To savour a tasting menu is an act that goes beyond mere eating, it is an experience that involves many elements. The most apparent are the strictly gastronomic ones, but there are other fundamental ingredients to help create the experience: the decoration, the place’s comfort, the service, or the long waiting list we face to try to get a table at a prestigious restaurant.
Every restaurant chooses some determined elements with a common purpose: arouse the customer’s emotions. How to achieve this reaction? Some restaurants opt for cooking flavours that the customer seeks and recognizes, while other restaurants opt to surprize by creating something the client would have never expect.
Many dishes made by some of the most prestigious chefs marched in front of the diner in a tasting menu, a menu format through which the gastronomic experience develops. This menu is composed by different steps that pursue a specific discourse from which the diner’s emotions arise. The surprise lies in offering culinary creations as small snacks, offering guests a whirlwind of sensations that evolves as you go through the menu.
Previously the dinnerware used in traditional restaurants was made up of plane and shiny dishes, responding to the use of determined materials, technologies and certain hygienic aspects; the new tasting menu has made possible the creation of new pieces designed expressly to induce a different sensorial experience.
Xavier Vega, from Luesma & Vega, design study specialized in dinnerware for some of the most prestigious restaurants around the world, tells us that “the dinnerware, besides being highly important because of its functional characteristics, it contributes to translate in the most exact way what the chef wants to transmit with his creations. It emphasizes what the chef wants to evoke, helping to contextualize and bring out the product. It can recall places, cultures and products or if wanted it can evoke the contrary.” This evocation is of useful in some cuisines, such as that of Paco Pérez. When the final recipe is plated, and loses its original form, the plate helps the diner to sense the origin of the product, evoking the silhouettes and determined textures.
Besides evoking textures and shapes, the dinnerware also helps to synthesize, preparing us for certain tasting aspects. We know how the different shapes emit a determined sound when the cutlery touches the dish’s surface, we also know how the piece tickle our hands when we touch it. Just as a gastronomic experience aims to amaze, the dishes can help to achieve this goal by being surprising.
Repeating elements throughout the dining experience can work against the goal of surprising the diner; an original dinnerware created in accordance with the offered cooking will help stimulate the surprise and emotions of the clients. Chefs need exclusively designed china specially made to adapt to their specific needs. A gastrobar and an haute cuisine establishment are not the same. The innovation, risks and sobriety attributed to Mugáritz is not the same as the fun attributed to Tickets: each proposal must differentiate themselves to be unique.
Tickets, for example, uses an English Victorian style cup that the diner quickly associates to classicism and tea. When the diner tastes the content, discovers that what looked like tea is actually chicken broth. In this case the dish is essential for the game to take place, since without the cup of tea it would be impossible to trick the diners.
Another example where the china acquires a prominent role is one of the 41º plates. The restaurant uses a small bronze tea cup that weights more than regular cups. When the diner holds the cup, his brain is surprised because of the unexpected weight, from then on all his senses are focused, analyzing every detail that arise throughout the meal.
DiverXo, David Muñoz’s restaurant, has also been one of the pioneers in the use of new formats working in collaboration with the designers from Luesma & Vega. The prestigious chef has introduced into his menu a plate that simulates a canvas, allowing him to express upon the plate as a painter does onto a canvas. This concept makes the plate into something more than a mere container, it becomes a fundamental element to the gastronomic author’s artwork. The switchover of the dinnerware into a canvas changes the rules of the game: the chef can come out of the kitchen and finish his artwork in from of the diners; making the canvas-plate an indispensable part of the storytelling.