Josh Skenes, on Saison's New $498 Test Kitchen Dinner Series

By Virginia Miller  |  June 19, 2014
Credit: Virginia Miller

Two Michelin-starred, fine dining innovator Saison — provider of one of the priciest and most gorgeous meals in the country —  just announced two new dinner series. The first one, curated by partner/wine director Mark Bright, features the key winemakers behind Saison's list. For the other, chef Josh Skenes brings eight lucky diners into his "test kitchen" to taste experimental dishes before they are on Saison’s menu. The idea is that chef will discuss and share ideas with guests, even sitting down with them over a glass of wine at the end of the meal. We recently spoke with Skenes about the inspiration behind the test dinners, his honeymoon in Japan and why the commodification of food is "disgraceful."  

Why did you decide on this style of test dinner series? 
I thought it would be a fun format to get everybody together and to get people's feedback, hoping it would open the door to a larger discussion. This is about experimentation. I don't do spherification or work with outlandish items, but I do find new, unusual products in the Bay Area and utilize these ingredients cooked over fire. At Saison, I have a responsibility to cook food that is real food, that is very honest and about perfect execution, so the test kitchen is the fun — the place where we can experiment.

What inspires your most recent creations? 
I just got back from my honeymoon in Japan. For me, it was about the honesty, the way people relate to each other, the politeness, the wholesome way you relate to the food there. The sensibility of the whole experience and the depth of their hospitality was inspiring. Often restaurants in the U.S. are more about marketability and profitability rather than about the experience. And to me that's disgraceful. We often commodify food. You see it happens in farming, too. So the opposite is what I mean when I mention the honesty of the experience in Japan. You can make a lot of money with honesty, but a little shift here and there can bring more honesty to the experience.

So what makes these test dinners particularly fun?
We have one communal table of eight people total. You can come whether you're one diner or a party of eight. It's about discussion, fun, sharing, seeing what's happening. Diners will be up close with our note board, our experiments in fermentation. Our methods of cooking are outlined on the wall, so it's a peek inside the brains, if you will, of the restaurant.

The first test kitchen dinner happens on August 2 at 8 PM and they'll continue every Saturday night thereafter at the same time. The cost of the meal is $498 per person, including wine. Compare this to Saison's regular tasting menu at $248 with drink pairings another $248. The inaugural wine dinner happens from 5:30-9:30 PM on Tuesday, July 15th, featuring Rajat Parr, wine director for the Mina Group, focused on his Santa Barbara area wineries, Sandhi and Domaine de la Côte. That dinner with wines is $495 and future dinners will run roughly bi-monthly. Call the restaurant to reserve. 178 Townsend St., 415-828-7990