This 12-minute reading is from The Soul of a Chef, on my first experience with a tasting menu. Though I had special consideration at the meal—I was not a paying customer—it is an honest and emotional description of what remains the most important restaurant meal of my life. I thought it apropos, following my previous post addressing recent criticisms in the media of today’s tasting menus. It’s not a polished video—I simply set up a tripod in my kitchen before dinner and read—so please forgive my lack of video production skills!

[For more information on what led up to my unlikely passage from unknown Cleveland-based writer to dinner at The French Laundry and what was to follow, read The Main Dish, a 35-page memoir of becoming an accidental food writer. It was published as a Kindle Single, $1.99, and is available on all devices (iPads, etc.); just download the free Kindle app.]

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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11 Wonderful responses to “Tasting Menu: A Reading”

  • Dan

    David Kampala did a wonderful job in his United States of Arugula of showing how our relationship to restaurants in the US changed over the last couple of generations and, I think, the current backlash (or critic engineered controversy) is a symptom of this change. Dining out used to be a special event heralded by the donning of one’s Sunday best in order to enjoy food that was just impractical to prepare at home. Now, restaurant dining is commonplace and it seems that people are objecting to the transformation of the restaurant back into a dining experience enjoyed by a few and heralded not by formal attire, but multiple courses and extended service. Restaurants should be about dining, not simply eating and, as a result, should have the potential to be transformative.

    • Mantonat

      True, dining out has evolved from our parents’ experiences to our current experiences, but before that, restaurants were there for people who actually needed to eat and didn’t have the means to prepare food themselves. At the beginning of the industrial era (or even going back to when urban areas started getting really big), many people lived in dwellings that didn’t have kitchens or cooking facilities. Hot meal were always from either restaurants or street vendors. The idea of eating the majority of meals outside the home is not new, it’s just that packaged and industrially processed foods have taken the place of freshly prepared whole foods on the menus of inexpensive everyday restaurants. But then again, the same thing has happened in the realm of home cooking.

    • ruhlman

      difficult to be transformative but I agree. and david kamp is an excellent writer and that book i highly recommend.

  • Dan

    I suppose I was thinking more of the days of Le Pavilion at the World’s Fair in Queens and the fine dining period which followed as the analog for places like The French Laundry. The chow lines from the era of Jacob Reis in NYC really have no connection to places offering tasting menus today, they were more like the 18th century taverns that served a simple bill of faire rather than a true ala carte style menu. Like you point out, there have been “places to just get a meal out” for centuries, but restaurants serving high end cuisine like that of Escoffier have been more rare until the restaurant revolution, as Kamp charts it, beginning with the 1940s and ramping up in the 1960s and 1970s. Now we have a restaurant scene where foodies and regular diners alike expect high end food everywhere from diners to food trucks. It seems that adding a bit of that old-school event experience is part of the tasting menu experience, but without the formality when you consider the whimsy inherent in some dishes by Adria, Achatz, Keller, etc…

  • Mary Beth

    Michael, while I listened to you read, I could only think about the Bourdain episode that I just saw for the first time a few months ago. It chronicled his “first time” at the French Laundry with you and Ripert and somebody else… so I could picture exactly a number of the dishes as you were reading about them. Wonderful twenty minute vacation break for me on a grey, cold, rainy day in Columbus. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mary

    What a lovely reading. I very much enjoyed it. You are a beautiful writer. Thanks for taking us places and helping us experience things we’ll likely never see or feel on our own. Enjoyed that very much.

  • Jonathan

    Thank you for doing something awesome (by which I mean even more fantastic than usual…). Loved your reading.

  • Dan

    Thank you for the post, it was perfectly timed for my class. We just started discussing narrative descriptive language and your post provided an excellent example for a room full of Culinary students who wanted to think about anything but writing at 7:00 am.

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