I can see why many restaurateurs open multiple locations. Besides the financial rewards (or the financial risk looking from another perspective) it gives you the opportunity to feed many passions. Whenever I'm working on menus I find myself with a sort of culinary ADD, one moment entranced with Indian flavors, another with fried chicken, then Slavic-inspired followed by Vietnamese, well you get the picture.
I don't want the restaurant menu to be a confused mess of cultures however so I keep trying to redefine who we are in relation to where we are and who our customers are. In doing so I look back to childhood food memories to draw on.
I realized very few of my food memories are about family, or home-cooked meals other than ones I cooked myself. It seems all those self-cooked meals taught me valuable lessons.
I vividly remember my first "real" culinary foray at 9 or 10 years old. I was to make dinner and after studying the Joy of Cooking decided on Chicken Paprikash with Spaetzle. The chicken was great and I still love to eat it today. I didn't realize you had to cool the spaetzle after initial cooking so it congealed into a giant mass not long after dinner. Fortunately 2 busloads of people arrived that evening (we lived in a small commune and some friends were passing through the area) and devoured the entire thing.
I remember also cooking a steak for myself at perhaps 11 or so. Shirtless, in the Northern Florida wet heat. Hot oil, tossed in steak, blistered chest.
We lived all over the Eastern part of the states and going out to eat could mean fried catfish and hush puppies at roadside stands, BBQ brisket, beans and slaw with Coca-Cola at Bonnie's Beanery somewhere in or outside of Austin, TX, blintzes at Ratner's in NYC where I examined the menu for a interminable length of time until someone asked what I was looking for. "The meat" I replied, and then tried to understand the concept of a restaurant that didn't serve meat.
Before you get the idea my childhood was spent exploring delicious food all over the country let me assure you there was plenty of KFC, McDonald's, leaden homemade 100% whole wheat bread (one of my favorite jokes about being a hippie kid is you grow up thinking a Tiger's Milk bar actually tastes good), and of course the good old school lunch program, without which I may have perished.
As an adolescent on my own on the streets of NY I tried, rather indiscriminately I'd say, all kinds of things. Pierogis with a hangover on Avenue A, cabbage soup with bits of chicken and lots of dill at Kiev after playing CBGB's, the Greek diner on 17th St after Max's Kansas City, first discovery of sushi, stuffed derma and monumental deli sandwiches at the 2nd Avenue deli, pizza all over but especially at Stromboli on 2nd Avenue, Indian food on 6th St, where one side of the entire block was nothing but Indian restaurants, gyros and Italian ices, Philly cheesteaks, sausage and peppers sandwiches at the Feast of San Genaro, fried calzones, all the wonders of Chinatown.
After moving to California I was exposed to a more real version of Latin American food and all kinds of Asian cuisines. Going to cooking school solidly grounded me in French technique and a trip to France made me fall in love with Paris and French food.
So, is it any wonder I can't make up my mind what to put on the menu? I'd love to have a restaurant for each of the things I really love which are (at the moment), Southern food, Eastern European-Slavic food, Jewish delicatessen, all kinds of Asian cuisine, Charcuterie and Mediterranean. But I don't have enough money for that and there aren't enough customers here to go around so until/if we decamp these will have to be on hold.