Cut Choice to Cut Waste

Michelin-starred The Checkers restaurant in Montgomery, Wales, made news this week by announcing that they have abandoned their À la Carte menu in an effort to cut food waste.  Various food critics and guides then confirmed that À la Carte is passé but please excuse me a moment of cynicism before I applaud.
It appears that the no (or at least limited) choice menu that I hoped we were returning to is not quite as it was.  Several critics cited as their example of the demise of À la Carte the dreaded Tasting Menu, usually consisting of at least 7 tiny courses that leave you wondering when the amuse-bouche will be over and the main event will commence.  Others referred to the growth in sharing plates but again this is not at all what I had in mind.
Twenty years ago Britain boasted many no-choice restaurants, they were especially popular in Scotland, where one could enjoy a carefully structured, i.e. balanced, three or four course meal.  The last of these, Sally Clarke in London, reluctantly had to give up the fixed menu format 8 years ago.  For me, the beauty of these restaurants lay in their menu planning skills, which always created an experience greater than the sum of the parts.  Sally Clarke’s Book is my bible on the subject of menu planning and still very relevant for the home cook inviting friends for dinner. Her latest book, 30 Ingredients, to celebrate 30 years in the business, is pleasant enough but not a patch on the first.
It has not been lost on me that the chef-patron at The Checkers is a Frenchman.  Even a simple home meal in France is likely to consist of several courses, whereas we British have long been derided for our tendency to put everything on one plate.  Meat and two veg for a simple meal, but for more of an extravaganza the one-, two-, or at most three-course rule applies.  Comedy sketches come to mind, but truly the British seem to be happiest piling their plate high at a buffet.
And how are we teaching our children to eat nowadays? I would not wish to return to the days when you weren’t allowed to leave the table until you had eaten everything on your plate.  But I am extremely uncomfortable when I watch the current trend to offer variety, not just verbally, but physically on the plate, so that babes can help themselves to whatever takes their fancy.  It is supposed to be successful in improving their relationship with food but the waste at every meal makes me wonder what other messages we are conveying.
On those occasions when am lucky enough to be eating in an establishment that offers the limited choice that is essential if everything is to be cooked on the premises rather than bought in, I have sadly observed how many of the customers just don’t seem to get it and still insist on asking for “just steak/salad/ice cream” or something else that isn’t on the menu.
Whilst I applaud The Checkers and anyone else attempting to improve their offering by cutting choice, I’m far from convinced that the British are ready for it.  But if you want to embrace the concept at home how about starting with cheese?  A Cheeseboard, offering a choice of cheeses, is a ridiculously costly and wasteful concept and usually results not only in waste but also less than perfect cheeses being offered.  Try serving just one, in perfect condition with exactly the right accompaniments, to appreciate the benefits of no-choice.

Ideas for Serving Cheese

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