04 November 2016

Food Theatre

For the past few years, I have learned how to appreciate food. And it's not just about eating it. There are aspects of food and dining that has less to do with taking in sustenance, but more about the experience. And I encounter this totally different aspect of food whenever I eat out in restaurants and try their tasting menus. It is not something I do often, but rather more of a once-in-a-blue-moon basis.

See, if all you want is to satisfy hunger, then you might as well go to a fast food restaurant, and eat crappy food. Of course you might tell me that you might want quality too, so there's street food and cheap restaurants for that. But sometimes, you want something more than food. You want an experience. So there are places that provide these. And most of the time, the food comes in the form of the tasting menu, where multiple dishes appear in succession, containing just very little food, but taken altogether, the whole series of courses provide a meal.

There was one place I went to, in Copenhagen. It was a butcher shop and restaurant, rolled into one. Their offerings on the tasting menu spanned what they were selling behind the butcher counter.

There was also this one other place in Berlin, which was a modern Japanese restaurant. The interior is maze-like, and the booths afford the diners considerable privacy. The tasting menu also spanned different tastes and dishes showcasing the chef's skills.

And most recently, there was this one place I went to in Bilbao. This was definitely food theatre. The bread gets wheeled to your table, and cut right in front of you. The flavors are presented in ways you don't expect: asparagus is presented in ice cream form, some liquids are spherified, and some familiar dishes are reconstructed, and some methods are used in unexpected ways, like cooking mousse in liquid nitrogen. And most importantly, perhaps, there are flavors that you don't expect to be combined in different ways, and when you taste it, it works, and you realize the talent of the chef behind the dish you just consumed. The dishes show personality and talent, creativity and innovation, such that most tasting menus don't really feature traditional dishes but are more the creations of the chefs that whip up these creations depending on what is on offer.

So yeah, every now and then, I set aside some resources both time and money, and experience food theatre. I don't do it often, after all it is not cheap. But perhaps that just highlights the fact that such an event is special and not an ordinary occasion.


  1. I rarely if ever eat out when we are in Ottawa because I find most restaurants are franchises where food is bland and predictable. But I understand your point, the whole experience. I get it when we travel! Bonus for exotic food and funny dining out cultural differences.

    1. Zhu,

      I am pretty sure that there are local restaurants that are worth visiting in Ottawa. But I agree, it is harder to find good food in North America than in Europe, since I do have the impression that there are plenty of chain establishments that serve predictable and boring food.