Chefs Chime In On: Tasting Menus

The culinary world is constantly in flux, with new developments and innovations appearing every day. In this series, we offer chefs the opportunity to share their own unique insights into a culinary trend currently making headlines.

Tasting menus are by no means a new invention. For decades, restaurants have offered multi-course dining experiences, often set around a certain theme or seasonal ingredients. These menus can be complemented by unique wine, beer, or spirits pairings, or can stand alone on their own merits.

Some restaurants chose to offer these tasting menus in addition to their regular menu, while others chose to run solely on one single, multi-coursed menu. Courses can range from a simple several course meal up to an exuberant 20+ courses and pricing can range from the reasonable to the lavish.

For chefs, offering a multi-course tasting menu can be an exciting way to explore a culinary theme or to flaunt their cooking prowess. On a practical note, tasting menus can also be a cost saving measure that, as every guest is being served the same dish, allows for restaurants to purchase on the food that will be served that evening thereby nearly eliminating food waste.

For diners, however, tasting menus can often be an intimidating experience, locking them into a set experience at often high costs. With the ever growing number of diners with allergies, real or imagined, many worry they will not be able to tailor their meals to their own individual preferences.

So what do chefs think about the resurgence of restaurants structured around tasting menus? And how do they see these tasting menus benefiting their guests? Read on to find out.

Josh Ochoa, Executive Chef, Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef's Table

"Tasting menus fell out of favor for a while, but they’re coming back because it's a fixed cost for the guest.

A tasting menu format is also cost effective for chefs which allows us to experiment with dishes - it gives us more creative control." 

Andy Alexandre, Chef De Cuisine, Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef's Table

"We're seeing an increase of tasting menus in restaurants because guests want to leave dinners with a replete experience and profound impression.

It's also due to confidence and ambition of the establishment—as if to say "We got you, trust us."

Kevin Meehan, Chef, Kali Restaurant

"In recent years, the white table cloth, fine-dining restaurant has become less appealing for guests who are craving more casual, come-as-you-are experiences that doesn't require participation in a prix fixe menu—particularly in Los Angeles. At Kali, we offer guests the ability to create their own adventure.... they can drop in at the bar for a cocktail and quick snack, order a variety of a la carte items and go family-style, opt for a $65 chef's tasting menu, or go for it with a $85 omakase tasting that is customized.

It's a model that we've found works well because it allows diners to experience the restaurant exactly how they want to experience it—whether it's for a casual week night bite or lunch, or for an evening when they want to sit back and relax, and put us in the driver's seat to curate the rhythm of their meal."

 Jeffrey Weiss, Chef and Author of Charcutería: The Soul of Spain

"The over-saturation of today's tasting menus reminds me of making soup at my first job. Most old school chefs feel that making soup is a lost art, as it requires technical mastery and restraint to make a dish that the guest can enjoy from their first spoonful to the last; and that's an elegance often lost in overly-contrived tasting menus full of bombastic, one-bite wonders. 

What I'm getting at is this: yes, I agree that tasting menus are a great way to see the breadth of a skilled chef’s palate. But, and maybe I'm just old school about this, if I want to see the true mastery of a chef's skill set and the elegance of their craft... I’ll have the soup, please. "