What’s on the 2013 menu?
A new year brings an easy opportunity to mark change, and several local chefs are hoping that 2013 will see some new culinary trends for the restaurant goers of the Miss-Lou.
Among the new menu items this year will be a few healthier choices, smaller portion sizes and a focus on local ingredients, according to chefs Bingo Starr, Regina Charboneau and Brad Seyfarth.
Nationally, a greater emphasis on using local produce, meats and ingredients is trending, and local chefs hope to see that continue and seek to facilitate its growth.
Seyfarth said he tries to include where local ingredients are grown on his menu.
“We try to do that as often as we can. People definitely like to see that,” said the head chef of The Castle Restaurant. “They may know those (growers), and say, ‘That’s cool, I know those people.’ That gives them a little recognition.”
Charboneau, chef at Bed & Breakfast Twin Oaks, said she has seen a tendency for chefs to use simpler recipes and focus more on quality ingredients, and more locally grown products would allow for local chefs to use fresher ingredients.
Each chef said he or she tries to buy local as much as possible, but Seyfarth said he would like to see products available in greater numbers.
“One thing I really wish we could do more of is have a bigger farmer’s market where you can go in and always find fresh, local vegetables and products you can use,” he said. “I will go in and buy a bunch of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and carrots, but in such a small venue, I would wipe it out, and they don’t have any for a few days.”
Buying locally allows Starr to feel even more attached to each dish he makes, he said.
“It makes me love what I’m cooking more to be able to put a face to it,” he said. “I am able to say, ‘They took it from the ground, and I turned it into something beautiful.’”
Chefs must now focus on making healthier choices with ingredients and preparation to keep up with the public’s growing emphasis on maintaining a better diet, Seyfarth said.
“People are eating healthier,” he said. “So we are trying not to have so much fat and high- calorie foods.”
Another big change will come in how restaurants handle the changing views on meat, Charboneau said.
“There are more people becoming vegetarians,” she said. “People are cutting back on red meat, and we will have to see if that continues to grow.”
Reducing portion size is a focus for 2013 for a few reasons, Charboneau said. Not only does it please customers who are trying to stick to a diet, but it also allows a more well-rounded meal.
“Cutting portions back is important,” Charboneau said. “Instead of raising prices (on food), we should focus on un-supersizing America, like taking five fries off of the plate or an ounce or two of meat.”
Each chef is accomplishing this in unique ways. Starr said his restaurant, The Carriage House, is undergoing a major renovation that includes new menu items. Among those menu items will be a small plates menu.
Starr said he will also try to add some variety to The Carriage House menu
Seyfarth said The Castle has tried a pub menu that featured finger foods and saw varied success. But in 2012, that menu started to gain popularity, and he expects it to grow even more in 2013.
Charboneau said a menu that features more courses with smaller portions allows diners to experience a wider variety of tastes in one meal.
The chefs also have a few ideas of what they would like to see in Natchez when they put down their chefs’ hats and become diners.
Starr said he really enjoys street food and food carts that feature, “bold, in-your-face great food.”
“I don’t care if it comes in a paper box,” he said. “As long as it’s good.”
Starr also said he is a fan of sushi and is glad Natchez Market No. 2 is offering fresh sushi daily.
Charboneau would like to see more specialty establishments as well, she said.
“I would like to see more authentic Italian cuisine or a small French bistro,” she said. “People in Natchez are so well-traveled that we could support trends, and I think it just takes someone to go out on a limb. I’m old and tired, but we could use a few young chefs coming in to open something other than more of the same.”