Purple Magazine
— F/W 2014 issue 22


the tasting menu



It has become a grand classic in the new generation of restaurants: when you are seated, they don’t bring you a menu; instead, a charming individual comes to your table:

— We are offering the chef’s new tasting menu, which consists of either eight or 15 sequences. Do you have any allergies?

— Yes, to tasting menus!

Of course, he or she doesn’t even hear you, the machine already having been launched into its famous “sequences,” these coïtus interruptus items arriving as little bites, nibbles, onomatopeias, spoonfuls, and other minimal ellipses.

The tasting menu came into being a few years ago. In theory, we’re stuck with it for three or four years. Like
slow leaks inside tall buildings, pools form slowly, dripping methodically from floor to floor: restaurants in the French provinces will soon be offering them if they aren’t already doing so.

The tasting menu was invented by someone with a very clever brain; after all, the worst thing for chefs is an overloaded fridge. Following a not-so-great evening service, the chef sees all his products now one day older, slightly absent and yellowing: the endive is not as crunchy, the langoustine has gone a bit mealy, the lettuce is limp. By offering only one menu, the chef can be fairly sure he will be able to get rid of everything he has without spoiling any of his products. In the same vein, he reduces his costs and, in theory, the check. To be confirmed. But given this trend, we will soon see a new kind of restaurant, where you’ll be asked to bring your own plates and silverware, to take them to the dishwasher, have a coffee across the street, and pay in advance for the cook’s services. Or even eat at non-traditional meal times, so that His Excellency can have his dinner in peace while watching the nightly news. Happily, we’re not there yet.

The idea for these tasting menus came from Japanese sushi restaurants, where you have the omakase option, meaning, “do as you like,” as opposed to more traditional French restaurants. It’s a sort of explicit agreement. The chef stands in front of you at his sushi counter and frankly assesses your appetite. Depending on whether you are ravenous, a little chubby, in love, starving, or melancholy, he times the dinner to match you, somewhat like those street mimes following closely behind you and copying your every move. The omakase menu fully respects the client. Food is served until he or she is sated, at which time the rice is served, announcing the end of the meal.

In France, however, the process is more delicate: the chef is located far from the dining area, often confined to his kitchen. Is he feeding rugby players, convicts released after 30 years in prison, or a mini-bus filled with nubile cheerleaders? He has no idea; he is feeling his way in the dark.

The dark? The word is not quite right. In fact he knows exactly where he is going: his somewhat dented narcissism gives him a taste for both revenge and creation, as sometimes hailed by the flamers on the Internet. The chef is with the gods, talking with them and disseminating the crumbs of his ecstasy, imposing his vision on the world, pieces of his visions, a verbatim account of his delight.

Where the poor chef really is, however, is in a kitchen from the previous century, a kitchen of obedience and social acceptance. Here we see only his vision of the world, infantilizing us into passive crumb grabbers. Although sometimes we get to hear passion-ate monologues (few and far between), mostly these neo-restaurants, clumsily hailed by dazed novices, are about fear. They follow all the others with their molecular cuisine, their sole with pink peppercorns, and rabbit with citrus fruit recipes.

Given the pendular nature of gastronomy (in which we swing from classicism to innovation, from innovation back to the norm), the natural movement should shut down a trend we can already smell: that of indulgence.

You’ll see, they’ll even ask you how you’re doing.

— Are you hungry?

— Yes!


François Simon is a well-known Paris food critic and novelist, now featured on the television program, Paris Dernière. His latest book is Dans Ma Bouche.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2014 issue 22

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

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purple NIGHT

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