The University Record, October 8, 2001

Appetizers take bite out of main meal, University chef says

By Noel Rozny

Asian tasting plate with plum sauce, glazed chicken, summer roll, peppercorn tuna sashimi and fice spice duck breast.
Restaurant patrons all over the country may soon notice changes in the menus at their favorite eateries. Appetizers, once merely a prelude to the main course, have taken center stage. As more and more diners substitute hors d’oeuvre for entrees, proprietors are re-working their menus to accommodate this growing demand.

Stephen Taylor, technical chef for University Catering, attributes the success of this trend to several factors. Starting in the late 1990s, Taylor says, increasing globalization brought a desire for international foods that were not traditionally offered. While many proprietors wanted to expand their menus to include these items, they also wanted to maintain the fundamentals. Adding international flavors in the form of appetizers was a way for them to fulfill the demand without sacrificing the original menu.

Chili-rubbed lobster medallions with black bean sauce and corn relish.
Hors d’oeuvres, Taylor says, also have attracted diners because of their cost-effectiveness. Today’s educated diner is more willing to try different items than in the past. There is, however, a risk of spending money on a meal that the patron may not like. Since appetizers are less expensive than other menu items, they allow patrons to try new and different recipes without spending a lot of money.

Appetizers also lessen the possibility that, if the customer is unsatisfied with his order, he will go home hungry. Diners have the option of ordering several different types of hors d’oeuvres, and they can still get a salad or entree. Even if diners are disappointed with what they ordered, they can still look forward to the main course.

Stacked Ceasar salad with garlic roasted shrimp. (Photos by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services)
For chefs, the movement toward appetizers presents many new and interesting possibilities. While conventional main courses can be limiting, appetizers can incorporate a range of different flavors, styles and looks. The room for experimentation with new recipes also has grown, as health-conscious patrons move away from the traditional fried appetizer.

For Taylor, planning this part of the menu is one of the best parts of his job. “I enjoy it more because I can be more creative, especially with presentation.”