Planning A Themed Meal
When you decide to put together an event or a meal based around a theme, there are a few steps to follow that will help you find the right balance between your budget and your ideas!
• Start Simple – Feast goers will be much more impressed with simple food done well than with extravagant food that is not done well enough.
• Determine Theme – Time Period, Era, Region, Holiday or Observation, etc.
• Determine Season – Match your food and décor to the season that the event will be held in. Do not plan on a springtime feast or dish for an event to be held in late winter. Seasonal foods are at their most abundant, best quality, and lowest prices.
o All the ingredients should be available in the same season and/or region. Don’t skip around, be consistent with your selections.
• Determine Budget
o How many guests are expected?
o Will there be a separate fee charged for this meal? Or is the cost a part of a larger budget?
o Will there be money up front for purchasing supplies, or will everything be reimbursed at a later time? What is the process for this?
• Determine Décor – The atmosphere of the hall, including table decorations, menus, wall hangings, music and lighting should all be considered to add to the ambiance of the event.
• Determine methods of food preparation and service –
o Preparation techniques should be appropriate to the region and era
o No ingredients or methods of preparation are used that are known to be out of period.
o For the first ‘brainstorming’ sessions, let your imagination run, come up with any ideas you might like to incorporate, perhaps drawing on some non-food resources for food ideas (for example, if your event has an Arthurian theme, you might read some of the literature on that topic, and use those readings to help you imagine the way the hall will look, the arrangement of the diners, and the foods that would fit into that picture).
o Even if you come up with ideas that are seriously out of your budget, from those ideas you might be able to glean a few things that are doable and can add to the ambiance and experience you are trying to create.
• Plan the Menu
o Balance should be a large consideration in putting together the menu as well. Do not plan on putting one item in more than two or three dishes for the entire meal. Common items that tend to get into everything include onions, garlic, mushrooms, vinegar, raisins, nuts, sugar, salt and pepper, bacon (or bacon fat), and dairy products, among others. If the menu is varied enough, there is no reason you should have to make special dishes to accommodate diners with special requests.
• Plan the Service
o Determine where the meal will be served, what sort of facilities are there, how long service will last, and how clean-up will be accomplished.
A menu should include a balance of meat and other protein dishes, veggies, starches, and flavor impact foods; along with a balance of color, texture, and flavors (salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and spicy). Other things to take into consideration are:
Familiar vs. unfamiliar ingredients and preparations
Expensive vs. inexpensive foods
Labor intensive vs. easy dishes
Seasonal and local foods
Simple or plain vs. complex or rich dishes
Dishes which can be made ahead vs. last minute prep ones
Preparation distributes the load evenly over the equipment available
If you were a medieval cook…
…your plans would include another factor that played a large part in preparing menus in the Middle Ages was the Humoral Theory. Foods (along with plants, animals and people) ran hot, cold, wet, and dry. If one was the cook for a large wealthy household, the menus would be prepared with the condition of each of the diner’s health in mind, and would present the foods in ways that would balance the humors of each one.
Practice by brainstorming a hypothetical event. Find a theme, do some research to identify things associated with that theme, and start batting ideas around. Create a vision board or just write down a list of ideas, and then start figuring out how to make the essence of those ideas create the perfect event to represent them. Get some friends to help with the brainstorming session for a lively discussion and fresh ideas!