As a cafe that changes its dishes seasonaly, we spend a fair amount of time in menu development. With three daily specials and a fixed menu of dishes that include fly-out-of-the-Café quinua burgers; Peruvian style chicken stir-fry (a riff on the traditional Peruvian beef stir-fry “lomo saltado”); and pumpkin lasagna you might wonder why. But innovation is just part of who we are, and Peru offeres such a bounty of vegetables and fruits that it's impossible not to want to keep creating.
We often walk a fine line between having a reliably familiar set of offerings and innovating: between keeping our regular clients happy and tantalizing them with new things; between a predictability and menu design that lets our kitchen function optimally and our own need to create new dishes because, after all, that is what we humans who play with food for a living do.
An integral part of our menu development process is to keep an “idea list” going. On the list are client suggestions, staff suggestions, and produce items we would like to use, or use more often. Also on the list are happy accidents we hope we can repeat. Once we have a winner, we vet our menu for items that have drifted away from client interests, and for every new dish we add, an item gets removed.
The quinua lentil burgers grew out of that process, from client requests for new items and our desire to incorporate more permanent gluten-free and vegan offerings. Before we got to the burgers we tried quinua-crusted tofu (no shelf life, hard to execute consistently); quinua and sweet potato croquets (wrong texture but that experiment led to a new sweet potato recipe); and a quinua, chard and chickpea salad (ultimately a better concept than a dish).
We had been toying with different types of burgers almost since we opened but had never tried to create one with quinua. Adding the lentils was a natural fit, along with diced red peppers and herbs. Shredded carrots left over from shred for carrot cake were tossed in on a whim and worked perfectly to lightly sweeten the burger. The sweet potato from our failed early attempts went onto the plate. To keep it gluten free we added brown rice and a salad garnish. We went through a few rounds of tasting and then vetted it with clients. The addition of a sauce and we were done. Now the only challenge is keeping them in stock!