them as the base of my menu puzzle. Lasagna on Monday very easily segues into a fried chicken breast sandwich on Tuesday and that leads easily to a pulled pork dinner Tuesday night. Off of one crave sheet I can very easily find enough meals to put together a week’s menu, and it always makes me smile when I get to work, check the crave sheet, and someone has already posted that they want “More Chicken Alfredo. It was dank!”

However, while I could simply pile on all the comforting favorites from home, I still like to mix things up a bit. After all, there are only so many times we can have barbecue pulled pork. So, to help me find new pieces of the puzzle, I look around at the restaurants around campus. The Hawaiian restaurant down the street might offer a new take on the ever popular pulled pork. A favorite Italian eatery might offer a pasta dish that hasn’t been posted on the crave sheet and I haven’t thought about.

Sometimes, I throw in one of my personal favorites and hope the guys like it as much as I do. My jambalaya was one of those items I gave a shot and had pay off big time. Jambalaya has even opened the door for the Spanish classic dish Paella. I like to make these little bridges to new cuisine as often as I can. It can be as simple as introducing an unusual cheese to the salad bar or a whole new style of cuisine for a nightly dinner. I like to think educating the palates of my guys is an important part of their college career. So, I gladly keep putting together my weekly puzzle of meals full of the comforts of home and new favorites.

Sometimes, I get even get to try new dishes I’ve never had before. Recently, one of the members of my house posted up a web link to a recipe. It was a simple casserole dish that he was craving, and I couldn’t resist putting it on my next menu. The house gained a new favorite home cooked meal, and I got a new recipe to add to my collection. What a great way to work, teaching and learning with the guys.

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