Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a restaurant menu versus a hotel banquet menu? Most of us don’t give it much thought, but it’s always on the mind of Executive Chef Randy Reed of Chicago’s Hotel Intercontinental. He oversees menus for the hotel’s three on-site restaurants and private events. Chef Randy shares how a new dish makes it on the menu, why a buffet or food station creates a challenge for them in the kitchen and how to keep meals interesting for groups that are staying at the hotel for several days.
Chicago’s Hotel Intercontinental Executive Chef Randy Reed has a lot on his plate since he oversees menus for the hotel’s three on-site restaurants and private events. He graciously took time out of his busy schedule to give us the insider scoop on how a new dish makes it on the menu, why a buffet or food station creates a challenge for them in the kitchen and how to keep meals interesting for groups that are staying at the hotel for several days.
“I constantly am thinking of new dishes and menu items to add to my current menu,” says Reed about his menu planning process. “I gather all of my ideas and sit down to begin writing the menu.”
Reed admits that the process, from concept to execution, isn’t always clear-cut or quick. It starts from taking ideas to drawing out plate presentations and preparing dishes for taste and pallet combinations. He continues tweaking before it finally makes it on paper.
Preparing a menu for banquets or special events takes a different skill set. Many clients draft contracts six months out or longer so Reed has to ensure the menu items the guests choose will still be in good condition months later when their event takes place.
Another point of differentiation is the size of the parties. “A banquet menu is usually a extremely large menu with many options for the clients to choose between multiple days of their conference,” Reed explains. “If a group is here for five days eating all of their meals, it is important to have plenty of options for them.”
A restaurant menu, on the other hand, offers more flexibility to play and can take into account seasonal variations more easily. Reed offers the example of purchasing 30 soft shell crabs and offering them as a special on the restaurant menu. “Once those crabs are gone, the servers are informed and will not serve them anymore,” he explains. “This flexibility can only be done in a restaurant atmosphere.”
Then we have the buffet versus the food station. Getting the set up right is just as important as what is served. “This is important because a lunch set up might look good for one buffet but many times I might have to set this for five or six different groups who have all decided to get the gluten-free lunch package,” he adds. “So it is important that you ensure there is enough equipment to be able to set multiple buffets if that occurs.”
Each chef has his or her favorite dish. For Reed, in a formal setting, he loves a nicely prepared foie gras. “I love this product and the creativity of chefs using so many unique flavors preparing it,” he admits.
Chicago also is home to some delicious street food and Reed especially loves the city’s homegrown tacos. “There is just nothing better than hitting a guy on the corner of the street throwing together some great street tacos,” he says.
Where To Go In Chicago
The Hotel Intercontinental in Chicago’s location is prime. It’s literally on the Magnificent Mile which makes it pretty convenient to see many of the city’s attractions, including Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Art Institute and more. Water Tower is a few blocks north as is the Hancock Building.
It’s also a hop, skip and a jump away from the Chicago River and Reed never misses an opportunity to recommend visitors (family included) to take an architectural boat tour or visit Navy Pier (also within walking distance). I’ll admit, the architectural boat tours are pretty fantastic and almost always the one thing I tell every single visitor to do while in town. Even locals do them at least once a year because it’s a fun way to take in our city and you always learn something new about the Windy City.
In addition to all of the attractions within walking distance, Reed feels it’s worth the visit to the Hotel Intercontinental. While most people hit up the Chicago History Museum (which is another great museum on, well, Chicago’s history), this particular small museum does a nice job explaining Chicago’s history as it relates to the infamous Chicago fire and how a single cow was responsible for burning the entire city down to ashes. And unlike the larger museums, its permanent exhibits are focused on the Chicago fire. It’s also free to enter but note its hours are very limited (usually the fourth Saturday of every month, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.).
Reed oversees the menu of three on-site restaurants at Hotel Intercontinental. Continental Restaurant seats 115 at the casual dining locale; while business casual can often be found at the more upscale Michael Jordan Steakhouse (yes, that Michael Jordan) and reservations are recommended but not required. For happy hour or a night cap, Eno wine bar offers wine, and what I call the three C’s: cheese, chocolate and charcuterie plates.