To those who have never tried or seen an amuse-bouche, the only thing that would be obvious from the name would be that it’s probably something that originated from France. Translated into English, amuse-bouche means “amusement for the mouth”, which sounds like a name that would be given to a kind of bubble gum, or some type of candy. Yet, the amuse bouche is actually one of the most artistic culinary forms, and something that not all chefs are familiar with or skilled in preparing.
The part of the meal that’s most similar to amuse-bouche would have to be the appetizer. The two have in common that they are served before the main course, and they both are served in small quantities. That’s pretty much where the similarities end.
When it was devised, amuse-bouche was a great way for a chef to display his or her skills to selected customers. This course, which is usually a size of a single bite, maybe two, was not something that could be ordered from a menu. Instead, the chef would decide to bestow the honor of tasting the amuse-bouche on the patron, and it would be done with a glass of complementing wine, and always free of charge. It was a point of self-expression of the French culinary masters, not a gimmick, and the patron had no say in what kind of amuse-bouche he or she would get. Everything about it was unexpected and surprising – the very fact that it was served, the small size, the often strong and complex taste, the fact that it was free. Amuse-bouche was a bite sized shock, developed by the French because, well, they are French and they know a thing or two about fine dining.
Things, however, changed over time, and a lot of the original magic has been removed from amuse-bouche. Today, most upscale restaurants are known to have these tiny courses and they serve them to all of their customers. The element of surprise was thus taken out of the equation. Because it is served to all the customers, amuse-bouche is not a piece of inspiration that has taken the form of a bite of food any more. It’s just a dish that’s produced in the same way other dishes are produced in the restaurant – mass produced, for the masses. Today’s upscale restaurants even have stations with the sole of purpose of being the place where the vast quantity of amuse-bouche is produced.
Still, some of the culinary innovation that was the driving force behind the original amuse-bouche is still there. The creativity that’s put into thinking up these small interesting dishes hasn’t said its piece yet. Also, the very special types of serving sets that are produced for serving amuse bouche are still some of the more creative serving sets you will find in any restaurant. The Finish company Aava produces them in minimalist design, which complements the minimal quantities of the dish very well. That’s why the amuse-bouche has remained a place where the culinary art meats design, even if both tend to be mass-produced.