A recipe evaluation form is an essential tool for a chef to maintain consistency within his restaurant. Without regular evaluations of existing recipes on your menu a variety of issues will crop up which will affect the consistency of your recipes and your guest’s satisfaction.
One of the most evident things which happens is that the cooks will either alter your recipes to fit their own flavor profiles, or they will alter them to make their lives easier, taking shortcuts which will change the quality of the overall product. It’s human nature to take the easiest path and your staff will alter your recipes in order to make their lives easier unless you consistently double check what they are producing.
Another reason for regular recipe evaluations is that as the seasons change so do the flavor profiles of your ingredients. I once had a potato cake accented with sweet onions on the menu and as the seasons changed so did the intensity of the onions. So much so that now it had become an onion cake accented with potato! My staff was following the recipe, but now the flavor profile of the dish was completely different simply due to the change of seasons. The result was an unsatisfactory product which needed to be modified.
How often should you evaluate your menu?
That depends upon how often your menu changes. If the menu changes daily then we should taste every item daily. If you have a core menu with specials added on a daily or weekly basis, then the specials should be tasted as they are implemented. And if your core menu remains the same for a long period of time, then every item on your menu should be tasted at least once a month to ensure consistency.
For those money conscious managers who feel that the chef is simply getting a free meal and should pay for it, let me point out a few things. The Chef’s profession is directly tied to food & taste. If your customers complain about the food but you don’t allow the Chef to regularly taste each item as its presented to the guest, then part of the responsibility is yours and not the Chef’s alone. A Chef doesn’t simply “eat”, we “evaluate taste”, and learning to evaluate taste is a skill which is constantly evolving. And since evaluating taste is a skill, it therefore needs to be exercised on a regular basis. How many professional athletes simply show up for the game without ever practicing? How good a player will they become if they never practice? The same is true for a Chef. Any skill which is not exercised will not evolve, rather, it will atrophy.
Here is an example of an Excel tasting form which you can download, or create your own evaluation sheet geared towards your specific needs and expectations. The form should include the date, item, venue, and if possible the name of the cook who prepared it. Specific notes about be dish should include; presentation, taste and balance of the dish, texture, temperature, recipe accuracy, and overall concept execution.
Recipe Tasting Notes in Detail
Evaluating Plate Presentation:
Is the presentation appealing? Does it have dimension or is it just flat? Are the plate edges clean? Are the correct garnishes used? Are there some contrasting colors? Does it meet the Chef’s specification?
Is hot food hot, and cold food cold? If the item has a specified doneness (such as a steak) then was it prepared to the requested temperature? If its fish, was it cooked correctly or is it overcooked?
Moist foods should be moist, crunchy foods should be crunchy, etc. Are there contrasting textures on a plate to increase interest and mouth feel? I had a parsnip puree the other day which was so satiny smooth it was evident that it had gone through a chinios. This extra finesse took the dish to a new level of excellence which made it truly fabulous.
Taste and Balance Evaluation:
Evaluating the taste and balance of the dish is the most complex and important part of the evaluation process. It’s not simply a matter of “does it taste good?” It’s really an evaluation of the integrity of the entire dish. A well-balanced plate means that the sum of the ingredients creates a better experience than the ingredients by themselves. If you find that the ingredients are fighting for attention in your mouth, or that the dish tastes “chaotic”, then it needs additional finesse to bring the dish together.
A few examples of the types of questions to ask include:
- For sauces: can you taste the main ingredients? Does it have backbone; beef demi should taste like beef and apple beurre blanc should taste like apple etc. Does the sauce complement the dish, or overpower it?
- For soups: does the soup have backbone? If the soup tastes weak or watery then it needs more of the foundation flavor whether that’s beef, chicken, vegetable, whatever. Backbone flavor gives you the essential foundation upon which all the other flavors build. Is the soup heavy or cloying on the tongue? This is especially common with cream based sauces & soups. A small amount of acid added to cream soups changes the mouth feel by cutting through the fat.
The topic of taste & balance is extensive so please add your comments about evaluating a dish.
Download the Recipe Evaluation Form.
Note: Microsoft Excel Required (not included)