In the world of fine dining, certain cuisines seem to take precedence. However, exquisite gustatory experiences not only exist across cultures but have been made all the richer by global influences.
French haute cuisine and European influences
In the English language, most of our fine dining vocabulary comes from the French. For example, the term cuisine is simply the French word for kitchen or cooking. The word degustation itself comes from French and translates to “tasting”.
Indeed, the French are known not only for romantic restaurants but play a defining role in fine dining. Haute cuisine, which is French for “high cooking”, refers to the cuisine of high-level establishments and includes restaurant degustation.
A French degustation follows similar courses as a standard meal but with additional courses and smaller portions. In standard order, bread, soups, and salads tend to come at the beginning of a meal or tasting. Next, the main tends to feature meat or fish as a centerpiece, possibly with vegetables and potatoes on the side. Cheese tastings will come toward the end, followed by desserts, coffees, and digestifs.
Though fine dining and degustation may have deep roots in Gallic culture, modern food experiences go far beyond French cuisine and all manner of fusion cooking practices have been spicing up the culinary world.
However, before diving any deeper, let us establish a sound grasp of fine dining roots by understanding these classic European meal courses.
Classic meal courses
To understand the foundations of fine dining, we can begin with the courses of a standard meal as it is served not only in France but across Europe and in many countries around the world.
A simple three-course meal will begin with a starter or entree, which is a small course served before the main dish. This is slightly different from an appetiser--a small sample of food eaten before the entree in a longer meal--and an aperitif, which is an alcoholic beverage consumed before the meal to stimulate the appetite.
The centrepiece of any meal is the main course and this meaty plate of food is followed by a sweet dessert in almost every culture around the world as it is a practice that goes back to ancient times. In French fine dining, a cheese course may come in between the main and the sweet dessert and in many European cultures the meal is concluded with a cup of coffee or an alcoholic digestif served after the meal to aid digestion.
With Italian influences, a tasting may begin with antipasti and primo pasta courses, follow with the main dish of meat or fish as the secondo, and finish with dessert. Further European influences on degustation include the addition of a pairing of white, red, or dessert wine with each course.
Japanese degustation, tradition, and fusion
Whether with traditional influences or modern fusion, the rich and skillful cuisine of Japan brings an abundance of goodness to the degustation table.
Very similar to degustation, Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese dining experience made up of many small, delicately prepared, and often artistically arranged dishes. However, Kaiseki differs quite strongly from degustation in that the entire menu is laid out on one tray and served up to each diner. However, many of the skills and techniques used in Kaiseki can carry over to Japanese restaurant degustation.
A Japanese degustation menu will--in keeping with the classic course structure of a meal--begin with soup, often miso. Next, a tasting is likely to feature a bounty of fish and seafood in the form of sashimi and sushi. Heavier red meats are likely to follow the lighter and leaner varieties as the main course and followed by an inventive dessert.
Regardless of where you are in the world, there is sure to be an opportunity for an eye-opening for beautiful restaurants near you, such restaurants are excellent venues for functions and events and can let you experience the culinary world from anywhere in the city. Degustation is a wonderful way to explore not only an array of the best that a restaurant or chef has to offer but to explore the cuisines of the world in fantastic blends of fusion and tradition.