Every week, pretty much without fail, we have people who come into Culinary Dreams and ask for a copy of our menu to take with them.  Usually, they say they want to give it to someone.   And we gladly give them one of our Delights-to-Go menus.  We tell them that the menu is only good through the current Friday, and they typically look at us with a quizzical “what’s up with that?” kind of look.  And we explain that it’s just the way we do it at Culinary Dreams.  We also tell them that we have an email list that we send one weekly update to, which contains links to our website’s updated menus.  And we always encourage them to check out what is on the menu weekly, by checking our Facebook page or our website.  However, we do realize that not everyone living in our community has a fascination with Facebook, or spends any time on a computer.  Even though that is true for many people, we still believe that the advantages of rotating our menu on a weekly basis still far outweigh keeping the menu the same from week to week.

So why do we rotate our Delights-to-Go menu every week?  We see a number of advantages, to both us as providers and to our customers as consumers.

1) By taking advantage of what is “in season” we believe we are providing our customers menu items with the best ingredients that we can.  One of the best benefits to us living in Baldwin County is that there are still a lot of farmers in the area.  Our family has had the privilege of befriending several of the farmers in the Belforest community, as well as in Fairhope, and Loxley.  If we can get something fresh and directly from one of the farmers in our area, we are going to do that if possible.  That is why, for instance, you will see Chef Dede putting Satsuma (sometimes she calls it “Citrus”) Vinaigrette on the menu during December and January, and why she makes Blueberry Vinaigrette in the late spring and summer.  It is also why you might see “Tailgate Vegetable” Soup on the menu in the summer, and Chicken and White Bean Chili on the menu in the winter.


Chef Dede with some Craine Creek Farm lettuce…

A great illustration of this is where we purchase our lettuces.  Most of our customers who have “been with us for a while” know that we use Craine Creek Farm in Loxley to supply almost all of our lettuce, and that Craine Creek Farm grows its lettuces hydroponically.  If you were to go to Craine Creek Farm, you would see all of their lettuces are grown in little PVC “pots” that are placed on long rows of tables inside their greenhouse, and that water and the nutrients circulate throughout the system, fertilizing the roots of the lettuces that are hanging out of the little pots and in the circulating water and nutrients.  Probably most people understand that well enough about growing vegetables hydroponically.  But did you know that Craine Creek Farm grows over 200 different varieties of lettuces every year, and that at any one time they are growing at least 25 different varieties of lettuces?  Why would they do that, if the lettuces are grown inside of a greenhouse all year long?  The answer is that the different varieties just know, “Hey, I’m a winter variety, I’m going to grow better in January and February,” and others know that they are spring varieties and so on.  Thus, Craine Creek is always rotating its varieties based on the season, their experiences with certain varieties, and their continuous research as to the best tasting and best yielding lettuces that they can grow.  So, we are always getting their finest lettuces, all year around.  We think by having our menu items “in season” that our customers are able to taste the difference, all year around.

2)  A second reason we are always rotating our menu items is that we want to always keep things “fresh.”  One of the taglines you will see on our Delights-to-Go menu every week is, “Fresh Taste, Minimum Waste.”  By rotating our menu items over the course of basically a four to six week cycle, we can best assure that we are delivering on that promise.

3)  Variety is “the spice of life.”  Rotating one’s diet is generally better for the body for a number of reasons.  Just like one does to make exercise more beneficial for the body by varying the routine—for instance working on your lower body  and jogging every other day, and working on your upper body and “core” other days in the week can provide better results.  Or, like some people prefer, they will play tennis one evening, perhaps ride a bicycle one morning, play basketball with friends on a Saturday, and walk their neighborhood another time during the week, our bodies just respond better to variety.  We think that is also true for the foods you eat each week.  We believe that it is better to “change things up.”  For instance, that is why when you look at our menu from week to week, Chef Dede tries to have a meatless soup one week and a soup with meat in it the next.  And, while she generally has a meatless “main course” menu item each week, she varies the dish styles and flavor profiles.  It is also why perhaps you will see on the first week in the month, of the two main course menu items with meat in them, Chef Dede will prepare a chicken dish and a shrimp dish, and then the next week, you will see a beef dish and a chicken dish, and on the third week in a given month, you will find a pork dish and a chicken dish, and the fourth week, it’s a shrimp dish and a beef dish.


Varied flavor profiles are a highlight at Culinary Dreams!

We also know, that just like our bodies need the change-up in what we are eating for better nutrition, it is also true that mentally, we need to change things up on a regular basis.  That’s not to say that if one especially likes our Pesto Baked Chicken, and because that person loves it so much, he/she decides to pre-order 8 four servings of it…yes, that kind of thing does happen…that we won’t accommodate those types of orders.  Seriously, though, how many people like to eat the same thing night after night, with no variety?  One of our best customers says to us that he doesn’t want to get “burned out” on his favorites, and we agree with him.  Did you know that so far, Chef Dede has offered over 250 menu items?  And that does not include all of the specialty orders that we get from our customers who have restrictive dietary needs, such as an allergy to dairy, or tree nuts, or eggs, or a combination of all three.  Chef Dede changes things up because she knows you enjoy Culinary Dreams more because we do that, and because she loves to get feedback from our customers as to what they like and would like for her to make for them.  Two examples of menu items in our regular rotation that came directly from people asking Chef Dede to make it are her Peppadew® Cheese and her Cajun Chicken Pasta.  If someone had not asked, it probably would not be in the regular menu rotation.  Yes, we think variety is good!

4)  Rotating our menu means we can appeal to a larger section of our community.  I know I am biased, but I have had the benefit of eating Chef Dede’s food for 31 years.  And I can tell you very honestly and proudly that she has a real passion for what she is doing in the kitchen.  Even when she may not feel particularly well physically, once she gets her apron on, her dishes out, her oven on, and her food going, she is one happy person.  She loves what she does, and she absolutely loves doing what she does for our customers—you who she has befriended, and who she genuinely cares for.  She knows that many of our customers have a fondness for Latin-inspired foods, while others of you prefer Italian food and others like down-home Southern cooking.  If you know Chef Dede at all, I think you get what I am saying here.  But it’s fair to say that she constantly wants to improve her dishes and for them to be as authentic as they can be to a certain style and flavor profile.  Again, I know I am biased, but when I have one of her Chinese dishes (she actually prepares a lot more Chinese-inspired dishes for us at home) I personally think they are as good, if not better than the best Chinese restaurant from which you can eat around here.  And if you have eaten any of Chef Dede’s Chicken Enchiladas, or Pork Carnitas Enchiladas, or her Corn and Black Bean Enchiladas, you would probably agree that they are at least on par with any Mexican-inspired restaurant here in this area.  Chef Dede has worked extra hard on her Marinara and her Italian dishes, and I personally think they are consistently as tasty as any I have ever had…anywhere.  Having grown up in South Louisiana, I grew to appreciate a good gumbo and a good jambalaya.  This week, on our menu, we have two Cajun-inspired dishes—Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, and Shrimp and Andouille Jambalaya—and I told Chef Dede today after eating her Chicken and Andouille Gumbo for lunch, that it was as good a gumbo as I have ever put in my mouth.  We think that by rotating our menu items on a regular basis, we have an appeal to a much broader customer base.


We once had an “Edible Science” Cooking Camp at Culinary Dreams

5)  Perhaps the most significant reason we rotate our menu items is because it’s the “DNA” of Chef Dede.  By rotating our menu items, this sparks Chef Dede’s creativity and new dishes and menu items just seem to appear from nowhere.  Well, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but I am amazed at what Chef Dede knows about making good food that tastes good!  To be quite transparent with you, Chef Dede is always studying recipes, spice combinations, substitutions, cooking for 50, cooking for one or two, and the like.  I call her the “mad scientist” in the kitchen.  When she was in Culinary School, one of the terms she taught me is molecular gastronomy.  One website imparts “Molecular gastronomy is defined as the study and application of chemistry, physics, and other scientific principles on cooking.” (http://www.culinaryschools.com/what-is-molecular-gastronomy-definition).  Chef Dede would get us to watch episodes of Alton Brown’s Good Eats and in addition to being thoroughly entertained by Mr. Brown, we would learn some pretty amazing things about the science of cooking and the importance of having sound culinary technique as you prepare food.  It is a fair statement to make about Chef Dede is that she always desires to transform food to a higher level than one’s normal expectations—to take it up a notch or two.  An example of Chef Dede “transforming” food in the kitchen is her aforementioned Peppadew® Cheese.  She experimented with her recipe for several weeks and the kind-hearted folks in the Fountain Square Shopping Center were her “guinea pigs,” I guess you could say.  Not content to make a pimento cheese like other people might make, she settled on her own recipe that uses Peppadews® instead of pimentos.  Chef Dede has worked tirelessly on her vinaigrette recipes and her homemade bread recipes to perfect them.  And just when I think they can’t get any better, I’ll “hear” her thinking, and before you know, she has made some changes that once again, ratchet up the taste of a particular menu item just that much more.  Because Chef Dede feels that freedom to be creative in her own kitchen, she translates that liberty into new menu items all the time.  And just when I think she has settled on a menu rotation, she adds a new soup, or a new chicken dish.  She’ll say something like, “I got some fresh butternut squash, and I want to see how it’s going to taste if I make a soup with it,” and before you know it, we have Butternut Squash and Corn Soup on our menu for that week.

We hope that you are attracted to Culinary Dreams, first and foremost, because of the quality of the food that Chef Dede prepares each and every week.  We also hope that our service to you is second to none.  That is of utmost importance to us.  But, we also hope an added bonus of why you like Culinary Dreams is that we like changing it up from week to week with our Delights-to-Go, which means that when you purchase our Delights-to-Go, you never have to settle for the “same old, same old.”

If you have thoughts about this blog post you want to share; we’d love to get your feedback.  And if there is a “secret family recipe” that you would like for Chef Dede to prepare for you…hey…she’ll think of it as an honor to be able to try something new and work some of her culinary je ne sais quoi to bring forth a dish you will truly enjoy every last bite.

–Frank Trotter

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