Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Chefs and their Menus

What’s on the menu? That’s a critical question chefs must decide before they open a restaurant.  “I was afraid. It was like writer’s block. I needed a point of view,” says Joe Truex, executive chef of newly opened Watershed on Peachtree.  Truex, no newbie to menu development has cooked in professional kitchens from his home state of Louisiana to flashy Las Vegas to the renowned Le Cirque Restaurant in New York. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1989 he set off to Switzerland to immerse himself in European cuisine and then after another stint in demanding Manhattan kitchens including the glamorous Peninsula Hotel decided to head south.  The menu of his former Atlanta restaurant Repast even caught the eye of Martha Stewart who invited him to appear on her television show.
It was a combination of these culinary experiences that led Truex to define what he wanted to cook at Watershed on Peachtree, “I decided that the menu for Watershed on Peachtree should be personal. I wanted to make it an autobiography of my life.”
So, on the menu you’ll find Joe’s Jambalaya, an homage to his upbringing in Mansura, Louisiana. “But it’s prepared in a classical style with everything cooked separately. I grill the sausage. I sear the scallops,” says Truex.  The Grilled Steak and Panzanella  Salad he learned to make at Le Cirque, ”It was owner’s Sirio Maccioni’s favorite.”
The focus of the menu is farm –to- table with locally grown produce and southern staples from pork to pecans. One item Truex had to include in his new menu story is Watershed’s famous fried chicken night (Wednesday), made popular at the eatery’s former Decatur location.
OK, I didn't' have a photo of fish at The Optimist but here's me with a trout in Aspen!

Go Fish
Everyday has a catch- of- the- day when you open a seafood place. Chef Ford Fry has launched The Optimist and Oyster Bar in west Midtown with executive chef Adam Evans at the helm. Last month after lunch at Fry’s JCT Kitchen, I saw Evans sitting outside with chef de cuisine Brian Horn, working on laptops and legal pads designing the menu for The Optimist.
Here's one of the delicious dishes I shared  for lunch at JCT Kitchen that day. 

That’s when it hit me that writing a menu is complicated business. Not only do you have to think of culinary mission of the menu and food costs; you have to consider who’s coming to the restaurant, do they want big plates or small plates, do they care about local farms and sustainable seafood, do they want to start with a salad, will they share dessert, do they crave hand crafted cocktails?
Mixologist, Laura Creasy is the mind behind the bevy of beverages on the menu at JCT Kitchen and The Optimist. 

The answer is usually yes to all of these questions today. And while it’s hard to please all of the people all of the time, seafood lovers dining at The Optimist will find a sea of offerings from delicate grouper with smoked Vidalia onions in a horseradish broth to down home fish house fried hushpuppies dusted in cane sugar. 
Dream Menu
As a dietitian who loves to dine out here’s what I like to see on the menu.
-Sensible portion sizes. It’s nice when the servers can tell you if the fish entrée is big enough to share or if you should just get your own.
-Healthy appetizers. Too many starters are deep fat fried or loaded with cheese. Great choices are seafood ceviche, steamed shellfish, simple salads of great greens or heirloom tomatoes with fresh herbs and without cheese.
- Clean tastes. Chefs love to make rich sauces, but too much can over power the flavors of fish or any food. Don’t gild the lily.
- Flavors without fat. The Optimist’s wood roasted Amish chicken with a fresh salsa verde is a good example. So is Watershed’s salmon with tomato and herbs.
The Old Salty Dog at The Optimist with fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice and an impressive slab of grapefruit peel.
-Slim and stylish. Used to be that pungent foods such as Brussels sprouts and grapefruit were menu outcasts. But happily and healthily they’re now in vogue.

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