September 8, 2017

Building A Better Tasting Menu For Special Events

Tasting menus offer an excellent opportunity for a professional chef to use a restaurant’s kitchen to its fullest capacity and make the most of a variety of ingredients. It’s also a chance to display personal skills in both cooking and menu composition while also potentially centering the menu around a certain type of food, seasonal feeling or other concept.

Many Austin culinary arts students might wonder how to best craft a tasting menu that will not only wow diners, but demonstrate personal preferences and achievements in a professional and successful way. For help making an excellent tasting menu, consider the following advice:

The building blocks of a great tasting menu

A clear focal point

As chef Naomi Pomeroy told Eater, a tasting menu should feature pieces that fit together well and offer a positive, cohesive experience for everyone involved. Pomeroy’s decade of experience building a new tasting menu twice a month at Beast, her Portland, Oregon, restaurant, means she’s especially qualified to provide such advice.

One critical element in the journey that is a tasting menu is a peak or climax of some kind. The meal should build in its early courses toward an especially powerful moment that stems from the featured dish of the evening being served and eaten.

Practically, this can mean the largest or most nutritionally dense dish served over the course of the menu – frequently but not exclusively a protein – is its focal point, although there are plenty of opportunities for chefs to experiment with placement and order. The peak of the tasting menu doesn’t have to be the most substantial part of the meal, but it should most strongly represent the concept and fusion of tastes involved.

Table full of small plates.Crafting a truly memorable tasting menu is a goal for many rising chefs.

Research and development

A tasting menu is much different than the traditional dining experience with which the average eater is much more experienced. A single choice is made: to enjoy the tasting menu, mostly without any separate selections – except for supplemental items also contained in the tasting menu – or substitutions. For that reason, it’s vital that chefs understand the menu from top to bottom. The best way to do so is with repeated tastings while remaining open to change.

A tasting menu can easily extend into six or more courses, meaning each dish is a building block that must be recognized both individually and as part of a greater whole. Chefs should keep this in mind as they initially craft and then fine-tune their menus. Perhaps the soup would be better positioned first on the menu instead of third, for example, or maybe the charcuterie board should be replaced with roasted vegetables as a lead-in to the featured course.

There are many potential changes and alterations to make from the first crafting of the menu to its final form. Those options will change for each tasting menu, and chefs must remain open to the idea of a substitution or different ordering of courses if it means a better final product. The goal of presenting an exciting, interesting and delicious series of courses, from the first to the last, should be the main focus.

Take drink pairings into account

The New York Times said choosing a wine pairing is an increasingly complicated endeavor for some diners. When it comes to a varied, multi-course tasting menu, a feeling of confusion or uncertainty can arise. As a chef, you should work around this issue by making pairing options part of the menu, whether by coordinating with your restaurant’s sommelier or other staff involved in the preparation and execution of the menu. This approach allows eaters to focus on the food instead of worrying about which wine to have with each course.