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The tasting menu concept ... is it doable?


Gifted Gourmet
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So? Is this idea something you might wish to try, albeit on a small scale, at home for your friends and/or family?

Pros? Cons? :rolleyes:

Any ideas how to begin?

Your menu?

I think it has some real possibilities for a food adventure! And the discussion! :wink:

I want to leave customers thinking: 'I wish I had just one more bite of that… Even more satisfying than teasing the palate is leaving diners with a lasting memory... The bottom line is experiencing pleasure and creating memories.” - Thomas Keller.

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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My husband and I host an annual New Year's Eve dinner (this year will be our 12th). Typically it's:

hors d'oeuvre

soup

salad

entree

dessert

chocolates/champagne

And lots of wine :biggrin:

But in the past year we've been to several wine/tasting dinners with several more courses than the above. He thinks a Tasting Dinner for NY would be GREAT!!

He doesn't cook, really, tho. So I am trying to figure out how to do this. I'm looking forward to some ideas from the group here on eGullet. Cuz I think I might be kind of fun.

Laurie

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I do a holiday party every year and invite 200 of my closest friends :raz:

I basically cook for about 4 days the last three about 20 hours a day. I set up a website for people to bring there own signature dishes.

I then setup tables or at least sides of tables by cuisine type.

For instance on the Main table I had Japanse on one section, Chinese on the other and Texas "Bubba" on the rest of the table.

Then on another table I had Greek, Italian, Indian etc.

I encourage people to post their recipes on the website.

Last year's website http://www.webwolvez.com/

Never trust a skinny chef

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Yes, its perfectly possible, if hard work.

Its faster if there are two of you in the kitchen, and either LOTS of crokery and cutlery or a fast way of washing and recycling them.

An example 14 course dinner

Traditionally small and larger course alternate; its easier if the small courses are cold or can be plated quickly or in advance.

1. Palate cleanser

2. Amuse

3. Oysters or clams or caviar (or even a special seasonal fruit)

4. Soup

5. Fish

6. Salad

7. Game

8. Savoury Sorbet

9. Meat

10 Light pudding

11. Heavier Pudding

12 Cheeses

13 Fruit and Desert (or a savoury)

14 Coffee and petit four

Of course, each course can be doubled, thus you could serve two different fish dishes, one after the other such as a smoked fish and then a fresh fish, or two different meats, such as duck leg confit, followed by the grilled breast.

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To paraphrase Twain (at least I think it was Twain) "everytime I start thinking about doing a tasting menu, I lay down until the urge goes away."

Frankly, my kitchen is just too damn small. And I would need to hire help to pull something like it off. The closest thing I've done is a meal focusing on a single ingredient and then worked it into my usual 4 or 5 courses. But nothing was individually plated as I want a chance to sit with my guests and enjoy the meal.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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We did a 10-course menu a while back (see here), in a tiny apartment kitchen. It's a lot of work, but I had a lot of fun doing it.

But even our normal dinner parties run about five or six courses. They take a lot of planning and time, so we don't do them nearly as often as I'd like!

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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I do a tasting menu every year for Thanksgiving dinner. It is a lot of work, but the key is planning ahead (especially concerning dinnertime logistics) and also making as many things ahead of time as you can. Making sure the portions are small enough is also important

This is my Thanksgiving dinner from last year.

Assorted Crudités

Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico, Viticoltori Nino Franco, NV

– – –

Kumamoto Oyster On The Half-Shell With Cucumber Granita

Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lies, Cuvee Vielles Vignes, Domaine Clos des Briords, 2002

– – –

Cauliflower Soup With Seared Diver Scallop And Curry Oil

Saumur Blanc “La Papareille,” Domaine Saint-Vincent, 2002

– – –

Mixed Herb Salad With Shrimp Ceviche

Saumur Blanc “La Papareille,” Domaine Saint-Vincent, 2002

– – –

Toasted Corn And Stilton Soufflé

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts With Guanciale and Chive/Oregano Vinaigrette

Bourgogne Rouge, Domaine Alain Hudelot-Noellat, 2000

– – –

Lemon-Thyme Sorbet

Moscato d'Asti “Vigneto Biancospino,” Azienda Agricola Dante Rivetti, Piemonte, 2002

– – –

Turkey Two Ways With Cornbread Dressing, Foie Gras And Black Truffle Carpaccio

Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup “Le Rollier,” Domaine Mas Foulaquier, 2001

Sonoma Valley Red Wine “Albarello,” H. Coturri & Sons, 2001

– – –

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Cranberry Cheesecake

Pecan Tart

Coffee

– – –

Palmiers and Chocolate Truffles

Grappa, Scotch, Bourbon, Etc.

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(especially concerning dinnertime logistics)

No kidding! Even for our normal dinner parties, I draw up a big list which I put on the fridge. It's got timings on it, a complete to-do list with "must be done by" times or "after this time" notes, and usually I also draw pictures of the platings I want to do (sketches, at any rate). I even try and set up timings that are flexible (as in "when guests arrive, start the oil heating" or whatever). That was after one too many dinners where the guests arrived at 6 and finally got to eat at 8!

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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I've done two that I've documented (and several others I've haven't bothered to document):

10 Courses based on Salvador Dali's cookbook, Les Diners de Gala

and

10 Courses based on the Kabbalah (this, by the way, was pre-Madonna days!)

It really isn't that difficult -- I've also done 18 course Moroccan which is infinitely easier...

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To paraphrase Twain (at least I think it was Twain) "everytime I start thinking about doing a tasting menu, I lay down until the urge goes away."

:laugh:

I'm with you. We have a small house, with a small kitchen, and we don't have enough dishes...well we might but don't want to wash them. And formal entertaining in general is pretty much off my radar until the kids are older.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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it can be tough, especially when you're expected to dine at the table also instead of plating the next course. I tend to limit myself to maybe 6 courses or so-not a full blown menu-especially if i have no help. I tend to get frustrated with the little things that aren't done correctly at presentation-so enlisting family is a bad idea for me. Its tough for me to seperate home and the kitchen when i'm cooking;).

Pre-plating-if possible-and hot and cold holding are the key to pulling it off without a hitch.

hth, danny

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it can be tough, especially when you're expected to dine at the table also instead of plating the next course.

Conversely, it can be a good way to not have to give up having fun in the kitchen just to sit and listen to people's same old ramblings and cross-talking. :wink:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Conversely, it can be a good way to not have to give up having fun in the kitchen just to sit and listen to people's same old ramblings and cross-talking. :wink:

It is true that sometimes the lobster on the kitchen counter can be a better and more entertaining companion, particularly after you've imbibed a few or more tastings of the fruit of the vine (all in the interest of research, of course).

It makes for a really satisfyingly fun time if you hypnotise him to stand on his head in seeming worship to listen, mesmerised, while you tell him your confidences, stories and philosophies.

A occasional slight wave of an extended skinny little red lobster leg is all that is needed for happy encouragement.

And besides, he'd likely rather listen than be boiled.

Just an idea, mind you.

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To be serious for just one moment, I'll weigh in that tasting menus can be done in small spaces (but also add that probably not if there are children around...they would have to be shipped off to China for a while if that were an option).

For three years in a row, in a one-bedroom smallish apartment in Brooklyn Heights, I had an April Fool's Day tasting menu party. It was planned to show tastes that would surprise and delight, with the added interest of the foods not being what you would expect them to be...i.e. a pizza that looked real but that was really 'sweet' rather than savory, etc etc...

The thing that was called a kitchen in this apartment was attached and open to the main room of the apartment, which luckily had large french doors overlooking a garden so that people would want to wander out there and away from me stressing slightly in this thing called a kitchen.

Buffet-style with changes in-between courses was the only way it worked...and the only way it could ever have been done (for 20 or so people) was to plan like a general waging a war.

The place looked like a war had occured when it was all over...including my small black Pomeranian dog...he looked like a wobbling and battered soldier, for he kept escaping from the bedroom into the crowd and drinking their alcoholic drinks when they were not looking (you know how these German/Scandanavian type dogs can be....total lushes if they have a chance).

Great fun though...will do it again when there are no 'little ones' about underfoot!

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It can be done, but it can't be done using Keller's cookbook. :biggrin:

Seriously, though, TFL cookbook is way too labor-intensive and the recipes have too many delicate last-minute steps. Note. for example, that Keller can't simply pass around a cheese plate for the cheese course, he has to cook the stuff.

Sam's menu is great example of how to pull off a many-course meal and still have time to enjoy yourself during the meal (after cooking like crazy for days leading up to it, no doubt). That sorbet just before the entree is not just a nice touch seen too little these days, it's a breather that allows the cook to focus on the main course. Soups are a great friend; and many are the nights when the sweetest moment has been when I realized that all that was left to do for the next hour was to pass the salad one direction and the cheese the other.

The silver and plate problem is a pressing one. We press whatever we can find into service: soup out of coffee cups so the salad bowls can be held open for the fish in mushroom stock, or whatever. And silver gets recycled, quickly.

I don't think it's possible to this do without a trusted sous. I'm lucky, bedies being a great cook, my wife has a talent for things like menu planning and plating food well. Also, having a teenager whom you can press into service as waiter/busboy/dishwasher is helpful, too.

Finally, there's fine line between attention to detail and becoming so anal that you throw your own rhythm off, one hard to see after 12 hours of cooking and a few glasses of wine, when eight people are waiting for the next course. Kicking things is not going to make another bunch of basil magically appear; you'll just have to do a different garnish. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that it's about your friends having a good time, not your own ego, and put the damn striped bass in herbed buerre blanc before it gets cold. (OK, maybe I'm the only person who has these little moments).

Also, beware: cook less than you think you need. Unless you've a tableful of eGulleters, appetites can flag.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Apologies in advance for long,long post, but the following is an article I wrote some time ago on this subject. Although the article was originally directed at a professional audience, the rules are much the same for the at-home cook.

Best,

Rogov

Restaurateurs and chefs love showing off their talents, and one of the ways in which they can best do this is by offering a menu de degustation, literally, a "tasting menu" in which a meal can consist of as many as ten or twelve different courses. Such menus, which are a challenge to any serious chef, also offer an exquisite advantage to diners, for they give an opportunity, in a single meal, to sample a broad range of the dishes offered by the restaurant. Best of all from the diner's point of view, even though such meals are invariably expensive, they involve far less of a cash outlay than if they had to return to the same restaurant three, four or even five times to sample the same range of dishes.

Contrary to popular belief, the roots of the degustation menu do not go back to the Middle-Ages. Even though it was then considered appropriate to serve 12, 16 or even 20 courses at a single meal. Unlike true degustation meals, those Medieval dinners were unplanned and unsophisticated and, because they relied on terribly heavy sauces, would be considered basically inedible by any sophisticated diner today. There is a good chance that the very first versions of what we now know as the degustation menu, were those offered between 1880 and 1910 by the great chef George- Auguste Escoffier. Escoffier, whose restaurants were in the Ritz Hotels of Paris and London, was the chef whose self-appointed task was to satisfy the appetites of the most royal and the most wealthy members of European society. Escoffier loved nothing better than impressing his guests. He saw no reason why they could not start their meal at six in the evening, work their way through as many as fifteen full courses and finally leave his restaurant at three in the morning.

On one occasion in 1908, for example, Escoffier prepared a special tasting menu at the London Ritz for twelve guests, including among them the future King George V. After opening the meal with melon halves filled with Beluga caviar, he went on to serve two soups, the first a clear turtle soup and the second a cold veloute of chicken soup. The next course was of roast chickens that had been stuffed with wild rice and truffles, and this was followed by a course of Welsh lamb that was served with fresh peas. A lemon- ginger sorbet was served and this was followed in turn by trout that had been filled with fresh herbs before grilling, duckling breasts in port wine aspic and quails with grapes. After another sorbet, this time of pink grapefruits, the waiters served artichoke hearts in a delicate mustard sauce and a lettuce salad that had been sprinkled over with a mint and honey flavored vinaigrette sauce. In addition to peaches that had been poached in vanilla sauce, the dessert tray also included petits fours and a selection of fruits.

That Escoffier was a culinary genius, perhaps the greatest of our century, is beyond question, and perhaps without his having being consciously aware of it, this meal set the pattern for the modern degustation menu. If there was a fault to such meals it was only that every course was a full one - two large bowls of soup for, half a chicken, two whole roast quails, and half a kilo of lamb for each diner. One suspects that by the time they had finished their chicken, most people had already become anesthetized and could not even dream of the eight courses yet to come. It would also prove inconvenient for most people to take up to nine hours for a single meal. Fortunately for both chefs and diners, Escoffier's rules have been modified, and even though a degustation meal may still consist of as many courses, each course is far lighter and far more refreshing than in Escoffier's time. Nor do most degustation meals last more than three hours, a time span most people willing give to a great meal.

As there is validity to the adage that states that a chef is in charge of the pleasure of his clients from the moment they enter his restaurant, there is even more validity to this in the case of the tasting menu. When ordering from the regular a la carte menu, clients have all sorts of options from which to choose. They can build their meal from whatever combination of dishes they choose and, rightly or wrongly, can let either their caprice of their logic determine the order of courses. In the case of the degustation menu, however, clients place themselves far more fully into the hands of the chef and more or less waive such privileges, thus leaving the responsibility for nearly all decision making to the chef, for it is he who determines what dishes are to be served and in what order. Several years before his death, Alain Chapel observed that "a degustation menu is, in a sense, the most personal offspring of a chef ... it is his creation, he is the one giving birth to it, and he is the one responsible for elevating the meal to whatever its maximum potential may be".

The degustation menu offers another major advantage to both restaurateur and client, for by sampling so many of the chef's talents, clients will invariably return on another occasion in order to dine on those dishes they most enjoyed during their degustation.

These special meals are rapidly gaining popularity among the general public and there are indications that more and more restaurants are considering offering them. In order to avoid the excesses of either the Middle-Ages or Escoffier and to guarantee that such meals will not overwhelm either the senses or the stomach, such meals have to be planned with infinite care and there are certain nine general and several specific guidelines that should be followed.

General Guidelines

- The sequence of courses in a degustation menu should be such that earlier dishes do not overpower those that follow them.

On one occasion when visiting Lyon, I remember when chef Jean- Paul Lascome of the renowned "Leon de Lyon" served a course of veal tongue in a Madeira wine sauce that was followed by another of boiled lobster that was served with a sauce based on a reduction of green asparagus. The veal had been superb but because the heavy sauce had coated the palate, the far gentler flavor of the lobster had become lost completely. Later in the meal, when the chef somehow became aware of what had happened, he was so embarrassed that he appeared at our table swearing that he would never forgive himself for his faux-pas and inviting us to return on any other night of our choice to dine compliments of the house.

- Courses should compliment and flatter each other.

When Yonathan Roshfeld, then the sous-chef at Tel Aviv's "Tapuach Zehav" prepared a degustation menu for myself and visiting California winemaker Robert Mondavi, our third course consisted of two separate portions. The first of these was a locus carpaccio, paper thin slices of fresh raw fish that had been wrapped around cooked but well chilled calamari rings and shrimp. The mullet fillets that made up the second half of the portion, were served warm with an essence of green herbs. Both dishes were enormous success in their own right. They were made even better however because the textures of the two dishes were so well suited one to the other that the palate at all times felt simultaneously refreshed and stimulated. Even more than this, the green herb essence highlighted and brought clearly into focus each of the individual flavors, converting the offering from one that might have been merely excellent to one that became absolutely unforgettable. I also remember the pleasure on Roshfeld's face as he stood in a corner, unobtrusively observing us as we feasted on his creation.

- No matter how daring a chef wants to be, none of the courses served should shock the diners, because that will invariably destroy their ability to enjoy whatever else is served.

Several years ago, while dining at the very prestigious but not always very good "Windows on the World" in New York City, the chef decided to "impress" us by serving Spanish style snails as one of the first courses in his menu de degustation. The brandied, herbed tomato sauce in which the snails were served was exquisite and the dish delighted me in every way. My companions were not as pleased for even though they had all dined on the French version of this dish on many earlier occasions, they were unaware that the Spanish cook snails only until they are tender, and not until they are dead. With the realization that the snails they were eating were still alive, my companions were so shocked (one of them actually threw up) that there was no possibility of them continuing the meal.

- Every course should be generous enough in size that diners do do not feel frustrated, but no course should be so heavy or filling that it does not leave appetite for those to follow.

Normally, if a waiter brings me a first or second course with merely four shrimps on the plate, I rebel, wondering why I am spending so much money for so little food and simultaneously planning on where I can find a good slice of pizza before I return home. When those same two shrimp are served as part of a degustation menu, as they were recently when I dined at An- ton Mosimann's restaurant in England, however, my eyes and stomach are were both delighted, especially because the shrimp had been butterflied and arranged attractively on a puree of garlic flavored peas.

- The size of every dish offered should be related to its "heaviness". That is to say, heavier more filling dishes should always be served in smaller quantities than those that are light and refreshing.

Barcelona's "Jaume de Provenca" has been one of my favorite restaurants since I first dined there in 1978. On my last visit, chef Jaume Barges served us a thirteen course degustation menu. The crab raviolis in clam sauce were so light that it did not seem unusual to find six of them on each of our plates. Wisely, however, the lobster romesco, which is a far heavier and more filling dish, was served in an appropriately tiny portions, perhaps two generous tablespoons per person. To make this particularly small portion especially appealing to the eye, the chef had wisely placed it in the center of an oversized white plate and had set it on a bed of basil leaves.

- No dish should be so dominated by its herbs or spices that it will hide or impose upon the flavors of whatever dishes are to follow it.

Even when I was a very young man, first starting to write about food and wine, I knew that the greatest palate of all belonged to Curnonsky, who even then was known as the "Prince of Gourmets". One one occasion Curnonsky invited four young food writers to join him at Paris' "Laperousse" restaurant. Curnonsky had telephoned a full day in advance to consult with the chef on the degustation meal we would have.

As we dined, it was apparent that Curnonsky had been delighted with each of the first six courses. As the waiter approached with our seventh course, however, the usually talkative Curnonsky became completely silent and for his face turned almost bright red in color. With no ceremony at all, he pulled the serving plate from the waiter's hands, picked it up to his nose, inhaled deeply and, with not an instant's hesitation, then smashed the plate on the floor and ordered all of us to rise and immediately leave the restaurant. Curnonsky was far too furious to explain his rage, but several days later when I met him by chance at the Cafe de Flore, he explained: "The lamb had been seasoned not only with pepper, as I had requested, but with rosemary. I knew of course that our next course was to be of partridge, and, as even the most moronic of chefs knows, the rosemary that would have lingered on our palates would have completely destroyed the delicate flavor of the partridge meat".

When I asked him if he had not over-reacted just a bit he answered that "when it comes to the palate of Curnonsky, there are no over-reactions".

- Every dish offered should be so good that guests marvel over its virtuosity.

On another occasion, at which I was unfortunately not present, Curnonsky dined on the degustation menu of the great chef Fernand Point. According to the memoirs of Robert Courtine, who was Curnonsky's dinner companion, "as the meal progressed Curnonsky ate with gusto and spoke about everything under the sun except for the meal we were eating. He spoke about the execution of a convicted murder that had taken place several days earlier at the Palais de Justice; he held forth on the inherent anti-intellectualism of television; he told me of his reactions to Simone de Beauvoire's latest book ... he even told me about his most recent visit to his dentist".

Only when the meal had been completed did Curnonsky request that the chef come to the table. Even the great Point (who was the teacher of Paul Bocuse, Jean Troisgros and Alain Chapel) was surprised when Curnonsky rose, planted six wet kisses on his face, and then preceded to tell him precisely how magnificent each of the courses had been. Twenty years later Courtine wrote that "even though the meal itself had taken a mere three hours, Curnonsky's dissertation lasted not a minute less than four and a half hours. By the time we finally left the restaurant at nearly four in the morning, Point and I were both thoroughly exhausted. Curnonsky was correct in one thing, however - I will never forget the flavor, texture or aroma of any of those superb courses, each of which had been a masterpiece in its own right".

- Despite the number of courses served, at the end of the meal no guest should feel they have eaten too much.

Over the years I have dined on hundreds of mediocre meals some of which consisted of only one or two courses, many of which have left me feeling far too full. Over the same number of years, I have dined on the degustation menus of forty or fifty of the best chefs of France, Italy and the United States. Some of those meals contained as may as sixteen courses. None contained less than eight. At none of those meals did I ever have the feeling that I had eaten "too much".

- The sequence of wines, the selection of which should be guided either by the chef or the sommelier (if there is one), at degustation should be selected with as much care as the courses themselves.

As French poet Charles Baudelaire reminded us: "There has never been a better marriage made in heaven than that between food and wine". During most meals, the usual rules of white wines before red, light wines before heavy and young before old are adequate guides. During a degustation, however, even more care must be taken. In fact, each of the rules that apply to the construction of the meal should also apply to the selection of wines. Whether the meal features two, three or four wines, each should be selected to that in addition to complementing each other they should also complement each of the dishes being served.

Different Styles For Different Chefs

When it comes to specific details of degustation menus, different chefs react in different ways. Chef Alain Ducasse at his "Louis XV" restaurant at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, feels confident enough to build a meal of thirteen courses, "each course dependent on the last for its texture, flavor and heaviness". Chef Marc Veyrat of Veyrier-du-Lac, 6 km. from Annecy, on the other hand, feels that instead of an uninterrupted series of courses there should be "a cycle of dishes, each cycle being complete in itself but, at the same time, having a kissing relationship with both the cycle that came before and the cycle that will come afterwards". The following menus, on which I dined during November of 1995, demonstrate the difference in styles between the offerings of the two chefs, both of whom are considered among the most important of Europe. Also following are two degustations menus I sampled in Tel Aviv.

Tasting with Ducasse November 12, 1995

Cold Scallops with Truffles

Raviois of Pecorino Cheese

Provencal vegetables with a ragout of truffles

Cappuccino of Foie Gras Clams in a sauce made from beef marrow

Shrimp with Girolle Mushrooms

Blueberry Granita

Locus fillets in a reduction of tomatoes and parlsey

Veal sweetbreads with truffled artichokes,

Pressed Duckling Baked in a Brioche

Roast Pigeon with Lobster

Lamb with coriander

Creme Brulee in Pastry Tartlets

Petits Fours

Tasting with Veyrat November 16, 1995

Coquilles St. Jacques with Wild Fennel

Consomme of Almonds and Wild Flowers

Veal Kidneys with Oregano Sauce

Granita of Ginger-Flavored Grapefruit

Lake Perch in an infusion of herbs

Cappuccino of Tomato Essence

Warm Truffle Salad

Millefeuille of ris de veau

Rosemary Sorbet

Potato Soup with Lean Bacon

Veal Kidneys with Oregano

Creme Brulee made from Goats' Milk

Pear Tarte

With Israel Aharoni at "Tapuach Zehav", Tel Aviv June, 1997

Canapes of Pate de Foie Gras, Herbed Shrimp,

Terrine of Goose Liver and Vegetable Pate

Hot and Cold Nova Scotia Lobster Meat in Lobster Sauce

Locus Carpaccio Wrapped Around Chilled Calamari Rings

Warm Red Mullet Filets on an essence of Green Herbs

Zucchini Flowers filled with Finely Chopped Morille Mushrooms

Chilled Goose Liver Pate with Lentils alongside a Port Wine Sauce

Capucino of Foie Gras

Sorbet of Pink Grapefruit

Medallions of lamb with Demi-Glace Sauce

Caramelized Spring onions, Forest mushrooms

Miniature Cream Puffs with Chocolate Cream

Chilled Strawberries and Pink Grapefruit Sections in a hot lightly caramelized vanilla sauce

Coffee and Armagnac

With Chaim Cohen at "Keren", Tel Aviv

Canapes of Eggplant Filled with Goat's Cheese on a reduction of Red Peppers

Crab Shells Filled with Grilled Seafood

Mushroom and Crab Cappuccino

Tartar of Farida with olive oil, dried tomatoes and the juice of fresh tomatoes

Garnish of Crisp Baby Asparagus

Vegetable Terrine of Fennel Artichoke Hearts, and Swiss Chard with a sauce based on Chive oil and a blend of mushroom essence and balsamic vinegar

Foie Gras with Vanilla Sauce

Granita of Tea

Giant Shrimps Grilled in their Shells

Shrimps with Sesame Seeds

Fried Fillets of Red Mullets with a "broken sauce" of beet juice vinegar and oil

Sorbet of Grapefruit and Basil Flowers

Lamb Chop garnished with Polenta

Carpaccio of beef filet served with a confit of garlic

Miniature Apple Pie

Caramelized Bananas with Vanilla Ice Cream

Coffee and Cognac

The Viability of the Degustation Menu

The most critical factors for degustation menus to be truly successful and not merely trendy parodies on themselves (as they often are at expensive but mass-market restaurants, especially in the United States) are the talents and creative abilities of the chef. These are not adequate in and of themselves, however, for in addition to these however, no chef can prepare a truly good degustation menu without a competent staff, a kitchen that is well enough designed that it can cope simultaneously with the demands of the regular a la carte menu and the tasting menu being offered. In this, only chefs with exceptional organizational abilities can control both their staff and their kitchens in order to assure the required quality of the dishes being prepared.

Because a degustation menu puts a strain on the kitchen staff, some restaurants avoid them completely and very few are foolhardy enough to offer them on a daily basis. Chefs who decide to offer such menus generally do either once a week or twice a month. Some also allow clients to order a degustation menu in advance, generally requiring between two and three days notice. No chef will deny the difficulty of these menus, but those who do offer them feel that in addition to giving them a chance to demonstrate their talents, such menus are also "good for business". That is to say, the announcement of such a menu encourages people to return more often than they usually would. They also give restaurant critics a reason for returning to review and write about their restaurants sooner than they might have otherwise have.

The best chefs in the United States concur with their French - colleagues and do not "overdo" the degustation menu. In the last five or six years, however, many American restaurants have started to use degustation menus as their major attraction. Most serious chefs and nearly all serious food writers agree that this is a fad that appeals primarily to snobbish and frequently not particularly knowledgeable diners. Such abuse of the degustation menu may be good for business but in the long run it harms the reputation of both the chef and the restaurant.

Within Israel, the degustation menu is a fairly new phenomenon. The first to offer such a menu were probably Chenny Farber and Leon Alkalai at the now defunct "Zelig", and then at "Gargantua" when it was still located in Jaffa. The other restaurants now offering such menus on a regular basis are "Keren" and "Tapuach Zehav". "Gargantua", which has only recently shifted its venue to the industrial area of Herzliya Pituach will soon rejoin the still small group. In each of these places, the degustation menu costs about 20 - 25% more than the average meal, and, as a consumer and critic, I judge this to be fair.

As not all good restaurants in France have such offerings, neither should they become everyday fare anywhere else. If wisdom, rather than faddism prevails, such menus should be offered only by chefs and restaurateurs who are among the nation's most talented and creative. At this writing, that probably includes between ten and fifteen restaurants, because if such offerings become too popular they will become "common", and that in turn will devalue them in the public eye. In addition to the appearance of such menus in privately owned restaurants, I would also hope that several of the nation's hotels allow their chefs the freedom to create such menus. This would give the few truly talented chefs now working at the hotels the chance to go beyond the limitations ordinarily imposed on them and allow them to show off talents that are too often buried in the traditional hotel framework. Such a move would also make the public aware that at least several hotels offer the potential for exceptionally fine dining.

Tasting At Jean-Marie Amat, in Bordeaux

Until twelve years ago, great dining was simply not available in Bordeaux. Jean-Marie Amat is the man who returned the joy of dining to the region. His restaurant, the "Saint James" is perched on a green hilltop overlooking the city of Bordeaux and some of the best and most famous wine fields in the world. His beautiful restaurant, housed in a large villa built of white stones, sits in a garden on the hill. The atmosphere is one of singing birds, fresh air, peace and quiet, all less than 15 miles of the heart of Bordeaux. So in demand are his talents that no one except the owners of the most famous wine growing estates in the world and the richest landowners in Bordeaux have a chance of getting a table without a reservation.

Our degustation menu opened with a several appetizers, each of which was quite unique. There were, for example oysters wrapped in spinach leaves that were served with Beluga caviar that had been sprinkled over with a delicate vinaigrette sauce; a sublime foie gras en gelee; fillets of sole that had been poached in red wine and allowed to come to room temperature before being served with piping hot escargots all in a richly flavored reduction of fresh tomatoes, and exquisite green raviolis with spinach and green peppers.

These were followed a large plate in the center of which was a small cup of duck bouillion that contained crisply fried noodles and near the edges of the plate, two small fillets of fresh water bass that had been lightly fried in a rosemary scented oil. After this came a breathtakingly fresh duck foie gras and then a magnificent sampling of Pauillac lamb with garlic cloves and rosemary that had been baked until the meat was nearly falling of the bone. The dish had wisely been garnished with nothing more than per- fectly sauteed baby potatoes and carrots in a mild honey and mustard sauce.

Everything had been served such an intelligent progression that even now we were waiting to see what would come next. What arrived delighted us, for on half of a large plate was a portion of a sublime saddle of rabbit that had been seasoned lightly with thyme, and on the other half a grilled spiced pigeon that had a captivating Chinese feel to it. After several exceptionally good goats' milk cheeses we went on to two unforgettable desserts, the first an apricot mousse pie and the second the most superb coconut creme brulee that I have ever sampled.

Along with five other journalists, I had been the guest of Chateau Margaux for dinner so it seemed perfectly logical that after opening our meal with the Brut Champagne of Ayala, we continued first with a 1988 Margaux, then with a 1982 and then with a 1953. With our dessert we had a magnificent Sauternes wine, the Chateau Yquem of 1945. The dinner bill came to FF 850 (about $150) per person. Considering that we had dined in one of the most charming of restaurants and with one of the great chefs of France, I considered this superb value for money.

Fortunately for my hosts the wines, which included samplings from some of the very best vintages of the last 50 years had come from their own cellar and were not included in the bill. I estimate that the bill for the wines would have added another FF 28,000 (about $7,500) to the bill.

AMAT: Place Camille-Hostein, Bouliac (9 km. SE of Bordeaux via Route D10). Do not even dream of going here without an advance reservation. Telephone 56 20 92 58.

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So? Is this idea something you might wish to try, albeit on a small scale, at home for your friends and/or family?

I regularly cook ten-course tasting menus for 8-to-10 people. It's possible without an assistant, but you have to plan properly.

I generally start with a couple of cold amuses, pre-made. I do a pasta course, which is easy. I do a salad, also pre-made. A cheese course. And a dessert.

That's six courses right there.

So all I need to cook is an appetizer of some sort and a couple of main courses. And maybe a second dessert.

It's a lot of work, and it really helps if you have enough dishes for the entire meal. But you can do it.

B

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Rogov, thanks for the post.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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The meals posted here look incredible!

I'd like to share a recent, elaborate one of my own. Technically it wasn't served as a "tasting" dinner, but rather a lot of it was served together on the largest dinner plates I own (they're probably serving platters altogether, from the way the guests groaned - although they finished every last morsel) because I wanted to try a novel approach: spending some time at the table eating with my guests!

But if I had served the duck and goose foie gras courses consecutively on little plates, and then the salad and two duck preparations (each with its own sides) consecutively, I maybe could have called it a 6-course tasting.

I prepped the day before, and began cooking 4:30 am the morning of.

To see the photos and menu click here.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I'll bet that most of us have done many meals that require just as much planning, prep, and cooking as a tasting menu, but we serve it all at once. I did a North Carolina pulled pork barbeque a while back with all of the fixins and dessert that involved eight or nine dishes; it didn't follow Escoffier's degustation guidelines, to be sure, but it probably was as much work.

Still, this is utterly impressive:

Assorted Crudités

Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico, Viticoltori Nino Franco, NV

– – –

Kumamoto Oyster On The Half-Shell With Cucumber Granita

Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lies, Cuvee Vielles Vignes, Domaine Clos des Briords, 2002

– – –

Cauliflower Soup With Seared Diver Scallop And Curry Oil

Saumur Blanc “La Papareille,” Domaine Saint-Vincent, 2002

– – –

Mixed Herb Salad With Shrimp Ceviche

Saumur Blanc “La Papareille,” Domaine Saint-Vincent, 2002

– – –

Toasted Corn And Stilton Soufflé

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts With Guanciale and Chive/Oregano Vinaigrette

Bourgogne Rouge, Domaine Alain Hudelot-Noellat, 2000

– – –

Lemon-Thyme Sorbet

Moscato d'Asti “Vigneto Biancospino,” Azienda Agricola Dante Rivetti, Piemonte, 2002

– – –

Turkey Two Ways With Cornbread Dressing, Foie Gras And Black Truffle Carpaccio

Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup “Le Rollier,” Domaine Mas Foulaquier, 2001

Sonoma Valley Red Wine “Albarello,” H. Coturri & Sons, 2001

– – –

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Cranberry Cheesecake

Pecan Tart

Coffee

– – –

Palmiers and Chocolate Truffles

Grappa, Scotch, Bourbon, Etc.

Bravo. Aren't we related in the distant past, Samuel? Hey -- my grandfather's name is Samuel!! :wink:

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Real china and cutlery please!

The trick is to use two or even three sets, and wash one while using the other.

This is not a hurried meal, so you can take your time...

Typically you will need two large plates (one a service plate), and two small plus desert/soup bowls and tea or coffee cups per person.

Service plates help, since being cold, they make hot dishes easier to carry, and protect the table.

So in the menu above:

Plate 1 - small (cold)

Plate 2 - large (service)

Plate 3 - small

Plate 4 - large, hot

Crudite - fingers (but need serving platter)

Oyster - small plate 1 on service plate 2

Soup - bowl or cup on plate 3 or 4

Salad - small plate 1 reused on plate 2

Souffle - Ramekin on plate 3 reused

Sorbet - glass or cup on Plate 1 again

Turkey - large plate 4

Pudding- Bowl on plate 1 or 2 or both

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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Thanks, Daniel Rogov, for a wonderful post. What an experience it must have been to dine with Curnonsky and Courtine!

I will confess to an increasing bias away from fancy, multi-course meals, both at restaurants and at home. I'm not alone in this. Richard Olney, the American food writer, wine authority and gourmand who spent most of his life in France, was reportedly a formidable cook and could produce amazing dishes in a simple kitchen. I find it striking that as he grew older, the meals he loved to eat and prepare grew simpler: a fish soup followed by roast lamb followed by a green salad and cheese ... all served with the finest wines. If the fish is perfectly fresh and the lamb cooked just so and the salad from the garden, who needs another 8 courses?

But every now and then it's fun to prepare a multi-course meal. Long ago on these boards I posted the rules I try to follow in planning an extravaganza. Every one of these rules comes from disasters I have created on my own, so they were hard won.

+ + +

1. Cook to please your guests and yourself, not to impress them with your culinary skills or your wealth. Make a dinner that will give them genuine pleasure. This is one reason it's important to think through the sequence of dishes (principle 2). Save the pièces montées for a cookery competition. Don't feel compelled to include "gourmet" ingredients. No rule states that you must serve caviar, foie gras and truffles at every meal. You certainly don't need to serve them twice.

2. Balance the menu and sequence it with care. A good menu will provide variety on a multiplicity of dimensions: hot/cold, different flavour dimensions (sweet, sour, hot, aromatic, bland, etc.), colours, textures, cooking methods (steaming, braising, frying, roasting...), saltiness, acid, absence or presence of alcohol. A rich dish needs a lighter, more refreshing one to follow. It is also helpful to think about a theme for the menu: perhaps it is focused on one special dish, or is a series of themes and variations. Heaping together dishes that you like to make or that you think will impress will almost never result in a menu that your guests will enjoy. After writing down the menu, run through it mentally, "tasting" each dish in your mind.

3. There is no rule against serving one thing on its own. Not everything needs to sauced, gratinéed, accompanied or garnished. I have often served a dish of very fresh green beans, all by themselves. This is even more important in a multi-course dinner.

4. Be thoughtful about timing. Different menus call for different metronome settings. I read of one where a new dish was to be served every 45 minutes; the meal started at 2 pm and dessert was served at 10 pm. Perhaps this worked for the cook, who could then plan timing for precise arrivals, but to me this seems a rather rigid schedule and must have exhausted the diners. Sometimes it makes sense to allow for a short pause in the proceedings, or to serve two dishes in quick succession. It is important to make a preparation and service list (see principle 8 below) so that you know roughly when things are supposed to arrive.

5. Keep quantities small. If you are serving nine courses, and if you start with a soup, serve an espresso cupful -- no more and perhaps less. Once again, what works for Thomas Keller or Heston Blumenthal doesn't for the home cook: that dish you laboured over for many hours gets snapped up in a second. Keep desserts light and their quantities small. After many rich dishes, few people will enjoy a heavy, complex chocolate fantasy. Some carefully selected fruit and a few chocolates are often enough.

6. Work in a clean, organised manner. As I get older I increasingly rely on a preparation and service list, setting out the steps I will follow and the dishes I will serve. These lists have saved me, more than once, from leaving entire dishes in the refrigerator or in one of the ovens of the Aga cooker, only to discover them after the guests have left. Plan both the entire preparation in advance and the entire service. If you are serving ten courses to 8 people, you will need a lot of service plates and quite a bit of cutlery. Plan this in advance.

7. Get some help with service. We often hire one of the local au pairs to help serve, take up plates and wash dishes as we go. A bit of help doesn't cost much, and it makes everything go more easily. Best of all, you don't emerge from the dining room to find a kitchen heaped with dirty pots, dishes and glasses. Professional dishwashers are available that cycle in 90 seconds. Even with professional equipment, though, some help with service takes a lot of pressure off the cook. Don't rely on your partner: he or she will need to be chatting with guests while you work.

8. Don't drink while cooking. This one is very personal. I find that one glass of wine degrades my knife skills, my personal organisation and my ability to correct sauces and seasonings. Others can handle their liquor better, but for me it's water until everything is under control. This sometimes means missing the apéritif, but so be it.

9. Children and multi-course dinners don't go together. Most children don't enjoy sitting through a long dinner, and it is difficult to keep a complex dinner going with the little ones underfoot. We typically serve a "children's dinner" early in the proceedings (something easy like baked chicken legs or pasta) and send the kids off to wreak havoc in another part of the house. It is a bit tricky to plan two dinners, but it pays off. They feel special and appreciated, and they get out of the kitchen early.

10. When in doubt, leave it out. When tempted to add one more course, that final garnish...don't. Your guests will thank you, and perhaps your partner as well.

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Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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