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Dining: Panning the Picky Eaters

It seems that restaurants will do anything to make their patrons happy.

When I was a cook at Jean Georges, a four-star restaurant in Manhattan, guests would not infrequently order a meal that wasn't on the menu. Although we would comply, I never understood why a customer would ask the kitchen to whip up a weiner schnitzel when he could enjoy the original creations of an exceptional chef.

It would be like going to the Four Seasons and asking housekeeping to pitch a tent for you.

Last weekend, I enjoyed dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a farm/restaurant an hour north of New York City. The restaurant provides two tasting menus; the diner's only choice is the number of courses they'd like. The menu lists the seasonal produce that may be included in your meal, but no further description of the meal is provided.

To me, that's a thrill. Dan Barber is a gifted chef, and he's going to select the very best from his farm and put it on my plate.

Before each course, an enthusiastic woman would come to my table with a show-and-tell of an ingredient that would be appearing in the next course. For example: "When you think peas, you probably think spring, but since spring and fall weather are so similar, we tried a fall planting this year." And into my hands she placed the healthiest peas, leaves and vines this side of June.

Minutes later, the peas were on my plate, accompanied by seared wahoo and humanely raised foie gras. The peas stole the show. I was eating with my mind and thinking with my mouth; I was learning.
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