Seasonal tasting menus don’t just happen by chance. Here is a look at the process behind the perfectly coursed and paired dining experience at Twist by Pierre Gagnaire at Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas
Something very special takes place around six times a year in the private dining room at Twist by Pierre Gagnaire inside Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas. And, until now, this secret meeting was reserved for only a handful of the hotel's dedicated staff.
Twist by Pierre Gagnaire at Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas
I am the first journalist/outsider ever to be invited to join the hotel's food and beverage pantheon on a culinary odyssey to sample and refine the new summer tasting menu. The panel consists of Food and Beverage Director Robert Jenny, Master Sommelier Will Costello and Executive Chef David Werly, and myself. The man of the hour is Chef de Cuisine Frédéric Don, who presents us with five courses. Around a dozen bottles of wine crown the table and each of us is given a cheat sheet of dish preparations, ingredients and plating notes on which to make comments.
Frédéric Don, Twist's Chef de Cuisine
'Every palate is different and this menu review experience will provide me with feedback on what our guests are looking for when it comes to texture and taste,' says Don. 'It's an important part of the menu development process and I always enjoy hearing the initial comments.'
Disproving the old adage 'too many cooks spoil the broth', Werly is there as a second set of eyes and, since Gagnaire's style of cuisine keeps staff and diners on their toes, Costello uses the process to pick the right wine. 'The way a dish reads is not always how it will end up tasting,' says Costello. 'Over the years, you get to understand a chef and exactly what he is going for, but Pierre Gagnaire's unique flavour combinations are constantly evolving. So I need to sample a dish to help get the optimum result in both taste and texture.'
The first course to arrive from the kitchen is a poached black cod with black olive gelée, star-anise-scented potato mousseline and summer herbs. Chef Don brings it plated in three different ways. The group decides that based on the shape of the dish, in some iterations, the potato becomes too heavy. A sparkling Basque wine is chosen as the perfect complement.
The private dining space at Twist
Next up is white asparagus with smoked salmon, asparagus-tarragon velouté and Mortadella. A lively debate ensues about whether Mortadella is the right choice.
'What should Mortadella taste like?' asks Costello.
'I think it depends,' says Jenny. 'Sometimes there is a little pistachio, a little peppercorn… the fat gives it the flavour. Personally, I'm not a huge fan. I prefer saltier prosciutto.'
'In this dish, what does it taste like?' Costello wants to know.
'It's very nice to have white asparagus with ham,' says Werly. 'We won't roast it, though. We want to bring out a little creaminess.'
In the end, the group decides to keep the Mortadella and the white asparagus finds a perfect match in the Grüner Veltliner, a classic Austrian grape, which brings out the smokiness of the salmon.
A dish of saddle of rabbit
A lobster soufflé with fennel, peas and fava beans with calamansi citrus beurre doux is a hit with everyone and yields pure praise. The team notes this is the dish you will talk about on your drive home.
According to Don, the most valuable comments of the afternoon have come from Costello regarding the balance of the foie gras soup with summer corn, Riesling and butter lettuce stuffed with apricot and figs. This was subsequently revised to better balance taste and texture.
All present agree that the takeaway is the journey, not so much the commentary on each plate. 'I find the process very interesting – the magic of my job is that I get to learn something new every single day,' says Don.
As for the man who's name is on the door, he is always kept in the loop. 'After I receive the feedback, I brief Chef Gagnaire and we work collectively from there and determine what revisions need to be made,' adds Don.
The summer Grand Tasting menu is available until 31 July 2016 and comes as five or six courses. Twist also offers the option of the Lucky Number Seven food and wine pairing, a seven-course tasting menu which is available year-round