The Art Of The Menu

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20140929

At the family restaurant run by Ben Schott's in-laws just outside Trenton, New Jersey, there is no written menu. Once, during the war, Giacomo Rosati wrote out the dishes and their prices - not to show customers what was being served but to show what was being charged. The practice didn't last. That menu hangs decoratively but redundantly on the wall.

So, back in his New York neighbourhood, Ben learns that every menu tells its own story - quite literally in the curious menu collection of Bernard Freed. For forty odd years, Bernard wrote what he ate and how it tasted on the back of his menu alongside the film he saw after each meal. They're in the New York Public Library.

The menu is a compromise between cooking and commerce. Using artful language (scrumpets* anyone?) and clever graphics, it is simultaneously about - and not about - the food.

Ben meets a chef who writes menus and a menu designer who rarely uses one, discovering the tricks and secrets of that little piece of paper or fancily decorated card.

With The Homestead Inn's Giacomo and Peter Rosati; Birmingham-born, Manhattan-based chef April Bloomfield; The New York Public Library's Rebecca Federman who co-curates What's On The Menu?; graphic designer and menu sumpremo Matteo Bologna; Kate Krader, Restaurant Editor at Food and Wine magazine; and Eisenbergs lunch counter regular Mark Kirschner.

* Braised lamb breasts, breaded and deep fried with a little mint vinegar sauce on the side.

Reader: Tina Lohmann

Produced by Tamsin Hughes

A Testbed production for BBC Radio 4.