Innovation in the Kitchen

Last month MCEC launched its new menu planning guide.  Tailored to our customers and created with only the finest quality, locally sourced produce in mind, each dish is a reflection of the culture, craft and quirkiness inherent in Melbourne and our amazing team of chefs.

Our very own Executive Chef Peter Haycroft explains how he and his team insert innovation into their culinary craft to provide change that adds value to our customers.

What is innovation to you?

Looking for a better, smarter way of doing things.  I am always looking to introduce new things for the good of the team and the product and as a result we are constantly forward planning and evolving our offering.

How do you and the team approach a new menu?

We use our seasonal menu to test out ideas.  Created for autumn/winter and spring/summer, the seasonal menus are separate to the menu planning guide and provide alternatives for the working lunch, plated lunch and canapé menus.  This allows us to try out ideas that the team have collated and see if they are appealing to customers prior to being a regular item in the planning guide.

Our culinary development is ongoing and we are constantly trying new things.  The Customer Experience & Optimisation and Planning teams keep us innovative with bespoke menu requests and ideas that come from our customers.

What is your process for tracking and converting new ideas into great menu items?

Tested and approved recipes are kept in a centralised folder so that they can be drawn upon when it comes to putting the annual menus together.  We use our retail outlets Shed and Plenary Café, along with our staff cafeteria M Lounge, as a testing ground for evolving menu ideas and our employees provide a great source of feedback.

The format of the customer Menu Tasting is such that they get to see the dishes they have chosen plated up as they will be on the night and we encourage them to offer feedback during the tasting.  They might ask to add a vegetable to one dish and move a sauce to another.  This keeps us focused on our customers.  Food must be the first thing we think of and based on this we evolve the ideas by consistently testing to get it right.

Where do you find food inspiration?

Our locally sourced produce and suppliers give us inspiration with the great food they have on offer.  Our team has a variety of cultural backgrounds and you’ll see influences from Thailand, Italy and France (to name a few) in many of our dishes.

The media is also a good source of inspiration.  Cooking shows are representative of what trends are emerging and what appeals to everyday people.  Social media and new books and magazines keep the team up to date also.

What has the feedback been like from the new menu launch in February?

We are still in a transition period in terms of customers being able to select the new items but the main feedback is that customers are excited and looking forward to trying the dishes.

The 100 Mile Market Garden menu has drawn some attention.  This is a buffet style lunch menu where all major ingredients have been sourced from local farms and markets within 100 miles of our venue.   It really underlines our commitment to locally sourced products and suppliers and provides a good talking point.

A good menu needs a good story!

What is your favourite meal?

When I was a kid my parents owned a pub in North Melbourne.  They had an Asian chef and I used to help to wrap the cutlery in the pub ready for service.  As a result, some of my favourite food is Chinese or Cantonese based.  Chicken and cashews was always my first choice but nowadays anything with oyster sauce is a winner!