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The ultimate guide to eating your way through a tasting menu

From a serial tasting menu diner’s account to chefs’ pet peeves, here's all you need to know before you try out a tasting menu.
How to eat a tasting menu

Have you also wondered that a tasting menu will not fill you up ? Worried that you would be left hungry after spending over ₹5,000? You’re not alone. I also felt the same until I went for my first ever tasting menu experience. It was also during this dinner that I realised the certain un said rules, finer details and guidelines I was expected to know and on how to eat a tasting menu.

Over the course (pun intended) of my tasting menu experience, I realised that many myths were busted, and many assumptions turned out to be wrong. During this time, I also realised how chefs across the country were pushing the boundaries of Indian food, how ingredients I have never seen and heard of are part of a dish I could not pronounce, how every single ingredient on the plate in front of me was meticulously curated and had a massive impact on the overall theme and journey of the tasting menu experience.

After knowing these unsaid rules and having the usual assumptions turn wrong, TLM decided to create the ultimate guide for a diner to have the best chef’s tasting menu experience. From a first-person account of what I felt to asking award-winning chefs in the industry who curate some of the most exciting tasting menu experiences on the dos and don’ts, myths they would bust, and their pet peeves, this article has it all.

First things first, know the meaning

On multiple occasions, I have been intimidated by reading the word degustation instead of a tasting menu. Now I know that nothing is intimidating about it. A chef’s tasting menu and a degustation menu mean the same thing. Degustation is just the French word for a tasting menu where essentially, the chef chooses dishes over multiple courses and the entire experience can last anywhere between 1.5 hours to even four hours. The number of courses can also vary from six, 10, to even 14 but the portions are tiny.

How to eat a tasting menu

Photos: Unsplash

No, you won’t starve

I’ll admit, I always thought that because of the smaller portions, despite having multiple courses, I would still be hungry at the end of the night. For a 14-course, it would essentially be 14 bite-sized courses and how can someone not be hungry after 14 bite-sized food items? 

I was proven wrong immediately after my first tasting menu experience which was a 14-course one, along with an amuse-bouche—a French term for appetizer, ideally served before a meal. “[As a chef], you can compile an entire menu with many courses like nine, 10, 15, 20,” says Head Chef Sarfaraz Ahmed of Tresind, Mumbai. “But you should always keep in mind the amount of food that one person can consume,” he states. “An average person can consume only around 600-625 gms of the entire meal so that is the benchmark we have set for us. Plus, we keep some 200ml for liquid, so that comes to around 800-850 gms of what a normal person can consume,” Chef Ahmed explains. He also adds that the people complaining about the menu should understand that the chef who has designed the menu has a thorough understanding of how much a person can consume so the portion sizes are controlled according to the number of courses. 

Know what you are paying for

The biggest conundrum I faced when deciding on a tasting menu experience was the price point. The average cost of a tasting menu experience starts anywhere near ₹5,000 in Mumbai and the number of courses vary. As the Culinary Director of Indian Accent, Chef Manish Mehrotra states, “Read the menu properly and understand it.” In a digital age where we have our devices with us all the time, spending a few minutes doing some research and reading up about the menu is always a good practice. “You do extensive research when buying a phone so why can’t you do the same kind of research when deciding on a tasting menu experience where you will be spending a lot of money and many hours of your time as well,” he explains.  

Head Chef and Partner at Ekaa, Chef Niyati Rao also urges diners to come with at least 2.5 hours to spare, being open to new flavours, textures, and experiences and opt for a wine or cocktail pairing for the ones who consume alcohol to enhance the experience even more. 

Be open about preferences

One of the biggest pet peeves Chef Rao is when suddenly someone becomes non-allergic to something after it starts looking good on someone else’s plate. “Allergies are very serious and we take them very seriously,” she says. Thus, informing well in advance about dietary restrictions and allergies is a must. “Last-minute changes confuse the entire staff.” Head Chef Rahul Rana of Avatara agrees with this pet peeve, “By communicating your allergies and dietary restrictions, you can enhance your experience as well.” Chef Mehrotra also feels that the whole discourse about allergies is not taken seriously to the extent that most Indians claim to be allergic to a dish they don’t like. 

Come with an appetite and an open mind

By now we have established that as a diner, you won’t go back home hungry. Head Chef Varun Totlani, at Masque, busts the biggest myth of having to grab a bit after a tasting menu. He suggests getting someone who will enjoy the whole meal or going alone. “Skip your pre-dinner snack and don’t fill up so that you are ready to experience your meal to the fullest,” says Chef Totlani. 

A tasting menu is not for the fussy eaters. According to Chef Totlani, the best way to experience a tasting menu is to not have preconceived notions and to come with an open mind and “leave with it blown away.” His biggest pet peeve is when someone has already decided that they are not the type of person who likes to experiment or that they are going hungry after. “You might not enjoy the meal then. It is an immersive experience and it helps to trust the chefs, servers, and the restaurant.” 

Don’t break the flow

Avartana’s Executive Chef Nikhil Nagpal’s biggest pet peeve is smoke breaks. Nobody likes a break in the flow for the night. The food gets cold, and others on the table need to wait for the person to arrive, it is overall not a pleasant experience. Instead, don’t shy away from informing the staff about taking a short break so that they pause before the next course. 

How to eat a tasting menu

Photos: Unsplash

Think of it as a classroom

Chef Rao urges the diners to listen carefully to the explanation and ask many questions about the food and its process. “Be patient with the process,” she says. “It will be slow with the chefs coming in at every course, explaining the story, the thought process, their work along with textures, flavours, sourcing an ingredient, to the final concept, and more. Hence, be a part of the story and ask questions after listening.” Having experienced the latest chef’s tasting menu at Ekaa, I can confirm that listening to the chefs talk about each course is just as interesting as it is to try the course itself. “When a diner reciprocates in the same courteous manner and wants to know more, the chef might even reveal their plan to introduce a new ingredient soon—making it a lovely conversation starter.” 

As Chef Mehrotra says, experiencing a tasting menu is like listening to a ghazal. You can enjoy the voice and music of a ghazal but if you understand the words and the meaning, you will enjoy it even more. A tasting menu is exactly like that.”