Make your menus mean more to discerning clientele

As an international judge in competitions that challenge the skills and talents of the world’s finest chefs, I am lucky enough to see new trends emerge, and watch as they evolve too.

I’ve recently judged several categories at the Emirates Culinary Guild Salon Culinaire, with more than 1000 competitors putting their skills on display over three days in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, as well as the 14th International Gastronomy Festival in Istanbul, Turkey.

Back to basics

One of the things that excited me most about judging these events was seeing the return of the basics – the young, up and coming chefs from all over the world are favouring the value of healthy, honest food against the contrived showmanship of molecular gastronomy is fading in popularity.

While there are a few gourmands who have been seduced by the certainly remarkable talent for playing with textures and flavours, the majority of South Africans have fairly nostalgic palates. They may be open to trying something new for a special occasion, but the dishes that keep them coming back for more are the ones that hold nuances of their personal history.

Conscious eating

The move away from molecular gastronomy is great news for South Africa, where we are already hot on the trail of artisanal production, with restaurant patrons wanting to know what is in the food that they are ordering, where the ingredients came from, and how they were nurtured.

This is because of an increased awareness about the ethical issues surrounding animal husbandry, and a growing concern about what we put into our bodies unsuspectingly (such as growth hormones or pesticides), as our interest in health and wellness grows.

Revamping the menu

Interestingly, South Africa has one of the most rigorous sets of labelling requirements in the world when it comes to the ingredients in the goods that we purchase in supermarkets – and I believe that the time is soon coming when restaurant patrons are going to expect the same insights on the menus of the restaurants they choose to support.

There are likely to be many who will rather choose to eat at home with ingredients that they can trace to source if they can’t get that information in their favourite restaurant – so the restaurateurs leading the pack are going to be the ones who offer it first.

This means that it’s time to make the menu more than a list of dishes with some artistic descriptions. Use the menu to educate patrons about the origins of the food they are eating, why the restaurant chose grass fed over grain fed beef, for example, or why a particular organic farm was chosen for fresh produce.

This will do more than provide patrons with the information that they are seeking – it’s going to keep us chefs on our toes to make sure that we know the origins of what we’re preparing and serving too!