A few bites of this, a dollop of that: some of the most deliciously memorable meals consist of small dishes, created on the fly and combined in unexpectedly yummy ways. Chef Joseph Yaple at One Forty, the oceanview restaurant at Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, has refined the tasting menu concept to create an experience known at “The Art of the Blind Tasting.” Blind Tasting? We were curious, so we caught up with Chef Yaple to get the inside details.
Why did you want to create a more spontaneous menu rather than a set menu?
JOSEPH YAPLE: We wanted to take the stiffness out of a pre-fixe menu experience. Every course is relaxed and fun and exciting when the guest doesn’t know what will come next.
How does it work?
JY: You don’t have to make a reservation in advance; the Blind Tasting option is just listed on our menu and I think that is intriguing for the guest. The wait staff asks about preferences, allergies and dietary restrictions and then we create five courses on the spot. When I visit the table, the guest almost always apologizes for having allergies or being on a gluten-free diet. I always tell them, “Don’t apologize; you’re special here!” To my staff it’s a creative challenge. We thrive on it.
Do you use Blind Tasting orders to test-drive new menu items before they’re added to the main menu or an event menu?
JY: We do tweak new dishes for our upcoming menus and I sometimes serve these dishes in the Blind Tasting to see what reaction I get from a guest. We have had one Blind Tasting dish go on our current winter menu: pan seared mahi mahi, coconut black forbidden rice, macadamia brown butter and glazed bok choy.
Do you offer beverage-pairing suggestions to go with every dish on the Blind Tasting menu?
JY: My general manager, Peter Hingson, and his wait staff come into the kitchen and scribble down elements of each course—proteins, texture, flavour—and then they do the pairings. They’re very talented—at times things change in the middle of service and they adapt to it: “This fish is fatty because it’s winter, so you need a different wine!”
What would you say have been the most delicious menu items?
JY: The ones that stick out are: Foie torchon, pear butter, sangria fruit and toasted brioche; Lobster Oscar, prime fillet of beef with béarnaise and fresh asparagus; Pan roasted scallops, pesto potato, warm pancetta and caper tomato jam; And of course, our house spicy poke, crispy nori lavash and spicy aioli.
What has surprised you about this process?
JY: Definitely the growth of my lead cooks—seeing their confidence build through the process. I always encourage free thinking, and they play a huge role in creating the Blind Tasting courses. They say, “Chef, what if I paired the ahi tuna with beurre rouge instead; I think it would be really cool.” And I knew it would be a fun process for the guest and for me. Food is a bridge for communication and it builds a relationship. It’s almost like you’re in my own dining room listening to music while I’m cooking in my kitchen. – Bonnie Schiedel