My First Big Menu Change

By | October 25th, 2017

Inspired by Detroit’s unique seasonality, Grosse Pointe (Mich.) Yacht Club’s Executive Chef Colby Newman created a new menu featuring highly composed dishes.

It’s been almost four months since I started my new position as Executive Chef of Grosse Pointe (Mich.) Yacht Club and I’m finally to the point with my both staff and members where changes are ready to be made. Of course, more pressure is added when the time for these changes coincides with my wife’s due date. Weddings, wine dinners, and parties aren’t going to stop. In the kitchen, we’re trained to deal with unexpected changes, but waiting for that call from my wife has been one of the more challenging things to try and prepare for. I’ve been working on menus, events, and additional training far in advance so my staff and I are all prepared for this new arrival. So, one of the first things to be set in place was our new fall menu.

This was my first menu change, which can be an intimidating task when there are members who have been a part of our club for so many years. Something I still struggle with at times is that even though we provide our members with fine dining, most clubs aren’t necessarily fine dining restaurants. I have to be able to find that balance between modern fine dining and classic comfort food. Also, every club has their own signature dish known by their members that can’t be taken away or even modified. No matter how much those specific items conflict with your style or menu changes, they will never be up for debate because it’s a priority for me to make our members happy.

We have a new menu every week just for specials, so I have used the past several months to see what our members like or dislike and to hear their feedback. We also keep track of all our menu items ordered, and watch what is high-selling or low-selling, which is helpful when the time comes to make some changes.  For example, we created a high-selling halibut special for a week, which was then requested for the following weeks and then finally requested to be put on the new menu. I don’t consider it a fall-inspired dish, but our members love it and I want to listen to them and give them what they want.

There’s a lot more that comes with changing a menu than just replacing one dish with another. We have some dishes that have been on the menu for several years, so it’s a lot of work when it comes to editing. I have to make sure my team is trained and capable of executing the ideas I have. I also have to make sure my sous chefs are on board with my new ideas and they are able to train some of the staff as well. And with being new to the area, I needed to get a better idea of what my vendors have to offer and if they provided ingredients that match my cuisine and style.

I have several vendors, and my communication and relationship with them is extremely important. There are a lot of clubs in the Detroit area and most of my vendors deal mainly with these kinds of establishments so they have a better understanding of what my needs are. It’s also helpful having representatives who have been in the industry for a long time, especially those who have been chefs before. I’m in a larger area than I was in Amarillo so there are a lot more ingredients that are more easily available to me. Having so many more options and local ingredients opens a lot more doors when deciding on new dishes. And knowing I don’t have to place special orders for certain products weeks in advance gives me much more freedom when coming up with new dishes. We have so much available to us, but I noticed that my team wasn’t used to creating composed dishes with flavors and ingredients that are meant to work together. So I wanted to take a different approach to my new menu to benefit both my staff and our members by making all our dishes more composed. Moving to a new area and seeing everything it has to offer has been refreshing for me as a chef. The environment and change of seasons are different from what I’ve been around the past several years and it has become a big inspiration with any of the menus and dishes I have created.

The first menu change in a new place is always a lot more work than the ones that follow. There were a lot of meetings with my kitchen and our front of house, including menu tests. I wanted my first big opportunity for change to be a smooth transition for everyone. Our weekly menu of specials was not offered the week our fall menu came out. I wanted my staff to focus on the new dishes and for our members to be urged to try the new items we had to offer. I’m very pleased that the new menu and happy to report that it has been well received by all. Not that any future menu changes will be easy now, but I have the confidence knowing that my staff and our members trust what I am doing. So now, with one less major thing to prepare for, I wait for the arrival of my son and for my first busy holiday season at Grosse Pointe Yacht Club to begin in just over a week.

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