Wednesday, November 26, 2008

out of the tin or out of the garden?

ten days out, and I'm still wrestling with the menu. the problem is, I don't want to overreach as far as the size and complexity of our menu goes because a) the kitchen gear's limited; and 2) so are our staff numbers. and I'm really adamant about not buying in anything 'pre-made', right down to the sauces. but it makes me wonder, does the average diner know - or care - about the difference?

one would think that in this day of talk about sustainable, free-range, fair trade etc, there would be a greater public demand for fresh, seasonal food. the real foodies have been all over this for most of their lives, of course. but have we, as a culture, become too 'dumbed-down' by fast food, quick service and convenience meals?

a chef friend told me that upon taking over at a pub bistro, he set about freshening up the menu. he started making gravy from scratch and serving it with chips. but the regulars started complaining until one day, out of desperation, he used the powdered instant masterfoods mix. they loved it. he shrugged his shoulders and decided to give them what they want.

you'd think that the prevelance of behind-the-scenes type tv shows like kitchen nightmares and the chopping block would've changed some people's perceptions of what value they were getting for their bucks. particularly the so-called 'fine dining' houses with chefs that would pull containers of pre-made sauces, pastas, curries etc out of the freezer and chuck into a microwave to serve.

but does it? I'm hand-cutting potatoes for deep-fried chips. I don't want to use the frozen variety. I'm spending hours making fresh soup stocks whereas most similar bistro/cafes would use powders and cubes. I'm making mayos, pasta sauces, soups and salad dressings knowing that at other cafes down the road, there's tins and jars of instants and ready-mades being served. despite a few locals asking if we're doing seafood, we're too far away from both the ocean and a quality fishmonger to get anything decent aside from frozen filets-in-a-box. if I find anything fresh and interesting in the mornings, it'll go on the specials board.

we're both working other jobs to support and sustain this new business. time is at a premium, yet I'm committed to doing this right. but will anyone notice or appreciate the difference? we'll soon find out.

the challenge for us is to strike the right balance. this has been a food location since the 50's and has seen everything from milk bar/gelato to casual bistro to fish-n-chips takeaway to fine dining. we've heard plenty of stories from the locals about which incarnations they did and didn't like, and have taken many suggestions and comments on board. somewhere between the golden arches and the michelin stars lies our course.

I invite your comments.