black holes and gray matter. in one thousand tangos.

“The trouble is, chefs don’t look to be re-inventing themselves as people willing to cede any control to their customers. Young chefs everywhere are adopting the tasting menu as a way to show off and control costs at the same time—and to signify their ambitions. Few follow the one laudable exception I know: that of Dan Barber, the visionary chef-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an experimental farm and research center on the lavish Rockefeller estate in Westchester. Some years ago he changed to a tasting menu because, he recently told me, “our menu is dictated by what comes in from the farm in the morning. I don’t think people realize that not having a menu here isn’t a gimmick. Farmers aren’t responding to my menu requests. They’re leading the dance. Always.”

And fewer still have the talent or artistic vision to sustain a long tasting menu. Trying a diner’s patience, though, is an achievement that even a mediocre chef can aspire to. In Somerville, near Boston, the young, self-taught owners of a restaurant called Journeyman made tasting-only menus a part of their business plan, along with the usual local/seasonal/carted-from-the-farm-or-raised-in-our-window-boxes ingredients. When I dined there last year, the inflexibility of the dour, dogmatic servers would have been comical had it not been so infuriating. As more and more restaurants adopt this model, tasting-only menus will empower formerly well-meaning, eager-to-please cooks and servers to become petty despots, and more and more diners will discover that absolute power irritates absolutely.”

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