Amuse Bouche

The Gift Season
The Gift Season

The Holidays are all around us now. Both the recently passed and those still yet to come…..The spirit of giving is in the air.  That is what makes the season we are in so incredible, so marvelous and so distinct from the rest of the year.  Whatever faith you have in this Holiday season I believe that you like to give and receive gifts.  And that is what an amusée or amuse bouche is in menu terminology.  An amuse is French for a tiny taster that is often served as a “surprise” to guests. 

A gift would not be a gift if it came every day to everyone.  A gift needs to be unexpected to have its fullest effect.

Back in the days of our restaurant in Coral Gables the amuse bouche at NORMAN’S used to come from my “station”.  A “station” in the kitchen, unlike here in radio land, is the primary place one works which also signifies which portions of the menu that chef will be responsible for.  I love doing the amuse bouche.  And even though they are the tiniest things, really only a bite, they can elicit smiles. The term can be translated from the French as ‘mouth amuser’. 

Earlier in my cooking career when I started doing the amuse bouche for the very first times the guests who came to our restaurant MIRA in Key West who received them would often become confused. They assumed that the waiter had mistakenly sent someone else’s food to their table. When the waiter explained that they were a ‘gift from the kitchen and they were actually complementary’ the guests relaxed. They sometimes asked if they could get another one. That was tricky in that we prepared enough for the reservations coming in each evening. That … and that they were also free. Guests sometimes said, “We’ll pay for more”… but then… it would not be a gift. 

When I got up to the mainland and began to work on Miami Beach in the early 1990’s at our restaurant named, “a Mano” in the Betsy Ross Hotel I had upped the amuse bouche program a few notches… as a friend might put it. I hired a chef from Tampa and as one part of his job description he became the ‘Chef de Amuse Bouche’. His name is Scott Howard. It was a position I found quickly he was eminently qualified for. He would produce up to five a night! Not every guest got multiples but once we saw what they were drinking it gave us a chance to complement their beverage to correspond to the amuse. 

An example of one we did then were “Mini” corn pancakes upon which we served tiny Keys shrimp with a dot of caviar and a demitasse spoonful of lobster bisque.  To those who received it was simply  our way of saying, “Thank You for coming in tonight.”

As I think of the past year and all of the wonderful things that have come to pass I remember many tiny moments that are the blessings of the year.  In the hectic, frenzied pace of these times it may be difficult, but you owe it to yourself to think for a moment of life’s amuse bouche. 

A gift is no good unless you open it and infinitely more valuable if you share it.

I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s my Word on Food ©.

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© 2018 Norman Van Aken

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