22 The NaTioNal CuliNary review • July/augus T 2015
sPeCial MeNus doing improv
f you’ve ever been to an improvisational show, you know that the audience
plays a critical role in what happens on stage. There’s no rehearsed play, no set lines. Instead,
A growing number of chefs are following that lead. Rather than creating a menu for the masses,
they’re letting their culinary mastery shine by customizing dishes according to individual palates.
Vegan? No problem. Don’t do daikon? Never fear. The chef nixes ingredients you dislike from his
repertoire. The end result is that diner and chef come together to create a gastronomic showstopper.
Dubbed “improvisational cuisine,” this style of dining appeals to adventurous gourmands
who not only love great food, but also aren’t afraid to take a culinary leap. “Guests trust the chef
to take them on an intimate tasting adventure that pays off with unexpected dividends,” says
Cristian Rebolledo, executive chef at Kitchen 218 at Beach House, Providenciales, Turks and
Caicos Islands, British West Indies. They may discover they love a new food, or revisit one they
have shunned in the past.
And, guests get face time with the chef. They feel special, as though they’re valued players in
a shared experience. In fact, Rebolledo likens it to forging a relationship with his guests. “You get
to know their likes and dislikes, even their idiosyncrasies,” he says. Learning about and appealing
to those quirks is part of the fun.
the allure of chance
For many chefs, improvising on the fly against a set of fresh, seasonal, eclectic and often
expensive ingredients is an indulgent proposition with potentially catastrophic results. Not every
chef is willing to take on that type of challenge—or commitment—but those who do often delight
guests in surprising ways.
The idea of improvising with simple ingredients came to Joshua Hebert when he was at Dual
in Mesa, Arizona. “I suggested the kitchen prepare plates off the cuff—four courses for $45, five
courses for $55, and so on,” says Hebert.
The approach was a hit. Local media praised the restaurant’s bizarre take on a tasting menu,
and culinary circles took notice. So, when Dual closed, Hebert decided to elevate the concept in
Scottsdale, Arizona, creating Posh, a restaurant entirely devoted to improvisational cuisine.
Chefs invite guests to direct
what’s on the plate. by aMy PaTurel
oPPosi Te, CloCKwise froM
tOp leFt: 1) glacier lettuce, beets,
Parmesan crackers, red pepper coulis
and blood orange from Joshua hebert
at Posh. 2) at Kitchen 218, Cristian
rebolledo offers Duck sensation—sous
vide duck breast, mushrooms and
truffles ragoût, cured blue cheese,
honey, soubise and beet liquid gel.
3) Caramelized bay scallops with
delicata squash marmalade and
pumpkin butter from Michael santoro
at andaz 5th avenue. 4) Kitchen
218’s tomato paste, organic tomatoes,
tomato powder, tomatillo earth, dried
tomatoes, mozzarella cream, basil and
green peas puree.