Friday, May 11, 2012

Three Menus Per Season=Twelve Reasons To Dine

I'd say that creating new menus takes up about 90% of my head space.  I love to make new dishes so much it only made sense to me if I were to have 3 tasting menus, then they must all be completely different and representative to the characters in Elizabeth's logo. All characters can be thought of as her totem, or my totem.   They are also reoccurring symbols from my childhood.  Either way, they make sense to me and are important.  
So since each character represents a menu this is how it works...
The Owl is the barn owl.  While all menus will focus on farm to table this menu will highlight the most seasonable, freshest products I can find.  It will be the shortest menu, ranging between six to eight presentations of food. I will work directly with farmers and the local Chicago farmers' markets.  As I do now, all salting, smoking, curing, drying, preserving and baking will be done in house.  This menu will showcase many of those methods.
The Deer is from the woods and nature.  I cannot count how many times I have been in the woods and I looked up to find a deer staring at me.  They are constantly in my path.  I love these beautiful and mystic creatures. This menu will focus on what is foraged, collected in nature or be representative of nature and the wild.  It will showcase what I've found, what I love to find, what is currently in season or what I've preserved from past seasons.  My memories and ideas will be in this menu.  It will be the earthiest and perhaps the most challenging.  It will be the mid length menu, ranging between 12 to 14 courses.  
The Diamond menu will be the lengthiest menu, ranging between 20-23 courses.  This is the menu where we will hold you hostage for most of your evening so come prepared.  Hopefully it will be the best hostage experience you'll ever have.  On this menu you may encounter items which are a little more rare and a little more of a delicacy.  It will probably be the closest to what you may have experienced in my home only heightened due to more brain and man/woman power.  It will be the most daring.
All menus will involve whimsy, traditional and modern techniques.  They will be fun and adventurous.  One is not meant to be better than the other.  My intention is not to have a "best" menu while I'm sure that there will be guests who will come to all and decide for themselves which they think is the best.  It is just my intention to create, have fun, and give my guests an opportunity to have a range in price points and length of dining time.  I want them to want to come back and have new experiences.  To feel as if they are in the same space but an entirely new food dimension.  
The way I have built my business, from the ground up, first by gardening and truly connecting with the seasons and selling products at the farmers' market and then by my dinners, I've been thoroughly connected to nature.  I have either grown, foraged or sourced through the markets all my own products on a daily basis, which forced me to remain seasonal and local.  I never had the luxury of ordering from a catalog or sheets of papers from vendors.  This was more of a blessing than I ever imagined.  It challenged me to take Midwestern items that we are familiar with and present them in a new and avante garde way.  Where the availability of items that I might have liked to use became limited, I was forced to think in a new food direction.  How can I take this perhaps "boring" vegetable and turn it into something extraordinary?  How can I make it delicious and beautiful?  Where did it come from?  How does it grow?  What does it grow with?  So on and so forth.  Every season and sometimes twice within a season my menus have flipped.  While having had One Sister dinners for two years now I do have some staples, which guests come back and expect to have and I love them to have them but I have changed the menus almost entirely 12 times.  I will remain especially true to the seasons, changing each menu 4 times a year.  I'm certain there will be a few dishes on each menu that will remain but for the most part you can come to Elizabeth and have a new experience each time as the seasons change.  Three different menus per season and four seasons in the year means that you can have twelve different experiences.
Having the dinners in my home gave me the opportunity to really talk with and become close with many of my guests.  I've made many friendships from this venture.  The dinners have been magical.  My guests have called me a sorceress, a magician, and a witch.  I think all of those have basis in fact.  Therefore it will be my challenge to recreate that feeling and setting within a restaurant.  What I'm thrilled to say is that it will be done.  Elizabeth will have no barrier between the kitchen and the dining room.  We will all be in the same space together.  It will be like dinner and show in one.  I've always pictured my dinners to be like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. Elizabeth will be very much the same, full of surprises, interesting service pieces, and a warm, hospitable atmosphere.  Elizabeth will challenge to change ideas of fine dining.  
Elizabeth is named after my sister.  She died unexpectedly of a stroke when she was 39.  I was 23 at the time.  It was then that I slowly (with learning curves and growing pains) but steadily began to live life with focus.  She could not or would not conform.  I decided I would not either, never stopping to settle but to truly do what I want.  Cooking for others is certainly what I was born to do and it's what I want to do.  Elizabeth gives me the opportunity to cook for others as well as, in an abstract way, continue to cook for her.

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