Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vanity Fair food writer Corby Kummer likened them to a form of culinary dictatorship. New York Times critic Pete Wells says they're "spreading like an epidemic" across the country. They're tasting menus, small portions of several dishes as a single meal. And these days, they're a hot topic.
What do Valley chefs and restaurateurs have to say about the current backlash to this wonderful, terrible way of dining? Here's what a few of them had to say:
Chef Jason Alford, Roka Akor
Educate yourself before getting into a tasting menu. No one is forcing you to order it. Be mindful of the people responsible for executing your shellfish, dairy, wheat, proteins, carbs, nightshade, and fruit allergies. Tasting menus and what we offer as an omakase (entrusting your chef) at Roka Akor are an experience, not a cafeteria lunch. If you find this "tasting" excruciating and annoying, find something accommodating.
Eric Flatt Co-owner, Tonto Bar & Grill/Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House
Tasting menus are not for everyone and that includes me. I don't like to sit down and eat 20 to 30-plus different bites of different foods. I have to choose one or two of the ones I like best, and that just makes me want to eat a meal of that. But oh, no, you just get two bites and then on to the next course. Give me a couple of great courses and let me enjoy my dinner!
Josh Hebert Owner and Chef, Posh
If you don't like it, don't go. If you don't like the chef's philosophy, don't go. You have a choice. The same is true if you don't like pizza, don't go to a pizza place. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that one is just stupid.
Romeo Taus, Chef and Owner, Romeo's Euro Cafe
The Phoenix area could and does sustain a few "Tasting Menus Only." As a chef, I love them. I love doing them because it stirs the creative juices and allows me to showcase what I like to do. As a guest, very few chefs can pull it off to be worth the trip. A tasting menu should be about the seasons and food. More taste, less drama.
Joe Johnston, Owner, Joe's Real BBQ, Joe's Fresh Farm Grill, Liberty Market, Agritopia
Tasting menus are fine so long as the customer knows in advance that they have no control over the experience. I'm not a fan of long tasting menus, just because of the fatigue that sets in. Your ability to taste and appreciate the food declines after a few courses and so does the value.
Farah Khalid Chef and Owner, Curry Corner
Tasting menus work at a certain type of establishment, but it should always be noted that a restaurant's reputation and clientele can make it or break it. If, ultimately, the experience at a restaurant is not what the customer expected, would exceptional food be enough for them to go for a repeat experience? I don't think so.
Chef Joe Meyers, s.e.e.d. café at the Madison Improvement Club
The great thing about being a chef is that you have the freedom to create whatever you want and share it with the world. I see no reason why a talented chef should be criticized for designing a dining experience that the customer will likely remember for a long time. I don't really see the reason for a debate. Go and eat if you want to. And if you don't want to, don't do it.
Christopher Gross, Chef and Owner, Christopher's Restaurant & Crush Lounge
Nobody is being forced to make a reservation at a tasting-menu-only restaurant. It may be a longer dining experience but you prepare for that, just like you would if you were attending the theater or opera. Most places that have a tasting-menu-only setup will take into consideration food allergies, so if you want to cheat, just tell them you have an allergy to whatever item you don't like (then ask them to substitute it with foie gras).
Zach Bredemann, Corporate Chef, Kona Grill
I understand both sides -- people are people, and if they can choose where to eat, they will want to choose what to eat. However, chefs are chefs, and with that comes a deep-rooted passion about their food. It's their creation; it's an art, but, ultimately, the customers are paying the bills, so you need to cater to them.
Bill Sandweg Owner, Copperstar Coffee
This is nothing new. For 20 years, people have been trying to maximize their food dollars and turn a meal into entertainment. This is just the extension of that, turning a meal into a marketing opportunity and a chance to show off some eclectic items.
Chef Anthony Rivera District American Kitchen & Wine Bar
The tasting menu will always be the king of restaurant fare. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time, money, or patience for a three-hour-plus culinary masterpiece. A smart chef will find ways to keep attitudes high and patrons in seats. Chefs are craftily finding ways to encourage guests to stay for as long as possible with or without the "tasting" experience.
Chef Stephen Toevs The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix
It all comes back to the diner experience. There are times when a diner walks into a restaurant for the first time and wants try a dozen dishes on the menu. A wise chef knows this and creates a customized tasting menu to enhance the importance of a diners' experience at their restaurant. There is nothing wrong with letting the guest sample a choice of dishes.
Chef Christopher Nicosia, Sassi
I think that people are making as issue where there really is no issue at all. I would say that the vast majority of people who dine at a restaurant that has a tasting menu know what they are getting into before they even make their reservation.
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