10/05/2005 - 22:00

What’s the deal with degustation?

10/05/2005 - 22:00

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Lose the low-carb alternatives, abandon Atkins and forget zero calorie options – the era of the degustation menu is upon us.

What’s the deal with degustation?

Lose the low-carb alternatives, abandon Atkins and forget zero calorie options – the era of the degustation menu is upon us.

Top Perth chefs are responding to the needs of their customers, who want to experience more than just a la carte.

The time is right for tasting menus.

A presentation of miniature dishes one after another in a procession of gastro indulgence, degustation menus often feature between five and as many as 12 distinct courses during a meal.

The French word ‘degustation’ means “a taste or sample of food or drink” but its origins aren’t strictly European. Chinese banquet meals have operated along similar lines for thousands of years, as have Japanese kaiseki menus.

What makes degustation menus so unique is their ability to disrupt the established rules of restaurants. After all, there must be a special trade-off when diners deliberately waive their only power – choice over the menu.

Brett Johnson, head chef at Bunbury’s Vat 2, admits the whole process involves “doing things a bit differently”. When orchestrating his tasting menus, Mr Johnson says he tries to introduce new ideas into Bunbury’s food scene, enabling his clientele to experience original and different cuisine.

Neal Jackson of Jackson’s Restaurant admits degustation options instinctively “involve trust from punter’s point of view”. Mr Jackson says his nine- and 12-course degustation options allow him to push the envelope a little bit further.

Clyde Bevan of Friends Restaurant takes a different approach.

 “The problem today is people go to eat, not to dine. They are happy that their food is one dimensional,” he says.

To combat this trend Friends has offered a degustation option for 15 years. Mr Bevan believes the current nine-course alternative gives diners an unrivalled restaurant experience.

In the kitchen, degustation menus provide chefs with the opportunity to showcase the full range of their talents and creativity.

Celebrated gastronome Alain Chapel says such options are “in a sense, the most personal offspring of a chef”.

David Coomer of Star Anise fame has offered a degustation right from his restaurant’s inception.

Mr Coomer says degustation allows for a wider range of complex items than would appear a la carte. His produce-driven, modern European-cum-Asian influenced tasting menu features five courses that can be matched with wine.

Mr Jackson agrees, saying his ‘dego’ is “what I feel we’re doing best”.

“It has moved away from a la carte slowly,” he says of his seasonally inspired tasting menu.

“It’s got its own identity now”.

Mr Bevan agrees, explaining that such menus “express the personality of the kitchen”.

A degustation also offers a glimpse into how chefs see their food through its ideal sequence. Surrendering to the chef in this way not only guarantees that diners (usually) taste the freshest produce available, but also in the manner and size originally intended by its creator.

 “You have strike a very good balance,” Mr Coomer says.

“Not only between portion sizes but also texture wise as well.”

Mr Jackson says the tasting menu is more like quick flavours with “small punches of flavour” explains, noting that many the most popular items on his tasting menu can not be replicated for main course.

In the past food writers have called a la carte the democracy and degustation the dictatorship of cuisine.

Clearly, though, with professional and experienced chefs committed to exploiting the uniqueness and quality of local produce, the trust diners place in them is more akin to benevolent authoritarianism.

• The writer works at Jackson’s

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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