Why are menu tastings important?

By Nick Gratwick, January 9, 2019

Nick Gratwick - Guest Author



Whilst many may see tastings as a ‘jolly’, I can assure you, they are critical to the operation!


Devising the right menu for an event extends much further than the food on the plate, it covers style, provenance, crockery, food trends, back of house space, kitchen equipment, temperature in front and back of house areas, number of chefs and the wine choices.


The process starts with an initial brief from the Keith Prowse Event Team, only once we can answer the following questions: Who is the audience, what has been well received in the past, what are the current trends, what’s the look we are trying to achieve, what will be in season, in which facilities do we have to deliver the menus, and what dietary requirements do we need to address? Whilst the brief may include specific dishes we want to try, it allows the creative chefs to put their own flair into the menu, to surprise us and create a collaborative and exciting menu.


A taster of what guests can expect from The Lawn at The Championships, Wimbledon. 


Our tastings are an open forum and we often have press and our marketing team present - all have an opinion and all opinions are welcome. Whilst we critique the food and ask for changes to the look, texture or flavours we are doing so with the customer front and centre in our minds. We work with some exceptionally talented and creative chefs and their professionalism shines through when we challenge their creations. Generally they adapt or change dishes on the spot to ensure we reach agreement on whether that dish should be included.


Keith Prowse Managing Director Andy Vinsen discusses the menu with one of the chef Bruno Valette.  


Once all dishes are chosen we look at them collectively to sense-check our decision to ensure each dish complements the others and provides contrast. Do we have a mousse with the starter and a mousse as our dessert? Do the starter and main course both include basil as a key ingredient? Can we switch out dishes to ensure we’re offering enough variety? At some events we are serving a 4-course à la carte lunch to 1,000 guests in a 90 minute window. Logistically, this is challenging! I remember one year we were desperate to offer a warm apricot clafoutis with a single serve of pistachio ice cream to our customers. The conversations had during the tasting made that possible, along with the presence of Albert Roux OBE to come up with a solution.



Keith Prowse Managing Director Andy Vinsen and Michel Roux Jnr enjoy a lighter moment as they discuss the menu with one of the chef Allan Blackmore.   


Over the last few years there has been an increase in the number of guests who have special diets or food intolerances. Most noticeable is the rise in veganism over the last twelve months or so. It's important that our menus represent these changes in consumer choices.


Each dish is then taken away and professionally photographed in a lightbox and sent to the Event Manager and chef. We use these photographs in our team briefings and the chefs write their menu specs, which include all ingredients and the cooking processes.


With the menu chosen, the focus turns to the crockery, cutlery and glassware. It is amazing how changing the crockery can have such an impact on the look of the food and it’s important these choices are made at the tasting. A rustic plate and a clean white dish both have their place, depending on the food, time of year, event and environment in which the food is served.


Albert Roux OBE casts a final eye over the menu as his son Michel Jnr looks on.


Once the dishes have been chosen we look at the wine choices. All of our Event Managers have WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) qualifications and are experts in pairing wines with food. We may also employ a sommelier who can bring knowledge on current trends and information on vintages. Once chosen, we work closely with our wine suppliers to ensure the large quantities of wine we require are available.


Me and Silvano Giraldin ponder over the wine pairings.   


For our largest events we have a dry run of the catering operation the day before. This gives us the opportunity to review the menu and operation in the environment in which it will be prepared and served to our guests. We check the food against the photographs and specifications, and the chefs are able to ensure that the food is of the same quality as enjoyed at the tasting. If the menu tasting was five months before the event some of the ingredients may not have been in season so we often find that the food tastes better!


As you can see, there are many reasons why a tasting is indispensable. Ultimately, we must all deliver exceptional food and service on day one of the event.


Photography by Deb Porter

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