By Michael Laiskonis—Creative Director
When approached by young cooks and students seeking advice on what to read, which chefs to follow on social media or which techniques they should study, I always underscore the importance of traveling and going out to eat. When you’re forming your style and sense of what is “good,” it’s essential to taste as much as possible—be it at your local bakery or a gastronomic temple overseas. I didn't make much money as a young chef, but by scrimping and saving what little I did earn, I invested in my edible education as often as I could afford. In turn, my formative years as a cook are defined as much by the meals I experienced as a guest as by the professional kitchens in which I toiled. Turning the tables and participating as a guest not only places a dish in its proper context but also provides young cooks valuable exposure to the front-of-house experience.
Today, we have the ability to document each dish, feeding our virtual timelines with instant images, yet I've always preferred more tangible souvenirs. Early on in my experiences of “important” meals, I developed the habit of collecting menus, resulting in an archive that now spans almost twenty years. Holding a physical remnant from a meal serves as a time capsule, transporting you back to a precise moment and place, sharpening blurred memories in a way that a camera phone snapshot cannot. A full menu also displays the context of a chef's perspective beyond a singular dish, and can mark a particular era in a chef's evolution over time.
Read on to see some of the menus that have shaped Chef Michael's culinary perspective.