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Host a Degustation Dinner

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by Julia Hebaiter (aka Julia Svoice) (subscribe)
Owns 'FoodLit'. Highly qualified, established food & lifestyle writer, former restaurateur, founder professional writing business, Articul8. Long, diverse writing history, passion for food culture, the land & inspired food language.www.foodlit.com.au
Published November 19th 2010
So, what exactly is a degustation dinner? The term 'degustation', according to Wikipedia, is a French culinary term "meaning 'a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods' and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company." It's basically a shared gastronomic experience or journey involving lots of small, innovative tastes, and one that engages as many senses as possible.

Many restaurants offer degustation menus and I can see why. If given the choice, would you prefer to sit down to one big dish or a series of smaller dishes to tantalise as many tastebuds and senses as possible?

So, just how does one host a degustation dinner in their own home? Here are a few tips:

Keep the number of guests small to start with, 4 or 5 at most, less if need be.
Also keep the number of courses manageable (maybe 6 or so), unlike the 13-course degustation I did on the night of the Masterchef Final. I'm a bit nuts sometimes.
Reject guests' kind offers to bring a dish, unless you've carefully discussed exactly what it is and you trust their culinary skills. Some cheap dip will ruin the experience.
Welcome, with open arms, guests' offers to bring wine and to clean up.
Decide from the outset whether you're going to be serving all night (boring, hard work and not much fun), or whether you'll plan dishes that can be pre-prepared and require little effort to serve.
Dishes must have a Wow-factor, either through their uniqueness or their unique, innovative presentation. Use unusual, fabulous crockery, glassware, tableware, serving dishes, etc.
Let your creative juices run freely. Both the planning and preparation of food is like play time. Think outside the square and let imaginations run wild.
- See some more very, very important guidelines here.

I'm no chef extraordinaire. I really just enjoy playing with simple food and combining different tastes to give guests a new experience. Here are a few easy-peasy dishes that my guests liked.

- Super-fresh ricotta (purchased in the tub from a good Italian deli) served atop thin slices of good-quality baguette and topped with a drizzle of honey or chestnut paste. Serve a dish of fresh-ground coffee on the side, which guests can lightly sprinkle over if they wish.

- Fried prosciutto (just crisp quickly in a little vegetable oil before guests arrive). Place on baguette rounds or, for an added twist, add a small piece of parmesan cheese while frying, rolling the prosciutto around the cheese. Fry lightly or the cheese will disperse everywhere. (Baguettes can be pre-sliced early and wrapped in a clean tea-towel for maintaining freshness.)

- Easy garlic prawns served on pearl cous cous, with each bite-sized mouthful served in a Chinese spoon. (So for 4 people, you might make up 12 spoons). China spoons are available from discount stores, though you'll need a few. Plastic ones are available from Chinese groceries or plastic-ware stores.

- Fresh-squeezed blood-orange juice as a palate cleanser (if you have an electric juicer). Most people aren't yet familiar with blood oranges, so there's your wow-factor. Serve the pretty-pink juice in a clear jug alongside shot glasses, a dish of water and a dish of sugar. Guests dip the rim of their glass in water, then sugar (cocktail style), and pour themselves a drink. Serve a halved blood orange for a little education. The hands-on interaction gives a little extra wow-factor.

- It's okay to buy stuff to save you making everything. For instance, if you can find an excellent, and I mean excellent, slab of chocolate brownie (ideally using Belgian chocolate), you can slice it and serve with a bowl of fresh cream that guest dollop on for themselves. Warm brownie a little in the microwave if desired for a little oozy chocolate effect.

There are some more degustation menu tips and a sample menu at this great, dedicated degustation website. For more ideas, look for easy snack recipes online or in your cookbooks. Better still, open your fridge and pantry and get creative with what you have!
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Why? Delicious, somewhat decadent and deliriously fun.
Where: Your Place
Cost: Varies
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