When it’s time to create a new menu, Clint Woods aims straight for the heart: the product.
“We surround ourselves with great product and go from there,” says Woods, VP of culinary for Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts.
If it’s simply a seasonal menu tune-up for one of the company’s 15 concepts, the culinary team will stock the test kitchen with the freshest crops, then brainstorm the possibilities.
When it’s a whole new concept, the immersion goes a bit deeper.
“We pull everything out of the test kitchen and try to create a virtual restaurant. We’ll bring in everything from uniforms to plateware, silverware, ingredients, the plans for the restaurant, the color scheme — anything we can get to make us think about the concept,” Woods says.
“Then we start cooking,” he continues. “We don’t have much of an agenda or a formal process.”
Fox Restaurant Concepts CEO Sam Fox will stop by to taste and offer feedback, and recipes get refined to the point where they can be offered as specials in one of the company’s 50-plus restaurants. There, new items get tested to make sure they will scale up well in a busy kitchen.
“We make everything 30 or 40 times before it ends up on a menu,” Woods says.
The culinary staff finds ideas from in many corners — reading, eating, visiting farms, new product offerings from vendors — and their own imaginations.
“We all cook at home nonstop, and a lot of the things we make at home make it onto the menu,” Woods adds.
Having so many concepts, with some of them located in the same neighborhood, magnifies the need to get creative.
“You want to go to your comfort zone, menu things that are proven,” he says. “But you have to be better than that and force yourself to use new ingredients. Occasionally we’ll have a dish that similar, but it’s really our goal to create new flavors and use new ingredients.”
Woods says Fox’s latest brand, Flower Child, is his current favorite project. He likes the versatility of the “healthy food for a happy world” menu, which gives the guest the freedom to customize grains, bowls and wraps in countless ways.
“Everything we put on the menu, I love,” he says.