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Are Custom Menus Designed For Diners’ Taste Buds the Future of Fine Dining?

We don’t all taste food the same way, and chef Timothy Roberts is changing the way he creates dishes to account for that.

faux scallops Photo: courtesy Wall Street Journal

Unless you ask for a specific modification to a dish (no mayo on that burger, please) chefs strive to make each dish they turn out exactly the same. That level of consistency from one customer’s plate to the next is the mark of a highly skilled cook.

But give two people the exact same dish and one may find its flavors perfectly balanced and another will recoil at the bitterness or level of salt. Even the presence of cilantro will taste like soap to some. That’s because our taste buds vary. Some people are supertasters, for example,  and possess more tastebuds than the average person. On the opposite end of the spectrum you’ll find nontasters.

This past summer at Vox Table in Austin, chef Timothy Roberts held a dinner where he personalized the experience for different tasters. Before the meal began people tested their taste buds with chemically coated paper strips, and then filled out a quick questionnaire. Using that info determined which dish people would get. At the dinner everyone got the same menu, but tweaks were made to the courses depending on whether a person was a nontaster, a supertaster, or someone in between.

The Wall Street Journal was there to try the meal and produce this short video explaining Roberts’ meal, his inspiration for tailoring his tasting menu, and why he thinks this is the future of fine dining.

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