The makings of a menu

by Mark Broadbent

Mark Broadbent has enjoyed a food-obsessed career spanning three decades. He’s cooked in Five star Hotels, Two star Michelin restaurants, Gastro Pubs and Member’s Clubs, delivering unforgettable cuisine or acting as a consultant. London’s Bluebird was just one of his success stories. Under his creative direction, the restaurant achieved huge critical acclaim and was especially loved by AA Gill.

Just like an elaborate theatre production, a menu is cast from a wide-ranging number of starring roles. The theme. The season. The setting. The time. The ingredients. The guests. The budget. Everything is taken into consideration, long before a new potato is peeled or a garden pea is shelled.

And of course, menus change according to the brief. Are we feeding a hungry film crew on location? Models backstage at a fashion show? Or perhaps we’re catering for a spectacular wedding or extravagant launch party. Every dish on every menu takes careful planning, imagination and attention to ensure every mouthful is enjoyed.

One of the biggest challenges any chef faces when it comes to menu creation is the art of keeping it seductive and inspirational for diners. Dishes should surprise and delight with food that’s as exciting to look at as it is delicious to eat.

This is especially true for our in-house restaurant menu at Facebook HQ in London, where we create two thousand dishes a day for 800 hungry staff and visitors. Week by week our team sit down and plan the menu ahead. Our favourite recipe books and food blogs are deliberated over and discussed. It’s actually really exciting because it gives us the opportunity to draw inspiration from everything and everyone around us.

A menu can reflect a religious feast such as Jewish festival Eid or India’s Diwali. It can lean towards a celebratory annual event like the Queen’s Birthday, Chinese New Year or Thanksgiving. It can be influenced by a major sporting event, such as strawberry-scented Wimbledon or the mighty London Marathon. And it goes without saying that all menus are (and should absolutely be) inspired by the seasons and local produce.

But then there are the little moments of genius when a menu is crafted from something not so obvious. Like the time we were inspired to give dishes a futuristic theme to tie in with the launch of movie blockbuster Star Wars. Or when we gave our menu a Polish twist after a chat with an employee in the building foyer. The lady was telling us about the dishes her grandma used to make in Warsaw and we couldn’t resist trying a few of our own.

Our menus are the showpiece of our business. They tell the world what we’re all about as a catering operation. They express our originality. Our values. Our love for food. Our desire to innovate. And we’ll never tire of creating them. In fact, with a few recipe books in hand, guess where I’m off to now…

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