Chef Tim Keller started cooking at age five when his family’s French foreign exchange student taught him how to make crepes. He’s not sure if he fell in love with the crepes or the girl, but it began his profession. Keller cooked professionally for 28 years before settling down at Harry & David, where he is the resident Executive Chef. We asked him to share a few of his menu planning tips.
Q What is your first step in planning a menu?
TK I’m incredibly visual. I ask the person what the colors will be, how formal the dress will be, time of day, time of year, to get a feel for the overall mood of the event. With any event, it’s really about the mood and how the food can enhance that. I visualize how every dish will look by visualizing the ingredients.
Q What makes a menu impressive?
TK It’s all about execution. The menu needs to be well thought out. Don’t be flashy at the expense of veering away from the overall theme, presentation or mood you’re after. The guest should know why you’re doing something—why you chose eel and rabbit to go together. One is fatty and one is a slim meat. Create purpose in every food pairing. When people expect it to be great, exceed their expectations. Take it to the next level.
Q How do you describe your menu?
TK Consider your word choice for each dish and ingredient. Don’t make a menu in words no one understands. The idea is to flavor the menu with sophistication. Build intrigue but don’t speak over your audience. Just add a few words that will take something that is regarded as not very special, and make it special. That’s what all the great chefs have done. They call out the cuts of meat, and try to do something unusual with it. That can really show the skill of a chef.
Q How do you make sure your guests are happy?
TK I don’t want guests to be oversaturated with flavor or overly full from the meal. People want to be satisfied with flavor, not bulk. Consider the “rule of three.” After three bites, a person should be satisfied with the dish.
Q What other menu planning tips can you share with our readers?
- Set aside time to plan the menu.
- Consider the mood and theme you want to create.
- Get organized! Simplify where you can. Keep it clean in set-up so when things come up, you’re better equipped to handle them.
- Get set up to prepare the food. Prepare your cutting boards and knives and make sure your kitchen is equipped for the task.
- Make sure it’s what you love. Make the food that you’d want to eat at the event. Put your love, passion and excitement into your menu.
- Stay focused and calm when cooking—it comes out in the food. Energy is the key ingredient. People can tell that you cared and put some thought into it.
- Add some surprises along the way, like making the presentation slightly different between plates. So even if everyone orders chicken, each plate looks different.
- Be creative and have fun.
We hope these tips help you create a stunning menu for your next event. Remember, even if you’re not an expert meal planner like Chef Keller, you can still put together a memorable dinner that your guests will appreciate.
Do you have any menu planning tips to add? We’d love to hear from you.