Cooking for friends series 05 | How to create a tasting menu at home
If you love bringing friends together to enjoy food at home, it’s likely that you’ve considered serving a tasting menu for a special dinner party at some point. Perhaps you’ve even dreamed up a menu, but you’ve eventually been put off by fears of feeling like you’re a chef sweating your way through a MasterChef final.
Well I’m here to tell you to go for it! Last year as part of our indulgence package, I served a tasting menu of 7 courses in our chalet The View, and I’d like to share with you my ideas for a smooth running evening. I promise that when you pull it off you will feel a great sense of achievement, and have given your friends a night they’ll long remember.
First off, what classifies as a tasting menu?
The idea of the menu dégustation is to serve several courses of small portions. In the 1990s when tasting menus became popular, the number of courses reached dizzying heights with chefs like Ferran Adrià at El Bulli in Spain, offering 40 courses or more! These days, however, tasting menus have become a little less extravagant, and tend to be somewhere around 10 courses.
Your own menu could include anything between 5 and 10 dishes, and when I say dishes I mean portions just big enough for the guest to reach the point of full enjoyment (and no bigger!). Stopping at this point keeps the guest eager for the next bite!
Cook for your guests
The good thing about doing a tasting menu at home is that usually, unlike restaurant chefs, you have the advantage of knowing your guests, and if you don’t you will have the means to do a bit of digging. If a couple of your guests are vegetarian, why not go veggie on the whole menu? If it’s for your father’s birthday and he loves whisky, why not make this a theme throughout the whole menu? A bit of inside knowledge can make cooking for your crowd really special.
Think about produce first
Take a trip to your favourite deli, butcher, fishmonger or local market. Find out what is good now and emphasise these ingredients in your menu.
Find a theme
A theme for your menu doesn’t have to be fussy, it could be a focus on what is in season right now or you could explore a specific element. For example you could showcase a variety of textures and flavours of ice-creams, sorbets and granitas to compliment both sweet and savoury flavours. (If you’re not convinced on savoury ice cream, check out the reblochon ice cream which I serve with my tartiflette tatin).
Start and end light
Whilst we’re aiming for all dishes to be relatively light, some will inevitably be richer than others. Serve these dishes in the middle of the evening, and return to brighter, palate cleansing dishes at the end. For cool and refreshing palate cleansers check out my post.
Alternate hot and cold
This will make your life in the kitchen much easier. The cold dishes will give you some breathing space to prep for the hot ones.
Set the pace
So guests don’t start to feel bored or full up aim for ten minutes between courses. Remember the key is to stop at the height of enjoyment and to leave guests looking forward to the next bite.
Get your kitchen organised
Make sure your kitchen equipment will support your menu. Think about your fridge and oven space. Do you need to dig out a cool box for storing cold ingredients, or perhaps you need to borrow a few saucepans or plates?
Find a match made in heaven
Your wine choices are at great way to surprise and delight your guests. Rather than simply going for white wine with fish, explore some unusual wine pairings to bring out the different flavours of your dishes. For inspiration read our food and wine consultant Rob Wade’s suggestions.
Recruit an extra pair of hands
Ahead of time, send a little message to a friendly guest or two asking them to give you a hand on the night. Reward pot washers and serves with tasty left overs to take home.
Plan it out. If it’s looking overwhelming scale it down. A good idea is to write out a timeline for your evening, this will ensure you stay on track. Do as much prep as you can ahead of time, including portioning, creating garnishes and laying out crockery, which will help you stay in control of each course as you serve it.
Lastly, your guests want to see you enjoying yourself, so have fun and enjoy a glass of wine or two.
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