It's not uncommon in today's quickly developing restaurant scene to see a multi-course tasting at a fine dining establishment. In fact, in the higher echelons of the restaurant community, it has become absolute normalcy.Customers will gladly pay $200-$400 per person (and that typically doesn't even include a wine pairing) for a dining experience, meant to blow their (and their respective tongues) socks off. When it comes to participating restaurants, I'm talking the elite of the very elite here. Places like Daniel, Jean George, Le Bernadin, and Per Se; just to name a few in NYC alone.
It just so happens that I, am one of those people. I get a thrill from the ride that chefs invite their guests on when they agree to put their menu down, and take part in the tasting. I'm not the only one either. It seems to me, that a growing number of restaurants have thrown their typical a la carte menus into the oven in favor of an entirely "chef centric" tasting menu, and guests are (surprisingly) ok with that.
There is no doubt about it, it is risky for both the restaurant, and the participating guest. Especially when considering the high prices for such an extravagant and complicated meal. But it is also every chef's dream. To have complete control of his guest's meal is to conduct a symphony orchestra flawlessly, each member of the group playing perfectly, the arrangement written by the conductor, just for that particular audience. A special moment indeed. It belongs, in my mind, at the very heights of the culinary art.
The next step that many of these restaurants take is to put a theme or centrally flowing idea through their tasting menus. In some cases, it is as simple as preparing foods that can be found locally and in that season. In more extreme cases (like the meal we had at Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian), the chef guides his guests on a historical timeline of geological and manmade formations from Earth's inception to the present - deep, I know.
Another recently emerging trend is to organize the meal according to a type of produce or animal. Often chefs will compose a "game dinner" in which the meal is solely comprised of various wild meats like elk, hare, and even turtle. Some chefs will propose a shellfish dinner, or a dinner based on fish from a certain region. Even more popular still: a multi-course pig tasting, in which nearly every part of the pig is used from the snout to the tail. Each part of the pig (yes even the organs) plays a special role in it's own course as part of a larger tasting. Pig tastings have been happening for years, and yet no one (at least to my knowledge) has stepped out of their box and tried that technique with another type of meat. Say...chicken?
To say that Americans love chicken is a gross understatement. Americans consume more chicken each year than any other type of meat, and that number is only growing due to high cost of cattle feed. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. When prepared properly, chicken can be incredibly delicious and healthy to boot. But, the problem is just that. It is almost never prepared properly. Whether ground and smashed into dry nuggets, cooked to oblivion and sliced on an overdressed salad, or fried until, like a soaking sponge, it is slopped upon the plate of an eager child - ketchup in one hand, ready to drench its burnt breadcrumb crust. Yes, it is true. Chicken has been reduced to a scrap meat in this country. Left for children, the elderly, and people with little change in their pocket.
There is still hope friends! It doesn't have to be this way! Chicken can be just as delicious, if not better, than pork and deserves to be placed on a pedestal right along side it. Chickens have just as many muscles and organs - each worthy of being cooked in its own delicate way to bring out the best of its characteristics.
Yes everyone, I am proposing a renaissance of the common chicken! Cast aside by chefs and housewives alike. It is time that this graceful (ok, maybe not so graceful) and highly delicious animal be brought back to the plates of fine dining restaurants everywhere. It's time has come.
I am challenging myself to create a working tasting menu based on the chicken. There are some guidelines that I am setting for myself (as if I need this to be any harder that it will already be).
1. The "Chicken Tasting Menu" is meant for two guests at a time. A single diner, nor an odd number of diners can order the menu under any circumstances.
2. One whole chicken will be used. I am going to make an assumption that the chicken laid two eggs the night before it's slaughter. Both eggs must also be used in the menu.
3. The chicken must be used in it's entirety. That means each muscle, bones, all organs, eggs, etc...
4. The menu must be a "working menu" - that is, that the recipes can be taken into a modern professional kitchen and recreated for a real life dining experience. It is my hopes that I can one day execute this meal in that manner.
5. Each blog post will describe the next course of the tasting menu as if it were happening in real time.
I hope this post and the ones to follow encourage chefs and home cooks alike to take another look at the humble chicken. Next time you're at the store, pass on the nuggets and buy the whole bird. Study its anatomy. Which cooking techniques work and which ones don't, and more importantly...why? Try cooking it a little differently this time. Maybe try eating some of those parts you typically throw in the garbage. Together, we can bring back the fame and glory the chicken once obtained and has since lost. It is time.
The Chickaissance Is Here,