Why do fancy restaurants serve small portions?

Good things come in small packages (um portions?). Well, when it comes to food, we’re sure most of us would like to deny that! We’re sure, you would have even wondered at some point about the trend of serving ‘small portions’. Nikita Chawla connected with some of the finest chefs in our Indian culinary industry. Find out!

Why small portions?

The object of many fancy luxury restaurants is to provide an ‘experience’ furthermore allowing guests to experiment with other dishes as well. Recipient of many honorary awards such as National Tourism Award and Best Chef of India awarded by the President, Chef Sabyasachi Gorai (popularly called Chef Saby) explains, “People who come to fancy and upscale restaurants are looking for a dining experience. A large portion of one dish, say biryani, will end up filling your stomach and will not be able to get the experience you have come to get in a fancy fine- dining restaurant.”

Winner of ‘Food Food Maha Challenge’, author, anchor, food columnist and traveller, Chef Saransh Goila elaborates, “Fine-dining restaurants believe in the principle rule of quality over quantity. You’d never make it to their delectable desserts if the main course portions were large!”

concept of tasting menu

While Chef Saby and Chef Saransh highlight on the ‘experience’ of variety options, the gorgeous Chef Shipra Khanna points out on the factors deciding portion size. Author, anchor of food shows and winner of MasterChef India, Chef Shipra says, “Portion size is dependent on the type of mind set a restaurant owner or the management. While we cannot generalize, one can see lots of new entrants in the business end up messing a market which has a scientific approach to portion size!”

Inception of ‘serving small portions’

So when and how did it all begin? Chef Saby throws light on this trend, “The trend primarily began with a French concept called “degustation” (digger station) which means eating small portions of well decorated plates of food. These were eaten in multiple courses (could be 5-10-12-15-20) with small portions of food to give the diner an elaborate dining experience with different taste and textures. This allowed guests to eat different things starting from a soup to appetizer to fish and sea food, poultry and meat accompanied with vegetables, at times even pastas and risottos. Finally finishing with small multiple pieces of desserts.”

Sharing his views on the concept, Chef Saransh says, “Well, as per economics and the law of diminishing marginal utility, with each bite you take the lesser you enjoy your food. Hence chefs over the world decided to adopt this concept. Besides, this also assists in creative plating techniques.”

chef-saransh-goila

How did this trend reach Indian luxury restaurants & hotels?

When something new and trendy enters the market and if it’s a hit amongst the target group, it eventually becomes a revolution that stays. Similarly, hotels in India incorporated ‘small portions’ concept of the west in their kitchens. The chefs experimented with the menus and their expertise became the tasting menus. This concept is evolving and is appreciated by many.

“Since this style was taken up by most French and Italian restaurants world-wide, it became a norm for others fine dining upscale restaurants. Restaurants serving European food in India followed the global trend and eventually even Indian restaurants started doing this to make the dining experience trendy and cool. I first launched the 12-course menu in 2003 in a very upscale restaurant in south Mumbai called Bellissima,” says Chef Saby and adds, “I had trained in Tetsuya’s restaurant in Sydney, Australia in 2002 which was known for its 12 course tasting menu all over the world. Later, I launched a similar tasting menu at Olive Bar and Kitchen in Delhi in 2005. Today, the tasting menu is called grazing menu or a chef’s experience menu, etc.”

The Big Indian Family Factor

We Indians are known for our khatirdari, elaborate meals and concepts such as ‘atithi devo bhava’. While on a date with our special someone, ‘small portions’ might be apt for the couple whereas, if we have our chacha’s, fufa’s and cousins to dine with, such ‘small portions’ wouldn’t be reasonable both price-wise and quantity-wise.

So, do big Indian families appreciate and approve serving of small portions? “Indian families like large portions as generally they like value for money! Also, when a large family decides to go out for a meal, the choice is made keeping in mind people with large appetite as well. So usually it makes sense to choose a restaurant that serves large portions,” points out Chef Shipra. However, she adds, customers looking for experience understand the concept and, therefore, appreciate it.

Agreeing that usually large Indian families look for value for money, Chef Saby says, “Joint families don’t really appreciate tasting menus as they like to share their food when they are dining out and they cannot share food in tasting menu.”  Talking about the serving size at his restaurant Lavaash by Saby, he adds, “I’ve done it a long time ago and in my restaurants and I’ve gone back to family-style sharing portions where food comes well prepared in a platter in the middle of the table and multiple diners can share it.”

why restaurants serve small portions

Chef Saransh who is the founder of the hit Goila Butter Chicken in Mumbai shares a similar opinion on serving large portions, “I belong to a large Punjabi family and among the likes of us, small portions are a big no-no! At Goila Butter Chicken, we believe in both quality and quantity, our portions are rather large so our customers can never complain.”

There is a fair level of awareness when it comes to luxury/fine dining options and menus, shows like Masterchef and the like are to be credited. Says Chef Shipra, “MasterChef and other shows on multimedia platforms definitely create an interest, awareness and curiosity that brings about the change. Demand of trial of such dishes is driven by them, however the taste which depends on many factors in getting the same right is the key for them to stay on the menu. It’s surely true that dishes need to score to stay. Recipes will only qualify when they score.”

Chef Saransh also credits international media and travel that contribute to the level of food awareness amongst food enthusiasts, “Television, exposure to international media, magazines and travelling to varied locations across the world have made people increasingly aware of global cuisine alongside Indian chefs who have through fusion food introduced these concepts into the nation.”

In conclusion with Chef Saby words, “In many ways tasting menus/digger station is very similar to Indian thali where in course of one meal you get to eat multiple small things. The only difference here is that it comes together whereas in a tasting menu, everything comes course-wise which makes it more elaborate and stylish.”

While small portions are a good bet on helping us explore various options, large portions are considered more ‘Indian thing’.

What are your views on the portions served at high-end restaurants? Let us know your views on the comments below…

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