Chefs: Tasting Your Food Isn't Always Enough

We've all heard the mantra, whether in person at restaurant jobs or on TV's Top Chef or what-have-you: Chefs: Taste Your Food!

Except lately, I've noticed that it's not always enough for a chef to "taste" his or her food.

But let me back up. About two months ago I dined at a French bistro for an updated review that'll run in our June issue. I ordered the bouillabaisse, which our server had suggested and a dish that just sounded like it'd hit the spot. And at first, it was terrific: the saffron broth was smokey and intense. The thick rouille slathered on the bread another nice hit of garlic and saffron. But with each successive bite, the pleasant intensity became a smothering smokey haze. I got fatigued. There was no break--acid (lemon, vinegar, etc), herb or otherwise--for my palate anywhere on the plate.

Then on Friday, at a downtown restaurant with a group of friends, my husband ordered what our waiter described as "the house specialty." Pulled hunks of succulent pork were surrounded by clams and chorizo in a smoked paprika-spiked broth, and boy was it good. We passed dishes halfway through (my lamb ravioli was also nice), and even so, I could only enjoy the pork dish for five bites. It just begged for something non-smoky, non-intensely savory. It was just alot of the same, over and over.

If I were a chef working in either of these kitchens, dutifully tasting my sauces as they went out, these sauces would've tasted great to me. Hey, they were great.

But I wonder how often these chefs ever sit down in front of one of these dishes and eat the entire thing, top to bottom. I doubt it happens very often--in the restaurants I've worked in, we usually got a bite of the daily special to taste, but never a full plate to enjoy.

And that's where I think the problem lies. What tastes great for a bite or two isn't always what tastes great for 15 bites. When you're making a meal of it--rather than ordering a "small plate" or appetizer to share--there's a tipping point when a taste of something savory, bold, instense and delicious turns into a broken record on the plate.

Has this happened to you?