There is a method to the madness in most restaurants – a process, even though it may never be fully defined, that is used as an idea morphs into a menu item. I often find myself making comparisons of cooking to music since the methodology and execution are drawn from the same passion and commitment. This method becomes more apparent as you view how each artisan approaches their craft.
From my experience the process typically works as follows:
 THE FOUNDATIONS ARE THE BASIS FOR IDEATION
At the core of every menu and great dish is an understanding of and appreciation for the foundations of the craft of cooking. These foundations, although interpreted differently by each chef, are key to the process of creation. So too in music it is easy to see how even the most progressive composition is built on the foundations of music that are universal.
 A CHEF’S EXPERIENCE AND INFLUENCES
Every prior chef, restaurant, and travel experience in a chef’s career is stored in the subconscious mind and is there “at the ready” to remind and influence the process of creating a dish. This is just as true of every chef as it is of a musician attempting to write a piece that inevitably reflects the experiences of the composer. Look at how a chef puts together a menu and delve into his or her past work experiences, mentors, and admired culinarians and you will discover the reason why that chef cooks a certain way. The dishes on a menu will correlate to that history – an important part of a chef’s education.
 THE IMPACT OF PHILOSOPHY AND CONCEPT
The menu is both a response to customer needs and desires and a statement of what the chef believes. The concept drives every part of the restaurant experience: ambience, décor, style of service, tabletop, pricing strategy, wine list, qualifications of staff, kitchen equipment and layout, and image that the operation intends to promote. Most serious musicians have a similar approach to their craft – the process of writing music is based on a connection to the style and the content that he or she believes in.
 TESTING, TASTING, AND DEFINITION
Engagement of the culinary staff, servers, management, owners, and select customers will serve to fine-tune a dish – ensuring that it “fits” and truly represents the restaurant and guest expectations. This internal and external beta testing helps a dish and a menu evolve. The same is true with writing a song – the musician will likely bounce ideas for a composition off a variety of other musicians, friends, producers, and avid listeners until the result is something that is true to the writer and exciting to the listener.
 THE MENU
The menu comes together when there is symmetry to the selection of dishes and integration of all parts of the dining experience: feel of the dining room, presentation of the dishes, connection with wine and beer lists, and marriage with the skills of the front of the house staff. A most vivid example in music is when the artist works on the development of a concept album that tells a story in the same fashion as a dish on the menu does the same. There is symmetry in music when the content of the piece(s) take into consideration the clear message of the concept and the individual talents of those who contribute to the work. Classic and more contemporary music by artists like Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Beatles, The Who, and many others demonstrate how this “menu” comes together when symmetry is involved.
 THE LINE COOK’S EXECUTION
A line cook is coached by the chef on flavor profiles, preparation methods, timing, and plate presentation once the menu is fully developed. It is important to the chef and to the musical composer that there is “buy-in” to the concept and structure of a menu or composition. Consistency is a critical part of bringing the concept to fruition.
 THE LINE COOK’S SIGNATURE
There is little question that standards of preparation and presentation aside, each cook contributes something to the completion of a dish. Every cook will intentionally or unintentionally add something in the process of making his or her food interpretation slightly different from what is defined. In music this may seem less the case with certain genre such as classical, but even there, and certainly with jazz, blues, and popular music you will find that musicians tend to add something, a certain touch or spice that gives a piece some individuality. Although this might drive a chef or composer “nuts” – it is an individual’s need to be noticed, to make his or her mark, moving him or her from a technician to an artisan.
 RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT – TESTING THE WATERS
There is a role reversal as line cooks circumvent the normal menu process as they develop feature items in an attempt at improvisation. This opportunity in restaurants is one of the most important for the line cook. Any attempt to move the bar and become involved in the integrity of the menu is a huge motivator for cooks. Improvisation in music is the artist’s opportunity to impact the musical menu and push a piece to a different signature. Watch how a musician glows when he or she has this opportunity while playing – it is the same feeling that a line cook expresses when the opportunity to create something uniquely theirs is presented.
 THE SERVER’S BUY-IN
Regardless of how much time is invested and how methodically the chef and cook work at building a dish – it is up to the server to become an ambassador for each item. The front of the house must be engaged in the process of creation, even if it is simply to offer tasting opinions if the chef and restaurant want a menu and individual dishes to be successful. In music it is the DJ on radio stations, the music critics, and those who offer up the work of a musician who make the difference in a song’s acceptance or rejection.
 GUEST REACTIONS
In the end, it is the reaction of the guest that determines the success of the process and the longevity of a dish on the menu or the timelessness of a piece of music. These consumers represent the final say and likely are the most important to the overall success of the restaurant or the musician.
The next restaurant visit on your calendar would be served well by looking at the menu through the eyes of the process. While enjoying your meal – try to assess how evident the process is and how successful all the stakeholders were in bringing it to the table.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
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