But what does the maximum experience require? As it turns out, this was the main reason we created the Tour menu to begin with. When I was at the French Laundry it was common for the kitchen to give selected guests extra courses. Perhaps they were repeat diners, people in the industry, or friends of the chef. Of the 12 meals I had there, nine were in the 17- to 20-course range, and they ranked as the best I had ever had. Not that the typical nine-course menu they offer is lesser, but it is...after all...less.
On occasion a front-of-the-house member would come back to the kitchen and mention that a table adjacent to a "VIP" table was jealous that they did not receive a particular course. "I didn't see that listed on the menu," they would tell the captain. What do you say at that point?
Sorry sir, you are not special enough to enjoy that creation?
It is a tough spot. The chef and the restaurant has a certain responsibility to "take care of" its valued guests, that is just the way the world works. But at the level we are striving for we also have the accountability to make everyone feel special.
What are the realistic expectations of the diner?
So when I arrived at Trio in 2001, I suggested that we make that "VIP" experience available to everyone who was interested in it. The Tour menu was created. It was the entire repertoire of the kitchen. Twenty to 30 courses in length, it was the "kitchen sink".
By making it available to everyone we had covered our own butts. If a table noticed a neighboring table receiving a course they did not, it was for the simple reason the elected to not order the menu that the course was on. But more importantly, we now made our "best possible" experience available to everyone. This worked...most of the time.
Baby steps, as they say: We often start slow, serving a new course to one or two tables a night. This allows us to get to know the nuances of the course from the operational standpoint. It is one thing to have a neat idea and make it once to prove it can be done. It is entirely another to produce the dish under strict time parameters and in the environment of busy restaurant while serving it to an audience that is unpredictable.
For instance, the introduction of the
Hot Potato--Cold Potato
back in October 2006 was comical. Inside a palm-sized paraffin wax bowl is a cold truffle-potato soup, suspended on a pin elevated above the bowl include: a hot potato sphere, Parmesan, butter, chive , and black truffle. The guest must pick the tiny bowl up and remove the pin, which releases the garnishes into the soup combining the contrasting tempertures just before eating. The bowls proved to be so difficult for the front of the house team to transport that we could only manage to get a handful to the table per service.
Once they did arrive, how in the world do we explain such a course to diners that had no background knowledge of the concept? The wax bowls were spilled, people crushed them in their hands, and even tried to eat them before we acclimated ourselves to the required systems making the dish a success. And ultimately have the ability to serve it to every person...every night. I won't even mention the pains the first cook that was responsible for making 100 tiny wax bowls a night went through.