I previously posted about a BBQ Chicken recipe I was working on for MCL Restaurant & Bakery. But one of my biggest projects of 2011 was a Chicken Pot Pie. Now that it has become a regular menu item I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at what goes on in the test kitchen and explain the effort it takes to launch a new menu item.
Most new items go through a lengthy process which includes recipe development, product testing, recipe tweaking, more testing, and companywide rollout. In all, it can take up to a year to create a new menu item (which is what happened with the pot pie). However there are exceptions. Alterations to current recipes or new recipes that are similar to existing menu items may be fast tracked depending on customer feedback during testing and how much employee training is needed to make the new product. New recipes that prove more difficult to prepare or recipes that have a unique flavor profile usually take longer as we work to iron out all the details. A new item isn’t ready for launch until it can be replicated consistently and has a taste that appeals to customers.
The ideas for new menu items come from many places. Sometimes I get an urge to make a particular dish or I see a food trend and want to put my own spin on it, other times I try to perfect an existing recipe or find a more efficient way to make it. Necessity, the mother of invention, also plays a role. If an ingredient is no longer available or if the quality of an ingredient decreases, I’ll work with a recipe to develop another way to make it.
Once I have an idea, I’ll play around with the proportions, the ingredients and the cooking methods until I get the flavor just the way I want it. Then I share the new item with the MCL executives. If they think it has potential, a small amount will be made and sold at one store. Customers are asked for their feedback and we review this information to make any necessary changes. It can take several months until we feel we have enough positive responses to move to the second phase of testing.
At this point, I’ll type up the recipe and teach a select number of stores how to make the item. Not only are we looking for customer opinions, but we’re also checking to see if the new item is consistent from store to store. We don’t make our food at a central location and reheat it in each store, so it’s imperative that each restaurant be able to prepare, cook and serve the new item the same as the others. This phase of testing is a great time to identify issues with production. For the pot pies, customer feedback was good but the time it took to make each one was very high. I had to work with the bakers to streamline the process and make it more efficient. Only after all the problems have been resolved can the new item be rolled out to the entire company.