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How to Design a Tasting Menu That Flows Like a Symphony

A multi-course meal should build to a crescendo, explains Naomi Pomeroy 

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Monica Burton is the deputy editor of

Naomi Pomeroy has a fair amount of experience designing tasting menus. At her Portland restaurant Beast, which will have been open 10 years this September, she and her staff create new, six-course set menus every two weeks, and when the restaurant started, they turned out a new menu every week. Pomeroy recently stopped by the Eater Upsell and chatted with hosts Helen Rosner and Greg Morabito about her strategy for designing tasting menus that flow like classical symphonies.

Pomeroy builds her tasting menu with the goal of having the finished six-course menu resemble a piece of music, or a bell curve. “You have the buildup, and then there is the peak moment, and then you are coming back again,” she says.

At Beast, the peak moment arrives at the third course. This is the richest dish on the menu, and for Pomeroy, this is also what she calls the “meat moment.” Right now, the meat moment at Beast is coriander-brined pork loin with pocha beans and a buttermilk-fried onion ring. Previously, it’s been dishes like rack of lamb with roasted romanesco, chili-date vinegar, and celery root puree; or roasted squab breast with smoked celeriac puree and celery salad.

According to Pomeroy, the beginning of the menu should include lighter dishes that lead to this hearty focal point. At Beast, that used to mean starting with a soup followed by a charcuterie plate, but recently, Pomeroy has revamped the menu to cut down on feelings of repetition. “Even though it was a different soup every week, it doesn’t matter. If people have soup every time they [start] to feel like it’s the same thing,” Pomeroy says. Like soup, the charcuterie plate, which became something of a signature for Beast, looked the same every time because of “the way that [the items] were arranged,” Pomeroy says.

Now, an early course at Beast may include a pasta, or a composed cheese dish, before rising to a meaty crescendo, then mellowing out to finish in a sweet coda. Of course, this isn’t the first time a tasting menu has been compared to a symphony. In a 2012 Pete Wells column, the New York Times critic praised the tasting menu at Alinea in Chicago, saying, “Grant Achatz composes meals that are almost like symphonies in their skillful manipulation of complexity, volume, tempo and harmony.”

Hear the complete interview with Naomi Pomeroy below, as she discusses her rules for running an empowering kitchen, adapting to a changing Portland, and being robbed of a win on Iron Chef. Subscribe to the Eater Upsell on iTunes, or listen on Soundcloud. You can also get the entire archive of episodes   right here on Eater.

How Naomi Pomeroy Runs an Empowering Kitchen [E]