Every chef crafts their menus a little differently, but I am going to explain how I craft a menu - whether it is for weekly meal preparation or a sit down dinner.
I typically start with a protein such as fish, beef, poultry or plant based proteins such as tempeh or tofu, keeping in mind seasonality and availability. Just because an item is available year-round doesn’t mean that it is always at its best quality.
While this mainly pertains to vegetables and fruit, which have growing seasons, proteins also have seasons especially with seafood and wild game. Copper River salmon is one of the best tasting and most beautiful fish on the market, but it is only available for a short period of time and otherwise can be found frozen. That isn't to say frozen is bad, but fresh will always be of higher quality.
The accompaniments are the next to plan as these will change with the season and availability, and of course with a person's diet. Most traditional entrees will have a protein, vegetable and starch, but with current diets many people are not eating starches or carbs so that also plays into the menu planning process.
Keep in mind the main goal of a successful menu is to have food items flow together in harmony, not overpower each other or have too many textures and flavors. There are many books out on the market that explain what flavors go together but the most valuable on to me is The Flavor Bible. This book is the start to feeling comfortable pairing different items together to build a menu. It will also make shopping and utilizing items in your kitchen easier.
Below is an example menu with why each ingredient is in a dish.
Oro Blanco Grapefruit and Hass Avocado Salad, Persian Cucumber, Basil Seed Olive Oil.
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A personal chef