Project Food Blog: A “Small Plate” Tasting Menu at Home

Thank you to all of you who voted to advance me in this competition. Shall we do it again? I’ll keep going if you keep voting!

In this next Foodbuzz challenge we were asked to prepare a luxurious and exotic dinner party at home and test the patience of our guests with endless photo shoots between courses. Needless to say, the guests had to be bribed and subdued with ample amounts of alcohol. How fun!

The advantage of a small plate theme dinner is that you create your own tasting menu just like in a fancy restaurant. Something that is sure to impress your guests. The inconvenient is that you’re stuck washing plates into the wee hours, but i’ve got some advice on that too…

Rule #1: Stomach roars can get in the way of the background music. When inviting people over for dinner it’s always a nice touch to have a plate of canapes that can be enjoyed with a glass of wine or champagne while the rest of the guests arrive. Plus, they will all be tipsy by the time the meal begins which dramatically increases people’s perception of your talent as a chef.

Rule #2: Pick dishes where most of the preparation can be done ahead with just warming up and finishing touches left to do after the guests arrive – or you will regret having a dinner party! Don’t hesitate to put your guests to work and let them help you for the exciting part of the job, like grilling the octopus, plating the crudo or ironing your shirts.

Rule #3: Lock the doors and don’t let anyone escape until the kitchen is spotless clean. Meanwhile, sit on the sofa and watch David Hasselhoff make a fool of himself on “Dancing with the Stars”. That is of course optional. To each their own sets of rules.

Let’s take each component of this meal as an example and see how, with some planning ahead, we can pull it off together without breaking a sweat.

For the first course, buy the freshest scallops money can buy. The slices of scallops can be set on the plates ahead of time, covered with plastic wrap, and kept in the refrigerator. About 10 minutes before serving you can have one of your guests finish the plates with yuzu juice, olive oil, shiso oil, enoki mushrooms, pink peppercorns and some fleur de sel.

For the grilled octopus salad, all the components like the panisse (chickpea fries), oven dried tomatoes and glazed cippoline onions can be made ahead. When it’s time to serve, have someone grill the octopus, someone else toss the salad and a third person mix you a drink. It’s tough to be the executive chef.

Tuna Tataki is a fancy name for a chunk of tuna that has been quickly seared over high heat so the center remains rare. I crusted the outside with a mix of crushed peppercorns and served it with a soy/sesame pan sauce. This is so quick and there are so few ingredients that you can wait for the last moment to prepare and serve.

The veal ravioli, as any kind of ravioli, is the one that requires some advance planning. What i suggest is every time you make ravioli, make some extra ones and freeze them so you can have an appetizer ready in a pinch. Ingredients like porcini mushrooms and bone marrow turns this into something truly luxurious.

The Colorado lamb started as a rack of lamb in which i separated “the eye” from the bones. The eye was seasoned and roasted to medium rare about an hour before the party and left to rest. The bones were used to make a reduction sauce with red wine. The carrot-ginger puree can be made a day earlier if you wish. At the last minute, finish the lamb in a hot oven for a few minutes, reheat the puree and the sauce, slice and serve. Easy!

And finally a cheesecake for dessert, it’s easy, it can be made well ahead and it’s always a crowd pleaser. If you own dome silpat molds, by all means, use them! You can dig a hole in the center and fill it with a coulis or a caramel sauce.

I hope you found some inspiration in this “small plate” tasting menu at home. If you did, don’t forget to vote for me between 6AM Pacific Time October 4th through 6PM Pacific Time October 7th.

Thank you!

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  • beaulotus

    Beautiful, love the menu and the pictures. Very fortunate guests. I vote.

  • Stacey Snacks

    I could watch you and The “Hoff” all day!
    Beautiful small plates!
    You have my vote

  • sippitysup

    This is a party I am sorry to have missed. It’s true Zen can cook! GREG

  • my boyfriend cooks for me

    Small plates are my favorite way to eat, and yours all look spectacular. Invite me to your next party?? PLEASE?!?!?!??!?!

  • Bogna @ Pots and Frills

    I am a great fun and paid tribute to your talent on my today’s post:

  • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite

    What a stupendous menu! I am glad we were not the only ones who went “all out” with many dishes! Still writing mine up… Good luck though you will hardly need it! Hope I will see you in Round 4!

  • Asha@FSK

    OMG!!! I am in love!! with you dinner menu and the execution and the photos!! Ok, being a chef and all, am sure it’s child’s play for you but can you please teach a class??? I mean seriously!!! Awesome awesome dinner!! and, u guessed it! You have my vota..

  • Asha@FSk

    err.. kindly excuse the spelling errors.. I was overwhelmed by the post! 😀

  • Cakebrain

    gorgeous looking food! yummuna yummuna!

  • Mhelhanee

    Finally! A real luxurious dinner! Love the colors, the plating, and the combination from the appetizers to the desserts. I love everything, especially the lamb, its a real wok of art! Im bookmarking you for future voting!

  • Colloquial Cook

    Hein? Hein? Mais qui y avait à ton tasting menu? Toi t’es mûr pour ouvrir un restau’ à Tours mon gaillard 😛

  • Charmaine @ Speakeasy Kitchen

    Love, love, lovely!

  • Eleanor Hoh

    I couldn’t stop giggling at the rules, great ideas, ha, ha. Wow, your lucky friends with all these small plates. Not sure I could ever succeed with all these dishes.

  • Joan Nova

    Exquisite dinner — and I love Rule 3. It took me hours to face my kitchen this morning after my luxury dinner last night.

  • Karen

    Wow these are just gorgeous and look amazing! I like that last 3rd rule I’m a fan of (except substitute DWTS with Real Housewives of DC… )!

  • Su-yin

    I wish I could have been at this tasting dinner. That tuna tataki looks ridiculously good! You definitely have my vote. :)

  • kristin @ delishliving

    Absolutely beautiful. Luxury, indeed. Good luck – you’ll hardly need it!

  • Dish By Trish

    Beautiful photos. The menu sounds divine. I particularly like the scallop crudo and cheesecake dome. Good luck!

  • Anonymous

    OK, I should have planned some extra time for you to cook for me while you’re in Tokyo! YUM! Beautiful menu. I love it! Will certainly be voting for you to advance to the next round- best of luck!

  • The Cilantropist

    Wow, this is an incredible menu, I need to find myself some of those domed silpat molds you used bc your dessert looks fantastic! Wonderful menu, very very impressed. :)

  • Jfoureur

    Is there a recipe for the Veal Ravioli ?????
    still cleaning the drool from my keyboard !!

  • Barbara | VinoLuciStyle

    Seems Zen CAN cook! Beautiful and unique yet such doable dishes. Well done!

  • Amy (Sing For Your Supper)

    Wow, these dishes are simply gorgeous!! What a beautiful menu and party!! You have my vote!!

  • Adelina Badalyan

    my vote is in :)

  • Debi (Table Talk)

    I knew you would come up with something wonderful–luxurious indeed.
    Well done! I especially like your pointers for preparing the octopus salad. Enlisting the help of others is always a good idea. Keeping the chef hydrated while in the kitchen is important.
    You have my vote!

  • Jun Belen

    WOW! So impressed! I want an invite to your next party, please! Seriously! I’m going to New York later this month!! Love the octopus shot! Well done!!

  • angi c

    Amazing! I love all your tips on how to host a dinner with that many courses and still be able to hang out with your guests too – so useful! Your Rule #3 is absolute genius – I need to install a door to my kitchen so I can implement it next time around. :)

  • Mark

    can stomach roars travel over the internet? yum.

  • Margaretmt66

    I loved your take on the challenge. Such beautiful presentation of your dishes. Lovely. (VOTE!)

  • Winnie

    Oh my goodness…totally freaking gorgeous! Great tips, too…awesome job.

  • Thelittlefoodie

    Absolutely beautiful. You’ve pulled me in.

  • Matt

    this looks beyond good mate. Just when I think you cannot outdo yourself, you do. Fantastic food, and photography as usual mate. Totally my flavors. You have some lucky, lucky guests.

  • davina

    sorry Zen I missed the cut off for voting!! But u need to invite me round for dinner. This looks delicious. What a spread. Both tantalizing and beautifully presented. I want that grilled octopus salad. Maybe I’ll try to recreate it x

  • Amelia from Z Tasty Life

    stunning. elegant. luxurious. and voted!

    (see my post here:

  • Anonymous

    I am always impressed with your photography and cooking skills. Very very useful tips!

  • onlinepastrychef

    This looks like an amazing dinner, and I am overtly coveting your dome molds. Is that wrong?! You certainly have one of my votes:)

  • Girlcookinparis

    Awesome! You got my vote easily. Keep up the great work!

  • Oui, Chef

    Of course you get my vote, your concept and execution are brilliant. – S

  • Heena @ Tiffin Tales

    I’d love to have even one of those small tasting plates. Elegant and beautiful. My vote’s in. Good luck!

  • DailySpud

    I must say I like your executive chef approach – I should try that more often myself :) As for the liberal amounts of alcohol supplied to the guests, I’m pretty familiar with that one and have applied it many times myself. And now, seeing as you have locked the doors, I’d better get voting if I want to escape!

  • Kitchen Confidante

    Oh my, I love your menu. You had me at octopus, but each dish is just beautiful!

  • Lick My Spoon

    There are so many different meats in this meal, I wish I could have tried all of them. I’m in full agreement with your rules, all three. Your plates look beautiful, I hope we get to see your perfect picture, you’ve got my vote this week. Good luck!

    Lick My Spoon

  • Crystal’sCozyKitchen

    The food looks absolutely delicious! I love the small plate idea.
    Sending a little red heart your way – Good Luck!

  • Jessica

    It all looks so beautiful! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-) You have my vote!

  • Betty Bake Blog

    looks great :)
    voted for you :)
    well done so far

    Betty Bake Blog

  • Wheels and Lollipops

    Definitely a party I would not want to miss ! The menu is amazing. Loving the tasting menu idea.

  • Charmaine @ Speakeasy Kitchen

    I’ve only been here for 3 years (going on 4) but I’m always proud to see Colorado lamb on a menu. Baaaaah.

  • Whitney @ Amuse Bouche

    your presentation is GORGEOUS! contrats on an awesome job!


  • The Young Foodie

    WOW! What an amazing meal! Where can I get an invite? One vote coming your way! :-)

    The Young Foodie

  • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

    Beautiful food and photos! You have a vote from me!

    My dinner party was designed to take the diner food from Gooch’s Diner, where my parents first met over 40 years ago, and elevate it to luxury for their 39th wedding anniversary. Come see if you’d like :)