To taste or not to taste? (Hint: YES!)

I recently conducted three tastings with three different clients. One was an interview for a new chef, and two were for new menus in existing restaurants. As usual, they ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. 

The “interview” tasting was sensational. Excellent flavors and plate presentations, and the dishes that were prepared fitted perfectly with the concept. 

Of the two new menu tastings, one was quite good and one was a disaster, and in the case of the latter it led to the chef being required to “look for opportunities elsewhere.”

An excellent black bass dish from the tasting that was a success!
An excellent black bass dish from the tasting that was a success!

A menu tasting tells you so much about your chef – not only about his or her culinary skills but their level of organization. In each case, you want to know how the chef has interpreted the concept. Is there a story behind each dish? Are you left scratching your head trying to figure out what you just ate, or are the flavors clean and bold? 

How are the plate presentations? Are they relevant or is your chef still decorating the plate with dots of sauce or using a huge plate and constructing a minuscule salad in one corner? 

Is there variety in the way dishes are plated, or does everything look the same? How are the portion sizes? What will the selling price be? Are you offering good value?

Has your chef identified a signature dish with a unique presentation? What is the anticipated pick-up time of each dish? Will you be able to manage high volume with your staffing levels, or are there too many steps to the plating of each dish?

And finally, don’t be afraid to challenge your chef if the consensus is that the dish simply doesn’t work. In one of the above-mentioned tastings, the GM was so concerned with how his chef would take my feedback that he was standing by with some oxygen to revive him! Later that day, the GM called me and said his chef was walking on a cloud … he was so thrilled with all the great feedback we gave him (both positive and negative).