Improvisational Cuisine


Increasingly, menus are made to order, with chefs in upscale restaurants tailoring each dish to meet diners’ every dietary restriction.

Increasingly, menus are made to order, with chefs in upscale restaurants tailoring each dish to meet diners’ every dietary restriction.

We’ve become a nation of problem eaters and chefs are more aware of this than anyone else. So much so, in fact, that some chefs are now preparing meals designed for each specific customer.

“We never expected eating to be as big of a problem as it has become,” says Joshua Hebert, owner and executive chef of POSH in Scottsdale, Arizona. POSH is a 7-year-old restaurant, serving globally inspired food that caters to a diner’s every need, be it the almost inevitable gluten-free request, a seafood allergy, vegan restrictions, MSG avoidance, or even no Vitamin K.

“We attract two types of people,” Chef Hebert says. “Those who are really into food and the restaurant scene, and people who have health concerns.”

In this small restaurant—where a typical night sees 20 to 25 people for dinner and a busy night serves 60—if there are no special requests, Hebert serves a multi-course meal (guests can select anywhere from five to 15 courses) using the local, seasonal ingredients he’s ordered or received on spec.

But most nights, 30 to 40 percent of people come with special requests. It’s never an exact science: Sometimes as many as three-quarters of the diners have special needs or preferences. However, Hebert says, “most people have a couple of dislikes that make their way onto the sheet; it’s less common that someone’s open to whatever you put in front of them.” In the years he’s been doing this, he can also tell you the five most stated dislikes: beets, blue cheese, raw garlic, raw onions, and olives.

However, challenging eaters don’t faze Chef Hebert. “When we opened we knew these things would happen. It’s disappointing if someone comes in and says they’re a raw-food vegan and gives me no notice. Then I might have to give them five courses, not seven. It’s disappointing because I know we can do something kick-ass if we’re given even a few hours’ notice. I enjoy the challenge. It’s cool to stretch your mind.”

Preferably, diners let POSH know of special requests in advance, so Chef Hebert and his team can start thinking of dishes to serve them. “We want to be able to match the reputation the restaurant has. But if they don’t let us know, it’s not a problem. Instead, we visit the table and talk to the guests, and the meal takes a few minutes longer.”

Once seated, all guests receive a piece of paper that resembles a sushi bar menu. They choose how many courses to eat and whether they want wine pairings. This menu also details the main ingredients the chefs are cooking with that night, and guests can cross out anything they prefer not to eat. There’s also space for more details on eating preferences.

But that’s perhaps because Hebert plans in advance—and by advance, he means earlier in the day. Every day between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. he creates a schematic of 20 to 30 dishes he can make with the ingredients he has. That evening at service, when diners’ papers come back to him, he writes on each which dishes they’ll receive then hands off carbon copies to different stations.


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