Gather’s Gauntlet: Tuesday Tastings let the community decide what goes on the menu

(Jackson, Wyo.) – 10 people, many of them strangers, sit at a large table. Each has an empty plate in front of them as well as a scoring sheet.

This is the scene every Tuesday at Gather restaurant in Jackson. At 2 p.m., the public is invited to participate in a tasting, which is essentially a focus group where they taste and give feedback on the chef’s specials for the week.

IMG_6409This is not only how Gather determines the specials for that week, but also the menu items for the upcoming season.

“Anything that does not score a nine or a ten doesn’t make it on the menu,” said Graeme Swain, owner of Gather. “Nothing goes out to the public unless it has gone through one of these Tuesday Tastings.”

Swain went on to tell the group his measurement of a good entrée. He asks the crowd, would you order this again? But also, would you get out of bed at 2 a.m. and drive 15 miles for this?

The 10 people introduce themselves to each other and prepare to taste the chef’s specials. Large spoons lie at the center of the table to help dish out the family-style meal.

First, the chef presented a goat cheese and roasted potato quesadilla with tomatillo salsa and topped with a deep fried carrot top and a pepper. The crowd judged the plate from 1-10 on appearance, taste and creativity. Discussion ensued on how the flavors meshed and what they think the dish could use — salt, spice, nothing?IMG_6428

Next, a spinach and farro salad with strawberries and lemon dressing arrived at the table. Just the presentation resulted “ooo’s” and “awww’s” from the crowd. This was the definitely the hit of the tasting.

Lastly, a gorgonzola-stuffed pork chop arrived on the table lying on a bed of white, fluffy mashed potatoes with colorful vegetables decorating the plate. The table discussed the mix of flavors as well as how the pork chop and veggies were cooked.

After all of the dishes were discussed and scored, the chef came out to chat with the group. As she brought up the spinach salad, everyone cheered.

During the tasting, new wine was brought out to taste and score as well. The group tried Reisling, Merlot and Syrah wines. Even all of the wine, beer and spirits go through this focus group gauntlet.

This is what happens every Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Gather. The restaurant’s parent company is called Your Restaurant Group because of this model.

“Everyone wants to tell the chef and the owner what they think,” said Swain. “This gives the public an opinion on what goes on the menu.”

The Gather menu changes twice a year and is based on the most popular specials of the season before.

“In November, we will collect the data from all of these specials, and that is how we create the menu for the next season,” said Swain. “It is a painful process, but it works. Everything on our menu has been through palates, many many palates.”

Gather’s Tuesday Tastings are held every Tuesday at 2 p.m. The cost is $15 per person and reservations are required.