So last night I was honored to be a guest judge on Top Chef. I tasted over 10 chefs’ best offerings in small plate form, and judged their restaurants accordingly.
Okay, so I didn’t get to be a judge on Top Chef, but I did get to feel like one when I attended a Restaurant Week preview party in my new town. The town is right outside of Philadelphia, so it attracts some great chefs who want to open their own restaurants, hence the high concentration of fine dining for such a small town. The restaurants were out in full force, trying to lure new customers with their best dishes, and I obliged accordingly. It was a lot of fun, and I would definitely encourage all of you to go to such a tasting in your town when it happens. However, it did prompt me to make my first, but surely not my last in this foodie journey that I’m on, list of what not to do. Heed my advice, and be on your way to overeating bliss…
What Not to Do at a Multi-Restaurant Tasting
1. Eat every crumb of every dish. The fact that it’s called a “tasting” should be your first hint. Taste each dish, do not inhale it. Make sure your bites include what the chef wanted you to eat (the steak dish, top left, for example, included fried onions, steak, and mashed potatoes; try to get a little of each on your fork). Eat enough to have an opinion on the dish, but remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I secretly suspect that the chefs try to load your plate so you’ll be too full to eat everyone else’s dishes – do not fall for this trick.
2. Try to eat standing up. These tasting often have 1 seat per (approximately) 1,000 guests. Standing with a drink and a plate, trying to cut a meatball with a plastic fork is not a good look on anyone, and the resulting red-sauce-stained shirt is equally unattractive. Before getting any food, find an open seat (just for yourself, anyone attending with you can fend for themselves). Then put down a purse, a jacket, whatever you have that says “this seat is mine, steal at your own risk”.
3. Be picky. Why have you paid $X to come to this fancy tasting, if you’re only going to eat what you eat every other night of the week? Use this as an opportunity to try things that scare you, that you would never pay for in a restaurant (like sushi with eel). Worse that happens, see rule 4.
4. Love it just because it’s different. Yes, different is good (see rule 3). However, sometimes the things that are different are just bad. Really, really bad. Take, for example, french fries topped with cheese curd and gravy (apparently it’s a Canadian dish. I suspect they were just trying to make me feel xenophobic for not liking it). It was not good. Don’t worry about looking cool or innovative. What tastes good is good. What tastes bad is just bad.
5. Trust there will be something to drink. Just because it is a food tasting, and just because there will be free beer and wine, it doesn’t mean that there will be soda. Or even water. And tasting sushi after Italian after steak requires a bit of water to cleanse the palate. Just a bit.