Commentary: 4 tips for designing seasonal menus
By Jorge Cespedes, research and development chef, Food IQ
Lobster rolls in the summer. Stuffed artichokes in the spring. Eating fresh, seasonal foods is just in our nature. So why is that seasonal, fresh food is so appealing to us during those specific times of the year? Each season, when certain foods are at a climax of succulent quality, they become top-notch ingredients for an endless array of dishes that can be enjoyed by everyone. Simply put—it makes sense to eat fresh foods that are readily available to us.
All types of restaurants have the opportunity to showcase what's fresh and new every season, and the customer's desire to see menus featuring healthy options, fresh offerings, and exciting flavors isn't wavering.
Beyond letting customers know we've heard their demands, seasonal menus provide a fantastic way for restaurants to offer the freshest of ingredients while flexing their creativity and demonstrating that they are up to speed with the fast-changing world of food service.
Seasonal works its way into another trend — customization. Customizable options, which reside on menu boards all over the country, must offer variation, innovation, and most importantly, ingredient choices that help the customer make decisions toward a healthier, more fulfilling meal they can feel good about. To satisfy those needs, one must create menus that display what Mother Nature has to offer all year long.
So where do you begin? When developing a fresh seasonal menu, many points must be taken under consideration. I'll discuss four:
1. Choosing the season
Each season is well known for certain vegetables and fruits, as well as many other ingredients, so exploit those ingredients to the maximum and use them as inspiration for your menu. Once your ingredients have been defined, the next step is sourcing. For each location, remember the closer to home the better.
2. Showcasing your potential
After you've chosen the season, and the fresh ingredients, you'll be focusing on, it's time to imagine, ideate and create builds that showcase their maximum potential. These chosen items don't have to be the star of the show, but they must certainly demonstrate their use in each dish by how much flavor, texture and personality they bring to the plate — especially when it's a reimagined recipe. For example, classic, Old-World Spanish Gazpacho gets a more refreshing twist during the summer months with watermelon puree.
3. Including more than veggies
Additionally, it's important to remember that fruits and vegetables are not the only items considered seasonal. Seafood, including lobsters, oysters, mussels and many others, tends to vary quite a bit over the course of 12 months. When pairing seasonal proteins with seasonal fruits or vegetables, it is important to consider which season each represents. You might feature a perfectly seasonal root vegetable in the winter months that, if paired with lobster, would seem out of place and not well thought through. These considerations obviously differ throughout the areas of our vast nation. No matter what the season is, when the right ingredients are being utilized together in the proper way, it's an offering that will seem fresh and well designed.
4. Getting fresh
Finally, fresh does not have to mean seasonal, but seasonal most definitely has to mean fresh. Sticking to this rule always reinforces the credibility of your menus, and of course, allows passion and quality to shine through.
Taking advantage of seasonal offerings is a truly unique opportunity to show customers all the exciting flavors, ingredients and foods that are out there. By changing menus several times a year, you can allow customers to try, explore and discover all the options the land has to offer. If developing a seasonal, fresh menu is something you've had on your radar for a while now, go ahead, give it a try, and remember to stay true to the seasons.
Read more about menu trends.
Photo: Julies Kokken