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How to develop a Tasting Menu

by Panos Georgopoulos, Corporate Executive Chef/ Food and Beverage Manager

A tasting menu is a meal made up of many small courses. They are often found in restaurants, but entertaining at home with a tasting menu can be a delightful change from a traditional three-course meal. While planning a tasting menu can seem a bit intimidating at first, with careful planning you’re sure to receive incredible compliments from your guests. Tasting menus can be designed around a specific theme or holiday, feature a regional cuisine or simply showcase a variety of seasonal ingredients fresh from the local market. Once you’ve chosen your direction, these tips will help with the planning.

1) Decide on the number of courses.

In general, five courses should be sufficient. Also, plan to surprise your guests by starting with an “amuse bouche” a small surprise from the host at the beginning of the meal to “awaken” the palates. Also, a “Trout Normand” or sorbet, in the middle of the meal to help clean the guests’ palates as the meal progresses offers yet another small element of surprise.

2) Keep your guests’ preferences in mind as you plan.

Do they have adventurous or conservative palates? It’s OK to ask your guests if they have any preferences or food allergies when planning, and they will certainly be impressed when you’ve acknowledged these during the meal. It will also provide you less anxiety and more confidence during the planning process knowing that your guests will enjoy what you’ve prepared. Nothing deflates a chef’s emotions more than hearing, “I’m allergic to shellfish” just as your bouillabaisse hits the table.

3) Remember to plan your portion sizes accordingly, as well.

You don’t want your guests to be full midway through the meal and leave half of your good work to waste! Generally portion sizes should remain fairly consistent as you progress, and as a general rule of thumb you should progress from lighter foods to the heaviest dish coming just prior to dessert.

4) Offer a balanced variety of tastes and textures.

Don’t repeat ingredients or presentations. Choose both simple and complex recipes to balance your workload; don’t take on too much at once.

5) Keep tableware and linens monochromatic.

Since there’s plenty of variety in the food presented, keep tableware and linens monochromatic. Let the focus be on the food. Provide fresh cutlery for each course.

6) Be creative with presentation.

You don’t have to serve everything on round plates! Use square or rectangular platters, cocktail glasses, shot glasses, even granite tiles for cheese plates.

7) Choose wines that will enhance the flavors in your courses.

You may start light with whites or rosés and finish with heavier reds. And don’t forget Port or a wonderful Sauterne with dessert.

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