Menu Development as a Pastry Chef

As a new pastry chef who are finally in charge of their  own department; changing the menu for the first time can be hard. There are so many factors that go into planning and executing a menu. Sometimes things get over looked. You cant just wake up one day and say “hmmm I think I’m going to change the menu” If you are a pastry chef in a restaurant you will probably have to consult with the head chef for the “ok” before you proceed. You have to think of the season that you are in, or about to be in. It wouldn’t be smart to put figs or watermelon on a menu in the middle of the winter. Those are summer items, and they cannot be locally sourced at a decent price in the middle of the winter. You have to think of the demographic that you are in; are you in a large city where you can be modern and trendy. Or are you in a smaller suburban area where people like to play it safe? Therefore you may have to stick to more traditional desserts with a bit of your own flare.

Your next steps should be compiling a decent sized list of desserts with all of the components that you are thinking about using.  Your list should have varying flavors, textures, and ingredients. Make sure you have gluten free, dairy free and nut free options; sorbet doesn’t count. How disappointed would you be if you had dietary restrictions and all that was offered  was lemon sorbet or a fresh bowl of berries.

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On some  slower production days test out some recipes. See how long they sit for before they start to lose their freshness.  Are they better cold or at room temp. Are they as easy to assemble as you thought ect.

If your pastry assistant is at that level include them in the process. They might have some great ideas, and flavor profiles that you may have never thought of. Yes, you are still the boss, and you have final say so, but it’s nice to make them feel needed, and  it is a great way to see what they are capable of.

Next step plating! This happens to be my favorite trial period. I bring in my camera and  a white table cloth and go to work seeing how well or how poorly  the desserts photograph. as well as the best way to present them. I always think things look better through the eye of a camera lens.

I have a more modern approach to plating. I prefer white plates ; round, oval, square and rectangle. I HATE colored plates or plates with designs on them I think it takes away from the presentation, but to each his own. The white plate is my canvas, the dessert is my artwork, and the sauce is my freshly painted brushstrokes.  Anyone who tells you that pastry and art don’t go together doesn’t know what they are taking about.

 

While working in Vermont a few years back I met Mary. She was a food and beverage manager who was very critical. She had few likes, and many dislikes, but I do remember some of the wise things she taught me. Taste each dessert in its entirety…even if you don’t want to, and even if you think it will make you fat. The  first bite may taste amazing, but is the last bite as l equally amazing as the first? Is the portion too big, too rich, too chocolaty, is it missing something?

Next I would suggest naming your desserts and giving them mouthwatering descriptions SELL YOUR DESSERT!! After that, write out the ingredients in each dessert highlighting allergens. This will come in handy for the servers as well as the platers at night.

Post pictures of the desserts at the plating station so your patters are aware of your expectations. The day of menu changes can be a bit chaotic. You and the General Manager will work together to make sure the menu flows and looks good on paper. You have to explain recipes to production to staff. You have to attend pre-meal and introduce the desserts to the servers and answer and questions they may have. Accept criticism if any. They may have noticed something you did not, and they are the ones that receive direct feedback from guest.

Last step: Spend some time your platers and help them get the first few tickets out.

Okay, now you can start planning the menu for the next season. There is always time for menu development.

I do not advise changing the menu every two weeks or so. Give your desserts a chance to sell, let people decide that they have a favorite before they are off the menu, although if something is not selling after a few weeks maybe it is time for an adjustment.  Happy developing and good luck!

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Time Flies When You’re Busy

Within the past month I have officially graduated college ( even though I have been out for months), I put out my very first dessert menu ( on my own) , and I have been running around like a crazy person trying to make my dreams come true. One of the many reasons why I have not posted in quite some time, my apologies to my faithful readers.

There have been so many changes going on in the restaurant that I work for but it is important to stay focused and always do my best. This includes stepping up and taking on a little bit more responsibility even when you aren’t asked to. Change isn’t always bad; sometime sit leads to something better, but only time will tell.
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Keep Calm and Bake On

From the last time that I posted until this very moment I have been extremely busy with life. Let’s be real the key word life is just another word for work, work, work . Unfortunately, the restaurant industry leaves little room for extracurricular activities. Long grueling hours, physically exhausting tasks, standing for at least 8 hours a day, sometimes way longer, eating unhealthy foods or sometimes being so busy you don’t eat at all. One day my pedometer read that I had done 12 miles in a day (walking as well as going up and down stairs). If it sounds like I’m complaining don’t worry I’m not. Believe it or not, I love what I do so, so, so much. But it is important to figure out what works for you, and what makes you happy. With the fact that work is your “life” you better hope that you are content, and if you’re not, then it’s time to make a change.

If you have read some of my previous posts you already know that I am a recent college graduate. Well, I finished my classes a few months early, but my actual graduation is next week!

I never really settled into my first job after college. It didn’t make me happy, and I pretty much knew that from the start, but I kept on working. I stayed for so long for the fear of disappointing others as well as the fear of not being able to pay my bills, we all know a college education isn’t cheap, and loans will be here before I know it.

Two weeks ago I decided to give my two weeks’ notice at my place of employment. I was so unhappy, and I brought my unhappiness home with me, and that is just no way to live. At this point in my life some would think that money would be on the list of things that are most important to me, but most people would be incorrect. The most important thing to me in life right now is my happiness. If for whatever reason I can’t pay my bills I can rely on my family for help, not that I would want to, but there is always that option. You can’t get back your younger years no matter how hard you try, so spend them doing what you love, and being happy.  It’s never too late to make a change.

I now intend to devote more of my time to the restaurants that I work at. I am currently fiddling with new menu ideas. Oh, I forgot to mention I have weekends off so I actually get to see the sunlight! And I get my life  back!

Chocolate Orange Mousse Recipe as Requested!

Chocolate Orange Mousse

Ingredients:

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate

2 oz bittersweet chocolate

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup of orange liquor

1t vanilla extract

1t of grated orange zest

6 oz unsalted butter

1/2 cup + 2T of sugar

8 eggs separated

pinch of salt

1/2 cup of heavy cream

Method:

Combine chocolates, orange liquor, water and vanilla in a stainless-steel bowl and head over a double boiler. Melt, and then let cool slightly, stir in butter and zest.

whip egg yolks with 1/2 cup of sugar until eggs are thick and a pale yellow color, then add in the chocolate mixture whip just until combined.

In a clean bowl take 1 cup of the egg whites and remaining sugar and whip until stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate and yolk mixture.

Whip heavy cream to medium peaks and fold into chocolate mixture.

portion into bowls or cups an refrigerate until set.

* If you do not plan on consuming this product within the day may i suggest stabilizing the whipped cream with gelatin or stabilizer.

New Opportunities

A few weeks ago I received a Facebook message from a friend I used to work with. She told me that she was leaving her current job, and that that place was going to need a replacement. The head chef was interested in hiring me to fill her shoes, how exciting! I believe that the best jobs are the ones that find you. Also I think its VERY important to maintain good relationships with all of the connections you make inside and outside of the industry. You never know when they might come in handy.

After I had expressed my interest in the position the chef basically told me to come in the next day and start training. While I am getting acclimated this will be a part time job; about thirty hours a week, and as it gets more busy I will acquire more hours.

This is probably the best job that I could have ever been offered considering I just got out of college only three months ago. I am the sole Pastry Chef of this restaurant as well as the adjoining restaurant. I work in a spacious basement all by myself Monday through Friday (I even get weekends off!) . I am responsible for daily production, including banquet event desserts and ordering necessary ingredients.

Did I mention I am also working my catering job? haha sounds like a lot to handle, but I really enjoy being busy. I go a little stir crazy when I have too much free time on my hands.

A typical day starts for me with my alarm is blaring in my ear at the crack of dawn, 4:30am to be exact. I get ready, make my much needed cup of coffee, and hop into my car; anxiously awaiting about an hour of traffic sometimes more.  I arrive at my first job for 6:00 am and I make sure that everything is complete by 12:00pm, which leaves me half an hour to get back into my car and head over to my next job, which usually starts around 12:30pm and doesn’t usually end until 10:00pm. Then I get to drive home, sleep, and do it all over again. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, I am very thankful for the opportunities that I have been given, and I cannot wait to see how things progress.