Self-Expression on a Plate
Eau Bistro proves that designing a seasonal menu takes inspiration, artistry and persistence.
Kyle Lipetzky was out picking strawberries with his daughters earlier this summer when inspiration struck for a new salad. Such everyday moments are the genesis of many restaurant dishes for the Chase Park Plaza executive chef—it’s something Lipetzky clearly loves about his profession. “You get inspiration from everywhere,” he says. “Nature, cookbooks, culinary trends…even old notebooks filled with ideas.”
Since arriving in St. Louis last year, Lipetzky and Jason Paterno—chef de cuisine at the Chase and the main visionary for Eau Bistro’s offerings—have put their creativity to the test every few months on seasonal menus. Restaurants often change up dishes to take advantage of the freshest produce they can find, but at Eau Bistro, the entire menu is up for revision. This spring, everything—more than 20 dishes—changed in one way or another. The summer menu, to be released in mid-July, was still in the works at press time.
So just how does one go about redesigning a menu? Start with what’s in season, the chefs say. For example, the asparagus, mushrooms and grape tomatoes topping Eau Bistro’s Scottish salmon bridge the gap between spring and summer. “July is the prime month for tomatoes,” Lipetzky says. “I love them. They’re so versatile. You can do almost anything with them.”
“What goes with tomatoes?” Paterno asks, initiating the sort of impromptu brainstorming session that often ensues between the two pros. They flow into a natural rhythm—clearly they’ve had symbiotic conversations like this before during their seven years working together. “It’s a process where you write three, four, five ingredients down and then come back,” Lipetzky says. “[You might] say that’s not going to work and replace it with something else.” Paterno jumps in: “Or you take things you’ve done before and change it a little bit. We’re always playing with stuff.”
The next step is going to the kitchen to try to develop the flavors and pull off the ideas in their heads on the plate. It doesn’t always work, they admit, saying that sometimes planning the dish on paper is much easier than on the plate. And, of course, it has to taste good—it can’t be just visual.
When asked for an example, they quickly identify a current dish. “I’ve had this idea for a pot pie…” Paterno says. “How do you put that onto a plate so it’s not so much like a pot pie?” Lipetzky continues. “We deconstructed it,” Paterno finishes.
The result: a whole chicken deboned and roulade, cooked sous vide, then seared for crispy skin, served with a truffled velouté sauce and sautéed multicolored baby carrots, and stacked with a cut-out of puff pastry on top. It doesn’t even say “pot pie” on the menu. To a customer ordering the Free Range Chicken dish, there is a subtle connotation of comfort and home, perhaps without conscious knowledge of where those feelings come from.
Dishes that make the final Eau Bistro menu cut must align with lots of criteria: what’s selling, what’s in season, what’s going out of season, what the chefs want to feature, what tests well and what looks good on the plate. “When we’re looking at dishes, we’re thinking about wine as well,” Lipetzky adds. “It really brings the balance to the whole meal.”
Paterno always runs the new items by Lipetzky, who oversees culinary operations for the entire Chase property. But Paterno has talked them over and worked out the kinks ahead of time, so that step is usually a formality. Still, there are exceptions. “It did take a while for the pot pie,” Paterno says with a smile. Lipetzky laughs: “Yeah, a couple of years!” If the delicious results are any indication, it was well worth the wait.
Photo credit: Kelly Wright