Cooking with Kretz – Menu Creation

Here is the latest column from our resident Chef, Shawn Kretz

For some creating a menu while maintaining a fluid concept can be a difficult proposition.  Expedience certainly comes with experience.

For me the two most important factors to menu and meal creation are freshness (esp. Seasonality) and maintaining a consistent concept so that the meal or menu flows.  These apply to all aspects of my cuisine, from a restaurant menu, to catering, and even multi-course meals at home.

I believe fusion cuisine warrants some discussion.  When applied correctly, fusing ingredients and or traditions from multiple cultures can be very successful.   However, when people try to be too abstract or reach too far they tend to create con-fusion, and dishes that simply don’t work.

Sometimes fusion concepts try to blend ingredients, components of dishes, entire dishes or cooking techniques.   California cuisine for example is a blend of Asian and European cuisines with a dogmatic emphasis on ingredient freshness, quality and locality.
Combining culinary traditions across international borders is akin to wine pairing. You can blend ingredients to compliment each other, as a contrast, or as an enhancer.  However, as with wine pairings they sometimes do not work. Try to stick to compatible flavors, but play around with temperatures, textures and visual appeal to make the dish unique.

I find that inspiration tends to strike more often when I am at a market or grocery store.  I like to see what are the freshest or newest meats and vegetables.   I then begin to construct my meal or dish in my head thinking about how I have used/seen the ingredient used and then continue from those ideas.

Sometimes I will create a meal ahead of time based on a continent, country, regional, or city/village cuisine.

I am currently experimenting with Moroccan and Spanish culinary traditions.  I am very taken with the depth of flavor derived from fairly simple preparations and techniques.

This is my take on a Morocco-Spanish dinner.   We begin with a small Tapas plate, followed by a Tagine, and finished with an iced dessert.

This three course meal will take some time in preparation, however, it will be worth it.

1st Course: Tapas plate

This dish consists of three elements, one hot, one room temperature, and one chilled.
They would present nicely on a small rectangular plate with a variety of sauces such as Moroccan Harissa (spicy).

Element 1:  Stuffed Tomatoes

This element is a play on the stuffed pepper I had on the menu at Chez Nous.   It may be stuffed with anything, however,  I am choosing grilled eggplant and roasted garlic to stick within the theme and compliment the other elements.

This element should be prepared the day before and then refrigerated.

4 Medium robust tomatoes (any colour), hollowed out.
1 small eggplant sliced into 1/4″ strips
1 head of garlic
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Hollow out the tomatoes,  you can use the pulp in a sauce, discard it, or use for another purpose.  Heat your oven to 375F and place the whole head of garlic on a baking tray until the skin begins to brown, or the individual cloves have soften (30min-1hr).

Slice the eggplant in a uniform thickness as much as possible.  Place the slices in a bowl and coat with sea salt, pepper and olive oil.  These can then be grilled on the BBQ or roasted in the oven.  Cook until translucent.

After the eggplant and garlic is cooled you can roughly chop 4-6 cloves of roasted garlic, the eggplant and parsley. Return it to the bowl and add balsamic vinegar to taste. Recheck seasoning. You may then stuff the tomatoes and refrigerate them.

Element 2: Scallop Ceviche

This element depends on freshness, preparation and timing.  All the elements need to be prepared ahead and served immediately once combined. While a ceviche is not cooked in the traditional (heated) method, its proteins are coagulated (cooked) by the acidic elements.
4 large (10/20 count) scallops, sliced into thin strips
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 red hot chili, minced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the ingredients and refrigerate.  Combine all ingredients in bowl minutes before serving.  Check seasoning and acidity, adjust where necessary.

Element 3: Summer Squash Fritters

1 Zucchini (or similar squash), julienned or grated
1 egg
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup Cilantro, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Stir the ingredients together in a bowl until a  thick batter is formed.  Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan and add enough canola oil to lightly coat the bottom.  Pour the batter into 3 inch “pancakes”, cook each side until golden brown. Remove when center is cooked. These can be reheated after, but it is best to cook them prior to serving.

Course 2: Goat (or Lamb) Tagine

A tagine is a traditional Moroccan “stew” or curry. It consists of meat, starch, legumes, fruits, vegetables and exotic spices. Details to follow in next article.

The rest of this recipe will be dealt with in my next article discussing the role of spices, and the cuisines of those nations that rely heavily on them. I will detail the making of a tagine,  and discuss appropriate wine pairings.

Course 3: Iced Trio
This dessert reflects the trio in the first course.  It consists of a fruit, a nut, and an insects’ work. It can be served with biscotti, cookies, and various kinds of tuiles/wafers.

Element 1: Burnt Honey Ice Cream

5 egg yolks
2 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup honey, caramelized
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the honey in a pan until it colours lightly, cool completely before use.  Beat together the egg yolks and burnt honey in mixing bowl.

Heat the milk and vanilla in a saucepan until it reaches boiling point, then simmer.  On a low simmer pour some of the milk into the egg mixture to temper, then pour back into saucepan. Cook on low and continue to stir until it thickens slightly without scrambling the egg yolks.

Remove from the heat, strain and leave to cool.

It is now ready to be churned in an ice cream maker.

This may also be accomplished with a stand mixer by freezing the workbowl, then partially freezing the mixture.  Mix the partially frozen mixture with the paddle every 30-45 minutes until it has a smooth ice cream texture.  Serve with pistachios on the plate.

Element 2: Apricot Gelato
1/2lb fresh picked apricots or peaches
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk or water

Pit the apricots and push them through a strainer to remove the skins, then mix the lemon juice into the fruit pulp. Simmer the water(or milk) and sugar for 10 minutes.  Let the syrup cool, mix it with the fruit pulp, and restrain the mixture. The mixture is then ready to place in your ice cream maker.

Element 3: Almond Granita
1/3 cup almond paste
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups water
1 ounce Amaretto

Place ingredients together in a blender until smooth, foamy, and white. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a square baking pan, discarding any solids in strainer.

Stir mixture, then freeze, stirring and crushing lumps with a fork every 30 minutes, until firm but not frozen hard, 2 to 3 hours.  Scrape with a fork to lighten texture, crushing any lumps.

If you like Chef Shawn’s recipe let us know here or you can email Chef Shawn at or

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