Composing a Magazine
HOW TO COMPOSE A. MENU
When I was asked to come here to talk about the construction of magazine programmes I readily accepted this invitation. But on second thought I recalled all the magazine programmes I had seen both at the EBU-Saarbrücken Exchange for small children and at the Lugano exchange last year. Most of the complete programmes were good, some excellent. And when I got to know who was coming to Oxford, I was conviced that this audience knows all the rules to magazine making back and forth.
Then too, the given headline "How to Construct a Magazine" to me seemed to sound quite mechanical. One can construct a bridge or a building, but for a magazine - build up I prefer the word "compose", because it underlines the fact, that there are things like feeling and athmosphere involved, which just cannot be pressed into mathematical rules and still are decisive in making magazines.
Also birth rates in Europe are declining, so you might have to change profession. But how could professionals like you make best use of all your skill and experience ?
Putting together a magazine, I thought, is very similar to the composition of a menu.
So why not open a restaurant ?
But even if you don't intend to run a restaurant, I think there may be a lot of parallels in this profession to magazine making, which may offer you a model of thinking for your current work. Whenever I think of the structures and rules which apply to items in magazines and to all other
tv-programmes I think of an ancient story-teller sitting in the middle of the desert, capturing his audience with tales of remote times and places, letting his audience participate in the fate of his heroes and heroines. I suppose that the dramatical roots of a magazine structure go back even further.
I imagine people sitting together chatting.
One would tell a story about the day's hunting , one would talk about his bad foot, one would just tell a joke. Basically what was going on was just the same type of conversation you have when you meet some friends for dinner. And since I just assume that even in the stone age this type of miscellaneous conversation took place when people were eating , I assume that people who have to do with dinners professionally have most experience with this kind of situation.
"How to run a restaurant", "How to compose a menu" ?
First comes the choice of a place. A lot of questions arise. How do you choose a restaurant when you go midtown with some friends and get the idea to go for dinner somewhere?
I think you will make your choice by the location of the restaurant, you have the choice only among the roads you pass, and by the outer looks of the place. And , if you are familiar with the city, by experience and reputation. But your restaurant is new, nobody has ever eaten in there, no reputation. But through the styling of the facade you can communicate what you intend to offer to your clients. A fast food place looks different from a gourmet temple.So through the outside looks you already communicate your intention of what you want to offer to your guests.
In magazine programmes you communicate this through your title, which would be the name of your restaurant, trailer, graphic design etc.Of course I don't have to mention that if your restaurant is located in a side street you have to put more effort into attracting people than if it were on mainstreet.
Putting up a big sign on main street, advertising in papers etc. might help you to solve this problem. An important problem. Because without guests your place won't last long.
Bad ratings in tv-language.
Now again put yourself into the position of the evening streetwalker. You make up your mind and decide to open the door and go into the restaurant. You have expectations from what you saw from the outside. What you see and experience coming through that door will tell you if your expectations were right, be it justified or not.
I am sure you all remember a situation when you walked into a restaurant and either walked out again immediately or at least had the intention to do so. This first impression thus is of utmost importance. If it is negative you will have to put a lot of effort into correcting it. If it is positive, your guests will accept deficiencies in the further course of the dinner more readily.
Of course you want this first impression to be positive. But how to do ? This first impression is a composite of multiple perceptions. Colours, space, interiour design play an important part. And then, I don't need to tell you, there is a big difference if someone meets you at the door, welcoming you, taking your coats maybe, and leading you to a table, to the situation when you see a waiter in the back of the room cleaning glasses telling you to just sit down and that you will be taken care of once he is finished or even less attention towards the new guest.
So in order to make the first impression, this important moment, positive you will have to put much care both into interiour design and into the welcoming of your guests.
If you run a restaurant or create a magazine , in any case you will be well advised to make your audience, or your guests respectively, feel at home and comfortable from the first moment on. But keep in mind that even though I have put so much emphasis on this first impression this is just a brief moment. Your guests are with you to have a meal, to satisfy their desires.
In a tv-magazine this moment might take place only a few frames after fade-in.
Your guests have taken place. They should be served with food and drinks as soon as possible. Now let's assume that your guests don't have to choose a la carte, that there only is one menu. This assumption might not be realistic, but in order to keep the parallels to magazine making we should stick to it. This assumption too puts all the responsabilty onto who offers the menu. This might seem to be patronizing. But having made magazines you should be used to making choices for other people.
Also by accepting and receiving your guests you have agreed to a contract. Your part in this contract is that you and the people who work for you will give all the food and drinks your guests are ready to pay for. You owe something to your guests, your works starts. And if what you can offer to your guests does not fulfil their expectations, there is trouble ahead. Much more trouble than applause in the case your dinner was better than expected. This might lead you to the conclusion that you should keep expectations low from the start. I am not sure I can support this conclusion. Because if people expect to have a bad time in your place, cold soup and warm coke, why shouldn't they just go to the place nextdoor ?
So there is no choice than to live with high expectations. And why not make an effort to meet them ?
As far as your guest's part of the contract is concerned, I am sure running your restaurant you will have less problems in this respect than you had making magazines in television. Your guests may always decide what kind of dinner they can afford or want to afford, whereas in television you have to deal with the attitude of the whole society towards your target audience. Or at least with the attitude of the people in your institution who decide about your budget. Not the consumers in any case. This division of those who pay and of those who consume, if you work well, and your programme is well accepted by your audience, will create problems , frustrate you .
But don't you think leaving televsion and opening your restaurant you have left all the problems with budgets behind.Far from it!
But why talk about the bill ? Your guests have only just sat down. Let's assume your place is a place like this: You offer an aperitif, which they readily accept. What is the message of an aperitif? It's main message or function is to help you or yours guests with the transition from one situation to the other. Just a short while ago they were outside, maybe in the rain, running around, looking for a restaurant, getting nervous and hungry, finding your place, doubting if their choice is right... what a hassle. And now, a few moments later, they have made their decision, have been welcome, and they have decided to stay. While they wait for the aperitif (which shouldn't be long) and as they drink it , they may calm down, have a further look at the ceiling, look around who else is there, and slip into the role of someone who is a guest in your place. I am talking about a calm, homely place now. But even in a disco you will notice that it is during the first drink that you tune yourself in into the place, start picking up the mood.
What and where is the aperitif in a magazine? I have no answer to this question, but it has to be something at the very beginning. Maybe it is a moment during the trailer, maybe it is the instant when the main-title melody is recognized , maybe it's at the presenter's first smile, maybe it's only during the first item in your magazine. In any case it is the moment you have captured your audience for the first time. The probability of them to stand up and walk out from this point on is reduced by fifty percent minimum.
This is the reason why I stress this point so much, because it is so decisive . It also is a turning point. Up to here all communication dealt with image, rhythm, color, message of your programme. Your intentions, your offerings. All you did communicate so far, were details to the contract. Through facade and interiour design you told your guests if yours is a sea-food place, or a traditional one, if you serve italian, french or domestic dishes. And you have probably communicated who is your "target-guest", told him one way or the other what age group you expect him to have ideally, to which social class he should belong to. All this telling him about the rough amount he will have to pay at the end. And a lot more, all in a very short time. If you only take into account how important these first moments are, and act accordingly opening your magazine or your restaurant, you will certainly be astonished how easy it is to win the first fifty percent. Just with a little care . And to give you a hint: "
Care" will be the magic word to come.
Up to this point of the aperitif you have told your guests what you want to do. From now on you will have to do it. From now on you will have to keep all the promises you made. But- no worries - you don't have to start from zero again. With the aperitif your guests have accepted the contract and are of good faith that you will keep your promises.
After the aperitif , with it there might be a little amuse gueule, just a tiny delicacy, or some bread and butter, if your place is more of this nature, your guests also will have lost their fear that they might starve to death in your restaurant. Which is ridiculous, but it is pure fact that people tend to panic when they are hungry, especially in the rich countries in this world and particularly in restaurants. But accepting your guests the way they are is part of your job. Even television most of the time is better than people expect it to be.
Expectations. One question I left open so far is one of the most debated among magazine makers, maybe of future restaurant owners too: Should one tell the menu? Or translated into tv-slang again: Should you announce what's coming up ? It is one more crucial point, but much less crucial as it seems. Be it the report of the sexual life of rainworms or a plate of spaghetti bolognese, people with the good faith they have gained to so far, should think "well, maybe it will be different, maybe it will be good." I am sure that among the tv-programmes of your country you'll find one where the announcement of a report on the sexual life of rainworms will let you expect someting of the most boring and terrible and another one where this very announcement will make you expect something very funny and entertaining. So be brave, tell your guests what to expect. They know the style already and if really there is somebody who decides that there will be nothing of his interest in this programme - ok tough luck this time, but why waisting anybody's time. He should rather leave you at this point than be disappointed in the end. And also: At this point the risk is very low.
It is worthwhile taking it, because drop-outs will be only a few, but among those who will stay anxiety will be heightened. And this surely will be the majority.
Also to me personally it would be inconceivable to dine in at restaurant not knowing the menu -
I would die of curiousity.
Now you think we get to the menu - not so fast, dear friends. It sure has been wise to offer aperitif and amuse gueule immediately. But now- before the hors d'euvre is served we should have a little break. A break like in a song between prelude and the song itself. At this point we have to communicate that the preliminaries are over and that the real dinner commences now. Slashing the hors d'euvre plate in front of your guests without pause would not communicate this break.
Let's make use of this short break to talk about another essential: Personnel! It's almost impossible to work in the kitchen and do the service at the same time. If you try it either service or cooking will suffer. If your place is of bigger size you will need personnel both for service and cooking. Through your experience in magazines you already know how important -even crucial - the choice of the people you work with is. You may have an excellent cook, but bad service can spoil it all, and the best service can't turn bad food into good food, even though it can make mediocre food acceptable.
Sometimes, as you may know from your own experience, it happens that a place is popular not because of it's good food, but because people like the waiter or the publican. Or because the cook is brilliant. To put it into a mathematical formula popularity is the product of both kitchen and service. If one of the two is weak the whole will suffer. But if both are good or excellent even, you will gain double or even triple results, you get an even superior quality.
Since we all now are anxious to have the hors d'euvre I will be brief on what good personnel is like, after talking about it's importance. Good personnel has to be professional - no doubt - but on top of this it has to be ambitious to do the best for your guests and caring. I recently had the chance to talk to a cook who has just gained his first "star" in the Guide Michelin. I asked him what is the difference between him preparing a standard dish and others.
His answer consisted in one word only: Care. And later on he added that his main ingredients are love, warmth and again: care. And when I frowned at him doubting he went on : And you will see that every cook who makes use of these ingredients may offer food that tastes different, but I assure you that it will always be good.
The hors d'euvre arrives, the dinner starts. At least this is what your guests think - you know it better. Your guests have accepted you and your place, your stile and your menu. Their expectations are high, all you have to do from now on is to meet them.
The hors d'euvre by definition is not of very much substance. A light appetizer. Not of much quantity.
Most restaurants are very peculiar regarding the hors d'euvre. For a good reason I think. Because the part of the menu you will recall the best will be the hors d'euvre together with the dessert. The hors d'euvre is the first of the pearls in the menu, the first movement of the symphony you have composed. Here you may present the theme of it all, or just communicate that what you offer is a quite colorful entity. As far as nutritious values are concerned this first part of the dinner should be light, but not weak.
You may have weak parts in your menu, but starting with them would be fatal. This means that composing your menu you have to be very much aware not only of the lightness or the heaviness
of your items, but also of the quality and the appeal of them.
If the first main course is fish in white wine, oysters caviar or salmon might be a good idea for hors d'euvre. But what if you intend the first main course to be a steak with fried potatoes?
This would be like drinking a table wine after a grand cru or a champange. Serving the table wine first and then the grand cru would not be the solution. All that is important is thatthe first main course should either correspond with the horsd'euvre or at least not be a “low" after it.
If for example you intend your menu to be a sea-food dinner, your hors d'euvre should be sea-food specialties. But making magazines in television I have learned that lingering on one theme can be counterproductive. Because following one line or one theme you disregard the main rule of a menu: It has to meet the expectations and be surprising at the same time. If your guests ask themselves what's next and the answer is: Just another fish - you have lost. Your guests may leave your place before the dinner is finished and they won't have missed anything. In producing magazines I made the same experience: We once put together a special program that dealt about death. Every item, be it picture story, be it animation, be it of documentary style dealt with death. Viewing the program after the start of the third or fourth item, which showed a cat, my daughter in a quite cool way said: I bet this cat is gonna die! And right she was. Kids are so clever revealing the intentions of people who try to tell something to them !
The hors d'euvre is an appetizer - not just an appetizer, something you my skip as well. It has a very imoptant function in your composition of your menu.
It should communicate to your guests that whatever ingredient you use will be special. Your very special touch, your way to handle and deal with vegetables, meat, fish or whatever else has to become evident here. And it should make your guests curious of the things to come.
The main advantage of serving a dinner with different courses rather than serving it in one plate certainly has to do with digestion. If you go onto a fair with a child and give it a treat of an ice cream, some french fries with ketchup, some sweets, a sausage on top of it all and then have a ride in the merry-go-round it will surely vomit. But controlling and influencing the course of eating you will - if you go about it well -have just the opposite effect. People will stand up after your meal satisfied but not feeling heavy.
What is it that makes the difference?
I think it is the fact that there is a break between the different courses. From making magazines you all know that the transitions are the hardest part of it all.
In your restaurant you may leave your guests by themselves for a couple of minutes, talking/having a sip of wine. During their conversation they might change the subject, digest a little, linger on the taste of the hors d'euvre. In magazines time usually is more precious and it is not an individual time but a timing that is being imposed on all of your spectators. In any case it would be wrong if our guests or your spectators had the feeling that their experience, the feelings they had with the hors d'euvre would be wiped away. You would deprive them of their experience and your cook will have a bad feeling too, because he may think that all the care he has put into the hors d'euvre has been in vain. In magazines there is a fashion or at least used to be, to make transitions like: That was a story about a fish, a fish lives in the water. Now we have a story about a duck. A duck swims on the water but sometimes it also flies in the air. A presenter using these lines takes his viewers and forces them onto a new track. If he is good at his job he might even succeed and it might even happen that his guests are grateful for his guidance. But he would still put force on his audience. I think that transitions in magazines should be something that has a value of it's own.
Why not try it the same way as your guests do? Chat or converse, whichever way you want to call it, and slip from one subject of conversation to the other.
Your guests in the restaurant may have all the time in this world to do so, but if you want to achieve the same thing in your magazine, you will have to make use of a strange phenomenon. You all know that there are two kinds of time. One is the time you can easily measure by seconds, minutes, hours. The other time I would like to call subjective time. That is time as you, your guests or your audience experience it. And this time may differ from real time or better measured time substantially.
This handling of time certainly has to do with magic. And therefore no mathematical rules apply. But it is true that within an instant you can catch the ball tossed into the air by the hors d'euvre, juggle around with it and then throw it into a new direction. Preferably into the direction of what comes up next.
I think that the transition be it done by a presenter, a puppet, animation, or just an abstract visual jingle, should at least for a moment attract the attention of your guests. And of course transition is much easier if hors d'euvre and the following first main course do correspond in one way or the other, be it in content or be it in style.
One characteristic common to both items could be one I like quite a lot: curiosity, freshness, an unusal approach or just the joy of storytelling.
I don't think it is absolutely necessary to have a transition that is as smooth as possible. On the contrary I think it should be made quite clear, that now someting else begins. One of the tools to achieve this also is the dramatic structure of the item or your course. For this reason I think it is quite worthwhile to have a defined ending and beginning in a magazine item, or within your menu this means that each plate you serve should also be able to stand on it's own. The food should be well arranged on the plate, the ingredients should be balanced in their content of proteins, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, fibres etc. It should be possible to serve each plate of your menu as a single plate for who has only a small appetite. There also are economic reasons for this concept. But to this we get later on. As you know the bill always comes at the end.
Coming back to the subjective perception of time in relation with the subjective value of a dish it may happen that your hors d'euvre, a salad for example, is of bigger quantity than your first main course. Translated into tv-magazines this means that it is possible that your first item is longer than the second one. But in any case it should be of lower nutritious value, be appetizing and trigger curiosity for the things to come.
Many of you producing magazines have set limits on the length for each item. Some say that an item should not exceed five minutes, some set the margin at seven minutes, some even say that in their magazines an item should not be shorter than ten minutes. These limits to my liking are a little too arbitrary. It may happen you have an item of seven minutes that passes so quickly so it seems to be quite short, and another item of only three minutes running time can be so lenthy it never seems to end. So time limits can be useful as a rough guideline, but I think they should not strangle your flexibility. In order to compose your menu right it is quite necessary that you are very much aware of the quality, of the appeal and of the nutrtious value of each plate.
But I am positive you will have succeeded in choosing the right hors d'euvre for your guests, that you have motivated the respective organs to produce those gastric juices that are necessary to digest the following. The following first main course.
The significance ot this first main course surely is not hard to guess. Remember that you promised to fulfil a contract. To turn your guests, who entered your restaurant as hungry, starving beings, into people that are satisfied, feel happy and maybe even a little richer in experience than before. As far as the nutricious qualities are concerned this course has to be of substance. Which does not mean that it has to be heavy I hate to walk out of a restaurant feeling heavy an immobilized. But how to turn a dish that is of substance into something that is not heavy. Easy. Everybody knows that something that waters your mouth, that looks good and appealing is digested much better than a grey paste, no matter how healthy it may be. Sometimes just a leaf of parsley or salad that serves as decoration only and is never intended to be eaten can make the difference.
At this point time has come to reveal my personal philosophy on cooking. You all know that there is such a thing as a recipe. And maybe you wondered how it can happen that the same recipe applied by one cook can taste so much better than the same dish made by another cook. One main reason as I have pointed out before is the care put into the preparation of the meal. This goes together with the empathy towards the ingredients. Good cooking I think should support the taste of the main ingredients. Each step in the preparation, every spice you add, should support the taste of the main ingredients. Even if you are not too fond of the taste of your main ingredients you may succeed in improving it, but there will always remain a sense of falsity. Which just means that you have to be very careful choosing your ingredients. That´s why for all good cooks their morning visit of the market place is of great importance.
One of the great Hollywood producers, I think it was Sam Goldwyn, being asked what makes a great movie, once replied:"A good story, first,second: a good story, and then : a good story" Having made your choice of the story, which really is your main ingredient, a choice by the way you can never be quite sure to be right, you have to do everything to tell it according to it's inherent values. Which of course requires quite a lot of sensitivity. Camerawork, casting, cutting, special effects - all have one end only: To tell the story, revealing it's meaning, it's emotional potentials, make the audience dive into the world of the characters and make it suffer or be happy with the protagonists.
Cauliflower. Let's talk about cauliflower. Cauliflower has a very delicate taste,a great taste if you support it, but a taste you can destroy so easily. Using a bit of nutmeg can help to reveal it's taste, but if you take too much of it , all you will taste is nutmeg, and you will be deprived of the experience of tasting cauliflower.
Why do I stress the delicate taste of cauliflower? We all know that the members of our age group are quite keen on junk food. We may not like this, but in any case we have to take this fact into account, and not close our eyes being confronted with the phenomenon. What is it that makes junk food so attractive?
It is a given standard, you don't have to make much of a choice. And then it is rich in stimuli, spices, sugar (as in cetchup) and relatively low or one-sided in terms of nutritious value. We may decide to not serve junk food, but if the dishes we offer are carefully prepared and of good nutritious value, but low in stimuli, you might attract people who are concious about their health, and don't mind to eat like in a diet, but certainly you won't attract those who want to be entertained or stimulated.
But serving the cauliflower with cetchup, I hope you all agree, is not the answer. If you succeed to make your guests curious about what cauliflower tastes like, your guests might not only discover the taste of cauliflower, but also that there is a whole world of tastes to discover beyond the standards of junk food, or even beyond standard dishes.
Telling the story of the taste of cauliflower maybe much more weary than telling the story of the well known hamburger, but I think in the long run, your guests will appreciate this opening of new worlds more than returning to the things they already know.
But your restaurant is not the only one in town. You have to compete with the others, with those who offer stimuli and entertainment in a way you might not want to follow. To face this competition, and if you want your restaurant to be successful, you will have to face it, you will have to motivate yours guests to make these special experiences, not hesitating to tell them that these experiences are special. Not only by mere announcement, but communicating this by all means of communcation you dispose of. Again making promises you keep. And making compromises too to general taste, following the fashion of the so-called taste of today.
To the superficial fashions you will have to add new values, that will make the fashionalble values appear really superficial.
But please don't get me wrong, you are not a missionary. Even if you have the intention to improve your guests taste, or make them discover something they wouldn't have wanted to discover, it would be completely wrong if they had the slightest notion of this. All this you have to do though staying yourself.
Here I may add a very private confession. Sometimes I spend an entire day preparing a meal for my family, putting a lot of care into this preparation, adding spices, letting something grow of which I hope it is the optimum. And then I want my family to appreciate all this and enjoy it. And when my wife and my daughter dont react the way I expect them to do, I feel misunderstood. I know this attitude is wrong, but sometimes my folks just feel so much expectation on them to enjoy and be grateful, that they simply tell me: why don't you cook something simple, we will enjoy it just the same. They are right.
In any case you, running your restaurant, should not expect a whole lot of praise from your guests or immediate appreciation. You have to know for yourself, be convinced for yourself , that what you serve is good, or at least on the way of improvement.
Of course it always happens, that something you intended to be outstanding turns out to be a flop. Making films for children's television I learned that it is almost impossible to force
a so-called hit. Many times producing something you expect to be outstanding needs a lot of work in post-production to become acceptable in the end. But fortunately films that I just do to feed the audience,sometimes turn out to be quite successful.
But this of course doesn't mean that one has to stop striving for the exceptional.
After the first main course your guests certainly should not be hungry anymore, but on the other hand have still appetite for the courses to come. This means that they have become less critical, given that the food so far was to their liking. If the first main course though was too substantial the idea of going on eating would terrify them. But do you know how satified they really are? This really is impossible. Some of your guests may be filled up by just a little, whereas some others need large quantities to be satisfied.
One way to solve this problem could be to just let your guests wait for half an hour until the next course. But even though they might chat for some time, have a glass of wine, those who expect more will be waiting, and even those whose hunger really is satisfied, knowing that there is more to come will start getting impatient.
To fill this gap, and to take care of the needs of all of your guests, I would propose to serve something very light at this point. Something that keeps your guests busy, but doesn't really fill their stomach. In music you would call this an interlude. In television you may call it something that is just entertaining. Of course this break is easier if the hors d'euvre and the first main course were not of much different nature. That is that with all their substance, they also had entertaining elements. Again this interlude cannot be measured in real time. It's functic is to create space, and to entertain. It also had to contribute to a sense of variety in your menu, which it does almost automatically if it is cooked and served the right way.
It is up to you if you want this intermediate course to be special, something like a juwel of the dinner, or just something to let the time go by. Nothing anybody will remember really the next morning after the dinner. I remember having some excellent soups at this point, there is a potato soup I had some years ago that I still remember. On other occasions I have been served truffels or caviar at this point, dishes which surely were intended to be something to remember, because they are eaten in low quantities just for the sake of tasting them. Nobody ever would succeed filling his belly with truffels, which have no nutritious value whatsoever. It would be just like drinking perfume to get high.
But I have been asking myself why do I remember the potato soup or a sorbet I had on another occasion better that those specialties. There are two reasons I think. One is that I dislike or at least mistrust celebrity. The onion, the tomato, garlic, capsicum and many other ingredients we use to compose dishes to me have just the same value in creating taste as truffels. Some people may not agree to this, but in any case I think that the price of truffels and in combination with it it's fame and reputation, is not justified to be one-thousand times higher than the one of capsicum.
So with the announcement to have a very special, extraordinary delicacy coming next, I become very sceptical, wondering if the promises that are being made are justified, and are being kept. Most of the times they are not.
But the potato soup, the sorbet of lemon tea, of which nobody expected anything special, may become the jewel of the evening. Because it's starting position is almost at zero. Of course your guests know by now, that this intermediate dish will not taste like soap, they will expect of you that you put the same kind of care into it as into the precedent dishes. No one expects a potato soup to be outstanding, but if it is outstanding a new discovery is made, your guests are surprised positively. So here you can make points with little effort, just by taking advantage of the moment of surprise.
If this dish just turns out to be just an intermediate dish, nothing special, just serving the purpose of creating space, none of your guests will complain, or feel cheated in ther contract. If of course you keep a certain level, that's understood.
So with this dish you run few risks, and your chances are high. Putting together a magazine so this is the spot where I would place items, that are of experimental nature, if they have qualities as lightness and entertainement. Qualities that are also necessary for the hors d'euvre and for the dessert. But the functions of hors d'euvre and dessert are just too vital to play around with. Here between first main course and second main course you can place something you are not quite sure of. Something that, if it is well received by your guests, might turn out to become your great, world famous hors d'euvre in the future. Here is the place to test it.!
After this interlude comes another interesting point. Let's call it the point of panic. Because at this point those who are still hungry panic because they fear that they will walk out of your place still hungry, and those who already are satisfied panic because they think they will have to leave the rest of the dinner untouched. But we know that panic usually is irrational and we have to try our best to let most of our guests walk out satisfied without feeling heavy. You may say that this is impossible, just because such a thing as a "standardized" guest doesn't exist. And you are right. It is impossible to satisfy all your guests the same way. But there are things you can do. You all know mustard. Mustard helps to digest fat food. Pepper motivates those organs in
your stomach who produce the gastric juices to get a go. Another trick is to chew well and thouroughly. But knowing that your guests have a tendency to be lazy, you might have to apply the Chinese method: Chop everything into small pieces. And from making magazines you already know, that an item that is prepared well, spiced with humour, and presented visually attractive, is much nicer to look at than one lacking these qualities. With these little tricks you can dare to serve the second main course. A course which has to be of substance and yet be digestable easily. So this is the backbone of your dinner, here solid choice of ingredients , good cooking, care, imagination and fantasy have to come together. In drama you would call this the climax.
Coming to the dessert, I often thought:" No, not this, I am so stuffed, I'm not gonna make it!" And at the end having finally eaten the dessert after all, I felt to be less stuffed than before. So again a phenomenon of magic dimensions. But since we all are apprentices of magic we cannot only stare at the phenomenon with our eyes wide open, we have to explore how it works. First there is to observe that what is served as dessert is of completely different nature from all other courses. Only the "interlude"-course might be of similar nature, but never as sweet as a real dessert. Oh, yes, right, a dessert is sweet. Most people like sweet things. But even if you offer a buffet, most people I guess would choose to eat the sweet offerings after the salty ones.
In a way the sweet part of the dinner, the dessert, is the one that could be left out in terms of nutritious value the easiest.At this point your guests should have taken in all the proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins etc. they need. Why then a dessert? I think because it is a counterpoint to the rest of the dinner. The mere fact that it is not neccessary underlines it's playful nature. It's pure luxury to have a dessert- but only if you limit yourself to counting calories. To me a dessert is like a dot on the I. And also an important contribution to a sense of diversity. And I think it is the fact that it is different from the other dishes that makes space in the respective stomaches of your guests. But this fact also puts a high amount of responsabi1ity on you and your cook. Serving something heavy and very sweet, maybe you will find applause by your guests but at night when they sleep badly they will curse you. So the dessert should not be different in the attitude and the philosophy in preparation. It should be rich in vitamins, be made with little sugar and little fat. I think fruit in all variations could be a solution. I like sorbets very much for dessert, since they are fruity, cold, which seems to help digestion and low in calories.
After this special treat, the dessert, there might come some cheese, fruit, coffee, maybe some kind of brandy. But with the dessert the real dinner comes to an end. All that follows has the same function as the welcoming procedure and the amuse gueule: Make your guests feel good and at home. Make them feel they may stay even if the main purpose of the dinner is fulfilled. Also in this phase it is up to your guests to meet their part of the contract. They will have to pay their bill.
You might have made the experience that a salty bill can spoil it all. Especially if you have not had the equivalent. Of course you have to cover your costs, but if the bill is too high in the end, you will have to say good-bye to your guests forever. And your restaurant may come to an early end. But how to stay low in costs and still have your guests feel they have eaten something precious? The costs for most factors are fixed. Ingredients, energy, personnel cost the same or almost the same if your guests have a good dinner or a bad one. So we have to look out for the flexible factors. If your waiter smiles or not should not cost a dime more, but to your guest this already makes a big difference. Putting more effort into the diversity of the meals, be creative, might cost a little more, but with creativity or inventiveness, you might not have to buy the filet but a cheaper piece of meat, obtaining the same kind of result.
From magazine production you already know how creative a tight budget can be. It is like in a multiplication. One factor is the budget the other creativity. If the budget is near zero, all the creativity in this world won't get you off the ground. If the budget is small, creativity is the factor
that gets you going. If one decides to put more money into so much creativity the result will get even closer to the imaginable optimum.
But- big money doesn't make neither a good show nor a great restaurant.
So your job, be it producing a magazine, be it running a restaurant is motivating both service and kitchen to work creatively. Everybody working with you should give the best. Working in an athmosphere that is fun to work will also create a good feeling for your guests. This athmosphere will help to solve the next problem: How to make your guests come again. The first important step is made with the first dinner. If your guests leave in a good mood, having enjoyed your food, the athmosphere/ the service, they will not only come back, but also hopefully recommend your place to other people. Coming back a second time your guests expect to find a dinner of the same quality as the time before. But here we come to a contradiction. Your guests have expectations they want to be met, but they also have the expectation to be surprised, and not have the same meal once again. Some factors contributing to this continuity are easy to maintain. The name of your place, interior design the service, your style of cooking will remain the same, or at least change slowly, improving something here and there. The athmosphere they liked is easy to maintain. But what about the kitchen?
Maybe your guests were particularly fond of how you prepared the beans, or they particularly liked the trouts in white wine. So they should find these in your dinner. But there might be other things to go with them. Other courses should be different. In magazine making you might have found out about the principle of the little series. A series of items that appears for a couple of times. So when you have, let's say a series of six parts, you will start the next series with the fourth part of the old one. Like in a relay. But even outside these series in item that appears only once, you should show the kind of attitude you apply dealing with a story or a subject. You should get to a point when your guests know, that whatever dish you offer, it will be good. Make them curious and satisfy their curiosity, be funny and entertaining.
Your restaurant being an ongoing venture,the contradiction between meeting the expectations and always offering something new is not the only one. Also in the composition of your menu you have to be careful about the small margin there is between randomness and variety.
Both kitchen and service have to work together to avoid the feeling of randomness. The kitchen has to produce dishes that can stand on their own. In magazines this would mean, that they have a defined beginning and end and also have a closed dramatic structure. Service has to show the bridges to pass or create space between the various dishes, create breaks, the space to digest. In magazines this also means that the items and the presentation should be separated well. It has to be clear when an item starts. In a magazine it is often of advantage, to have one voice doing both presentation and the narration of the items, to give the whole show one feeling. In this case it is of particular importance to have a visual break in order to obtain a defined structure of your show.
There is also another field where kitchen and service have to cooperate: Compensating weaknesses.
It always happens that a dish or an item turns out to be not as strong as it was expected to be. It would then be advisable to place it then as a first main course, as an intermediate course or as second main course. In presenting it you may then catch a weak ending , compensate its weakness by letting the next course, which then of course has to be a good one, follow more rapidly. And it may also happen that the people who do the service have a bad day, which means that the kitchen, getting aware of this has to make an extra effort. You running your restaurant, or producing your magazine, have to be very much aware of these deficiencies. So then you can motivate your collaborators to compensate them. Doing this job you have to be very much aware of your role and your responsabilty. Because it is you who makes the contract. And you are the one the blame is put upon, when the contract is not fulfilled.
Producing magazines you probably will have become aware of the disadvantages of a magazine. Not being able to dispose of the necessary time, to deal about a subject in depth, not being able to tell a story at length. But there are many advantages to a magazine format, and it is good to make use of them. If in your restaurant you would offer one plate only, the demands on this offer would be much higher, and the quantity much more limited.
But not only quantity even more variety is an advantage of a magazine or a menu. The headline of the last EBU-workshop was "How do we reflect today's reality in tv-programmes for the 10- to 15-year olds". "Reality" or "life" as you may call it is a composite of innoumerous different aspects. A magazine can, if you are aware of this variety, represent these facets of life much better than any other type of program. You may touch themes as death, handicapped children, starvation in the third world and still show aspects of life that are fun, that enable your audience to deal with those severe problems. Showing them that life really is a whole of many aspects. This is quite a delicate thing to do, if you don't want to let the serious things disappear in a mixture of harmless things. But since the magazine format is the only place to do this, it is the place to face this challenge. I don't know why, but in magazines for adults, there always is a limitation on a certain field, be it politics, be it culture, be it sports or something else. Working for the younger ones, you have the advantage to not have these limitations, so you can make your show as colorful as life itself.
So your magazine can become a focal point where all the aspects come together. Come together in many different ways as in a restaurant. Combined with other dishes in a restaurant you may serve dishes from England, France or Italy, combining them with dishes of your own country or combining them with a dish from Ethiopia for example.
At this point I would like to make you aware of another advantage. Living in Europe we are in the middle of many different cultures. Making use of the offerings of the EBU-exchanges both at Saarbrucken and Lugano, you can not only make use of this variety Europe offers, but also be more economical in your production, and offer what might be your contribution.
to make use of this variety, to make use of variety as guidingIn your restaurant as in your magzine you have the advantage to make use of this variety., to make use of variety as a guiding principle.
Whatever you do, continue to produce magazines or start running a restaurant, keep one thing in mind: What I have been offering you is just a model of thinking. If architects had the possibility to enlarge their cardbord models of buildings into real size they would be terrified by the result.
Even if you think, this model could be useful for your work, it is you who has to decide upon style, all the details, and most of all what to serve. Those decisions, and there a whole lot to be made, could be made though in the right way, if you are aware, that you owe something to your guests. Not only food, but all the care, love and dedication you can give.
In any case I hope I have not wasted your time. If one of you should open a restaurant in the next future, let me know, I'll be glad to be one of your first guests. And if next the presenter of your magazine should appear with a towel over his arm, please be so kind to send me a cassette.