What Exactly is a Tasting Menu or Degustación?July 22, 2014
Sometimes, even to a few avid eaters, fine dining means exorbitantly priced minuscule servings on a plate. These dishes are lovely to look at, a thrill to taste, but to some it comes down to, “Paano naman ako mabubusog dito?”
Tasting menus gained popularity in major dining cities such as New York and London in the early 2000s, but the concept has always been around in one form or another. Most know the tasting menu and follow its tradition according to its original French term, menu dégustation, or the Spanish degustación.
The tradition of degustación is in appreciative tasting of the food; it is a showcase of a chef’s skill and an experience of high culinary art.
There is (or should be) an art in putting together a tasting menu. The tradition of degustación is in appreciative tasting of the food; it is a showcase of a chef’s skill and an experience of high culinary art. It is not a set menu that offers just an appetizer, main course, and dessert. It can be a sample of the best the restaurant and chef has to offer, but even that is at the chef’s discretion. The chef directs the menu, deciding on a theme, progression, and what dishes or flavors will be highlighted on his degustación.
Other variations of degustación are found in the Japanese omakase, which translates as “I’ll leave it to you”, where diners are served several dishes that are made specially by the chef.
Rob Pengson of The Goose Station describes the tasting menu as a magical and spiritual experience. “You put yourself on the plate and offer it to people,” he says.
Over email, Rob Pengson of The Goose Station describes the tasting menu as a magical and spiritual experience, “A tasting menu is something really special, first to the creator and second to the one having it. I believe it to be magical because I have the honor of being able to experience it from both sides of the fence.”
He continues, “A tasting menu has many moving parts…eight to ten courses with an average of eight to ten components per course and thats about eighty little moving parts to feed just one person. I enjoy making comfort food as much as the next chef, but a tasting menu is a spiritual thing for a cook. You put yourself on the plate and offer it to people.”
For Chef Ian Padilla of La Girolle, he curates the tasting menu every two months around the best available ingredients during that season, “We wouldn’t be serving tomatoes in December, or braised beef in March,” he says.
Padilla observes that local attitudes to the tasting menu vary, from those who understand the spirit behind the tasting menu, to those who zero in on the four-figure price tag for “small” portions. “We tend to look at price and size first before quality and product, but the whole point to that [the tasting menu] is that we want them to salivate for the next course.” But he adds, “The mindset is improving.”
“It can be an amazing experience [but] it is definitely not for everyone.”
Pengson takes the customer’s perspective, “It can be an amazing experience [but] it is definitely not for everyone. It’s great to serve to those who understand, those who come in without preconceived biases, those who are realistic and are just there to “listen” so to speak.”
Evidence of changing attitudes towards the tasting menu are with newer restaurants who only offer tasting menus. Pengson is happy for restaurants of that kind who dare to try, but wonders if the concept will fly, “I think the local market is too small and that many of these places are in danger of not making it. While customers would say that’s the restaurateur’s problem, I say the gap in world of flavor is equally determined by what the market is not spending for.”
Consider that in 2012, British newspaper, The Independent, observed the same dining trend in its home country, and asked, “Are they what diners really want?” Two years later on this continent, one echoes the sentiment.