Head chef looks back at 50 years of menu highlights

Steve Munkley, executive head chef at the Royal Garden Hotel, reflects on 50 Years of food and dining trends, as the hotel celebrates its Golden Year.

50 Years Ago…
Food in the 1950s offered little to whet the appetite, with rationing limiting the choice of ingredients and flavours. ‘Meat and two veg’ was a staple diet for many families through to the 1960s and eating out was reserved for only the most special of occasions, and even then would be an evening at the pub where potato crisps were sought after as the latest innovation! Thankfully, since the start of my catering career, in 1979, things have got far more exciting in the kitchen.

Inspiration from France…
Looking back at the early 1980s, everyone recalls leg warmers and shoulder pads dominating the catwalks, the emergence of ‘new wave’ in music and the Olympic gold medal of sporting legends Torvill and Dean, but for me it was the excitement of foreign influences that marked a real turning point in the culinary world. At the beginning of my career, menus were predominantly written in French, as we followed the French lead in cooking techniques and styles, and it was very much still a traditional silver service in restaurants, which despite the professionalism of the waiters, led to quite poor food presentation when compared to today’s standards.

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Nouvelle Cuisine…
However, this soon changed dramatically as we entered the 1990s and we had a brief affair with Nouvelle cuisine, which saw much smaller portions delicately arranged with a very expensive price tag. This then evolved into grazing menus as people wanted to try a variety of smaller dishes served at the same time rather than in traditional courses, giving both chefs and diners the opportunity to experience a selection of cuisines and experiment with unusual combinations. This is a trend that has seen ‘tapas-style’ menus being embraced as well as an increase in fusion restaurants.

The Nouvelle era also endorsed a lighter style of cooking, led by Swiss chef Anton Mossiman who chose to cook without butters, creams and alcohol to enhance more natural flavours. This is something that has carried through to today, as diners have become more health conscious whilst still wanting to enjoy the luxury of dining out. With a greater awareness of special diets, the culinary world is constantly developing new ways of creating interesting, flavoursome dishes without fundamental ingredients like gluten and dairy. As a result, dishes have become lighter, fresher and where diners are now more aware of the food they eat, attention to detail in the presentation has become a key focus. An increasing number of today’s diners are advocates of ‘clean eating’ and so dishes tend to reflect this in their appearance.

Where food presentation was previously the onus of silver-service waiting staff, today’s chefs have complete control over the look of their dishes and is perhaps the biggest change in restaurant service. Indeed, with the rise of social media where diners like to share images of their meals, more importance is being placed on meticulous presentation.

The Great British Roast Dinner…
However, one thing that has remained consistent throughout my career is the popularity of the traditional British roast dinner. We’ve given it many different guises over the years but it’s one of those menu items that will never be out of style. Looking ahead, with the Olympics next year, we anticipate the influences of South American cuisine coming through over the next 12 months.

London already has a number of successful Peruvian restaurants and we’re seeing the Brazilian barbeque concept moving around the country at food festivals, so it’s likely that we’ll be seeing South American specials and infusions featuring on menus across the UK.



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