Ken Burgin

Flavour Training

Taste the Difference: 40 Flavour Training Activities for Restaurant Staff

Designing a food-tasting program for front-of-house staff is a fantastic way to enhance their appreciation and knowledge of food, which in turn can significantly improve the guest experience and average customer spending.

Here are 40 training activities for chefs to run for waiters and front-of-house staff within a 15-minute session. They are designed to be engaging and educational and build a competitive spirit.

Consider creating a scoring system for each activity to add a competitive element, such as awarding points for correct answers or fastest response times. The staff member with the highest score at the end of the session could receive a small reward, such as a gift voucher, an extra break during their shift, or recognition in a staff meeting. This will motivate participation and engagement, making the learning process fun and rewarding.

General Food Tasting and Knowledge Training ๐ŸŒถ๏ธ ๐Ÿ• ๐Ÿฅ— ๐Ÿฅ

1. Blind Ingredient Identification

Activity: Present small dishes containing a single, pureed or finely chopped ingredient. Staff must identify the ingredient blindfolded.

Objective: Enhance ability to recognise basic flavours and ingredients.

2. Herb and Spice Sniff Test

Activity: Use small containers of various herbs and spices. Participants must identify them by smell alone.

Objective: Develop a more nuanced understanding of seasoning and its impact on flavour profiles.

3. Regional Dish Challenge

Activity: Serve small portions of dishes that are typical of specific regions (e.g., Scottish, Welsh, Cornish). Waiters guess the region based on the ingredients and cooking styles.

Objective: Improve knowledge of regional cuisines and local ingredients.

4. Guess the Cooking Technique

Activity: Provide samples of a simple ingredient prepared using different cooking techniques (e.g., roasted, grilled, steamed, fried, raw).

Objective: Familiarise staff with how different cooking methods affect flavour and texture.

5. What’s Missing?

Activity: Serve a well-known dish, omitting one key ingredient. Participants must identify what’s missing.

Objective: Enhance understanding of how each ingredient contributes to the overall dish.

6. Blindfolded Pairing

Activity: Blindfold participants and have them taste a piece of food, then taste two different sauces or condiments, one of which is a classic pairing, the other not.

Objective: Improve understanding of food pairings and the balance of flavours.

7. Texture Test

Activity: Provide small bites of foods with distinctive textures (e.g., crispy, creamy, chunky) without the staff seeing them. They must describe and identify the texture.

Objective: Develop a vocabulary for describing food and an appreciation for the role of texture in food enjoyment.

8. Fast Flavour Quiz

Activity: A rapid-fire quiz where staff must quickly answer questions about ingredients, dishes, and cooking techniques.

Objective: Encourage quick thinking and reinforce knowledge in a fun, competitive manner.

9. The Umami Challenge

Activity: Serve dishes or ingredients that are rich in umami and have participants identify the source of umami. Start with an explanation of the term.

Objective: Deepen understanding of the umami flavour and its importance in savoury dishes.

10. Secret Ingredient Showdown

Activity: Prepare a simple dish where a non-traditional ingredient is used to enhance the flavour. Waiters must guess the secret ingredient.

Objective: Foster creativity and a deeper understanding of how ingredients can be used innovatively.

Vegetable Tasting and Knowledge Training ๐Ÿ… ๐Ÿฅฆ ๐Ÿฅ‘ ๐ŸŒฝ

1. Root to Stem Tasting

Activity: Prepare small bites of vegetables using both commonly eaten parts and those usually discarded (e.g., beet greens, carrot tops).

Objective: Highlight sustainability and the full usage of vegetables, enhancing knowledge of vegetable versatility.

2. Heirloom Variety Sampling

Activity: Offer samples of heirloom vegetable varieties alongside their more common counterparts (e.g., heirloom tomatoes vs. standard varieties).

Objective: Educate on the importance of biodiversity and the flavour differences between varieties.

3. Vegetable Sweetness Scale

Activity: Arrange vegetables in order of natural sweetness through tasting, from least to most sweet.

Objective: Develop a better understanding of how natural sugars vary among different vegetables and how this affects flavour.

4. Blindfolded Vegetable Identification

Activity: Blindfold participants and have them identify vegetables by touch, smell, or taste.

Objective: Sharpen sensory skills and deepen familiarity with a range of vegetables.

5. Guess the Preparation Method

Activity: Serve a vegetable prepared in several different ways (raw, roasted, boiled, sautรฉed) without visual cues. Participants must guess the preparation method.

Objective: Familiarise staff with how cooking methods change vegetable flavours and textures.

6. Seasonal Vegetable Challenge

Activity: Present a selection of vegetables and have participants identify which are in season.

Objective: Increase awareness of seasonality and its impact on flavour and sustainability.

7. Spice Pairing Quiz

Activity: Offer various spices and herbs for tasting alongside neutral-tasting vegetables, and have participants suggest the best pairings.

Objective: Enhance understanding of flavour pairing principles specifically for vegetables.

8. International Vegetable Dish Matching

Activity: Serve small portions of vegetable-based dishes from around the world and have waiters match them to their country of origin.

Objective: Broaden knowledge of international cuisines and the global versatility of vegetables.

9. The Umami Vegetable Find

Activity: Provide samples of vegetables known for their umami qualities (e.g., mushrooms, tomatoes, sweet corn) and discuss how these can enhance dishes.

Objective: Deepen appreciation of umami in vegetables and how it contributes to savoury dishes.

10. Vegetable Colour Spectrum

Activity: Arrange vegetables by colour and discuss the nutritional implications of the various pigments (e.g., beta-carotene in orange vegetables).

Objective: Teach about the health benefits of eating a wide range of vegetable colours, reinforcing the idea of “eating the rainbow.”

Flavour Training

Dessert & Sweet Food Tasting and Knowledge Training ๐Ÿ’ ๐Ÿฎ ๐Ÿง ๐Ÿง

1. Chocolate Origin Tasting

Activity: Provide samples of chocolate from various regions and have participants guess the origin based on flavour notes.

Objective: Cultivate an appreciation for chocolate’s complexity and the impact of terroir.

2. Blindfolded Dessert Identification

Activity: Serve small, distinct dessert bites blindfolded, and have staff identify them by taste alone.

Objective: Sharpen taste recognition and enhance descriptive language skills for sweet dishes.

3. Guess the Sweetener

Activity: Offer desserts made with different sweeteners (sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave) and have participants identify the sweetener used.

Objective: Understand the nuances of different sweeteners and their effects on dessert flavour profiles.

4. Classic vs. Twist

Activity: Present a classic dessert alongside a version that includes a creative twist. Have staff identify the classic and the twist and discuss the differences.

Objective: Foster creativity and discuss how small changes can dramatically alter a dessert’s character.

5. Dessert Wine Pairing

Activity: Sample small bites of desserts with different dessert wines and match them based on complementary flavours.

Objective: Enhance knowledge of dessert wines and the principles of pairing sweets with beverages.

6. Texture Talk

Activity: Focus on desserts that showcase a particular texture (creamy, crunchy, gooey) and have participants identify and describe the texture experienced.

Objective: Develop a deeper understanding and vocabulary for describing the textural elements of desserts.

7. Ingredient Guessing Game

Activity: Serve a complex dessert and have staff list as many ingredients as they can identify through tasting.

Objective: Encourage detailed taste analysis and ingredient recognition skills.

8. Dessert Decoration Challenge

Activity: Provide plain cupcakes or cookies and a range of decorating ingredients. Staff must decorate based on a theme, and peers vote on the best.

Objective: Encourage creativity and teamwork, while appreciating the visual aspects of dessert presentation.

9. International Sweet Sampler

Activity: Offer a selection of small, traditional desserts from around the world. Participants must match the dessert to its country of origin.

Objective: Expand knowledge of global dessert traditions and ingredients.

10. Flavour Layering Exercise

Activity: Taste desserts that are constructed with layers of flavour (e.g., a parfait with distinct layers) and identify each component layer.

Objective: Understand the complexity and skill involved in creating layered desserts, enhancing the ability to describe and sell these dishes to guests.

Fruit Tasting and Knowledge Training ๐Ÿ“ ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿ‹ ๐Ÿ‡

1. Tropical Fruit Discovery

Activity: Present a range of less common tropical fruits (e.g., dragon fruit, rambutan, passion fruit) for tasting and discussion.

Objective: Expand knowledge of exotic fruits and their potential uses in dishes and beverages.

2. Citrus Zest Challenge

Activity: Provide samples of different citrus fruits’ zest and have participants identify them by smell and taste.

Objective: Highlight the importance of citrus in cooking and the distinct characteristics of each type.

3. Seasonal Fruit Selection

Activity: Taste and discuss a selection of fruits that are in season, comparing them to their out-of-season counterparts in terms of flavour and texture.

Objective: Emphasize the benefits of using seasonal produce and its impact on quality and taste.

4. Blindfolded Fruit Texture Test

Activity: Blindfold participants and have them identify fruits by their texture alone, such as the difference between a ripe and an unripe pear.

Objective: Develop a deeper understanding of how texture influences the perception of freshness and quality in fruit.

5. Fruit Pairing Quiz

Activity: Taste various fruit combinations and decide which pair best, discussing why certain fruits complement each other.

Objective: Enhance understanding of flavour pairing, particularly for creating fruit salads, desserts, or savoury dishes with fruit components.

6. Preservation Tasting

Activity: Offer samples of fruits in different preserved forms (dried, canned, jam, pickled) and discuss how preservation methods affect flavour and texture.

Objective: Explore the variety of ways fruits can be preserved and used throughout the year.

7. Herb and Fruit Fusion

Activity: Sample small dishes that combine fruits with fresh herbs (e.g., strawberry and basil, watermelon and mint) and identify the pairings.

Objective: Discover the potential of combining fruit with herbs to enhance flavour complexity in dishes.

8. Fruit Sweetness Scale

Activity: Arrange fruits from least to most sweet based on tasting, discussing the natural sugar content of each.

Objective: Gain insight into the natural sweetness of fruits and how this can be used to balance or enhance dishes.

9. Exotic Fruit Matching Game

Activity: Match exotic fruits with their country of origin and discuss their traditional uses in those countries.

Objective: Build global fruit knowledge and understand cultural significance and culinary uses.

10. Fruit as a Savoury Component

Activity: Taste and evaluate dishes where fruit is used in a savoury context (e.g., mango salsa, apple in a coleslaw, peach barbecue sauce).

Objective: Showcase fruit’s versatility beyond sweet dishes and desserts, encouraging creative use in the kitchen.

Italian Food Tasting and Knowledge ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น ๐Ÿง„ ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿ…

1. Regional Italian Dishes Match

Activity: Provide descriptions of dishes from various Italian regions (e.g., Risotto alla Milanese for Lombardy, Bucatini all’Amatriciana for Lazio) and have staff match them to their origin.

Objective: Broaden understanding of Italy’s diverse regional cuisines.

2. Italian Cheese Tasting

Activity: Organise a cheese tasting session featuring a variety of Italian cheeses, discussing their characteristics, origins, and pairings.

Objective: Enhance familiarity with Italian cheeses, improving cheese board recommendations.

3. Pasta Shape Identification

Activity: Display various pasta shapes without labels and have staff identify them. Discuss typical sauces or dishes each shape is paired with.

Objective: Deepen knowledge of pasta types and their uses in Italian cooking.

4. Italian Wine Pairing

Activity: Provide samples of Italian wines alongside small bites of Italian dishes or ingredients. Staff must suggest the best pairing based on the flavour profiles.

Objective: Improve understanding of Italian wine and food pairings, enhancing guest dining experiences.

5. Olive Oil Tasting

Activity: Conduct a tasting of different Italian olive oils, noting their regions, flavour profiles, and ideal uses in cooking.

Objective: Cultivate an appreciation for Italian olive oils’ variety and culinary importance.

6. Italian Herb and Spice Quiz

Activity: Present fresh or dried herbs and spices common in Italian cuisine. Participants guess their names and discuss their uses. Also compare flavour of dried and fresh of the same herb eg basil.

Objective: Familiarise staff with key Italian seasonings, enriching menu descriptions.

7. Guess the Italian Dish

Activity: Serve small, blind samples of classic Italian dishes. Participants must identify the dish and its key ingredients.

Objective: Test and expand knowledge of Italian cuisine, from antipasti to dolci.

8. Italian Coffee Culture Brief

Activity: Discuss the different types of Italian coffee drinks (e.g., espresso, cappuccino, affogato) and the typical times or ways they are enjoyed in Italy.

Objective: Educate staff on Italian coffee culture, improving coffee service and recommendations.

9. Italian Sausage Identification

Activity: Sample different types of Italian sausages (e.g., Salami, Soppressata, Finocchiona) and discuss their characteristics and regional origins.

Objective: Distinguish between various Italian sausages, aiding in menu knowledge and service.

10. Italian Dessert Discovery

Activity: Offer a tasting of lesser-known Italian desserts beyond the classic tiramisu and gelato, discussing their ingredients and origins.

Objective: Broaden dessert menu knowledge, providing guests with unique sweet options and stories.

>> See lots more training activities and ideas on this blog

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