Trends, ingredients shape restaurant menus
Changing ingredients allows chefs to slightly alter core items.
Restaurants change their menus often but deciding what to add and/or remove can be a daunting task.
The presentation, smell and taste are just some of the things chefs consider when deciding what to feature. Those are much the same things restaurant visitors consider when choosing where to eat.
However, there is more that goes into the decision-making process for restaurants. The availability of ingredients, trends and guest responses are some additional things Clark Frain, executive chef for Terra, and Molly Kopen, owner of Divani, said they consider.
Frain said the core of the menu at Terra — a farm-to-table restaurant — will change about six times per year. Some of the foods the restaurant serves are dependent on the season.
“When I say the core of the menu, I mean we will always have a steak dish on the menu, but it might go from something that is cooked with corn or squash (and in the spring season it may change) to morels or asparagus,” Frain said.
Terra works with over a dozen farms. Some of the farms are used for goat cheese, lettuce, corn, peaches, tomatoes, carrots, beets and potatoes when they are in season. Frain said the majority of the farms are in West Michigan, and they also go to farmers markets. Meat, such as lamb, comes from Cadillac.
“Our menu does change often, so we work with farmers on the things they can offer and the things we can use so they can understand that there are par levels to meet for our needs,” he said. “With some farmers, we have seed-planting meetings where they are interested in growing (foods and are wondering) if we can use them and if we would like them to grow it for us.”
Frain said they also follow what is trending in the restaurant industry, which includes dietary restrictions.
“We have to meet our guests’ needs,” he said. “Whether they are vegan or vegetarian or they prefer gluten-free meals.”
Kopen said the menu at Divani changes quarterly, but it will always feature foods from different parts of the world.
“We focus on being a globally inspired restaurant,” she said. “We try to have different spices, vegetables and different things from different regions of the world. When we go through a menu change, which we are right now, we make sure that we are representing countries in one way, shape or form. We’ll do a bone marrow that has a French influence because of the morel cream sauce that comes with that. We’ll do lasagna, which is a classic Italian and fillet in Diane sauce, among other things.”
Kopen said Sysco is her major food purveyor. She also works with Ingraberg Farms in Rockford to supply the restaurant’s produce.
“We work closely with them to look at trends, what is up and coming, what are their availability and making sure that the product is going to be consistent,” she said. “If I bring in fillets, I want them to be the same size. I want them to be the same cut. If I say they are going to be U-10 scallops, they better be U-10. They can’t be U-12. So, when we sample things, we work closely with the vendors to bring in those products and then the team as a whole, my three chefs and the front of the house staff, see what the guest responses are regarding the products that we have on the menu currently and what they would like to see coming up.”