This question originally appeared on Quora, the best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
Yes. But not the way you think we do.
I don’t eat “off the pass” as some people presume we do, stealing a broccoli here or a fry there. That’d be bad. I also don’t make it a habit running around my kitchen and tasting my cooks’ prepared food—that would take too long and is very insulting toward them. They’re professionals, they taste, they know what I expect; micromanaging staff in those matters is extra-annoying behavior.
Chefs learn very quickly to mentally assemble a flavor profile from tasting ingredients. For example, I taste my pasta water every once in a while. I taste the sauce. I ask someone to fry me up a small piece of something and see if the seasoning worked. From those individual tastes, I think I get a good idea if we’re on the right track.
And, of course, I cook a version of most anything on the menu at least once a month. We’re also switching out dishes frequently or change suppliers, so I have to recalibrate. I make everyone (front and back) taste it. My cooks need to learn how I want something to look, taste, and feel, and I get to check my own expectations against reality, which is something I wished more of my bosses would have done in the past. My pie-in-the-sky dreams of dishes are sometimes just not feasible in the given time and with the given tools and ingredients.
As a chef, when I cook, I taste—like I expect my cooks to. Take a disposable spoon (or use the two-spoon method) and try that sauce, try that puree, try everything. Ideally, we have our production down to the point where every dish tastes the same as every other dish they made from that batch of ingredients, but things happen. By tasting, we also learn what we need to do to streamline the mise and prep more, and where we can dial back at the finishing and ramp it up in prep.
Cooking is, unlike baking, a somewhat inexact science. We try to get as close as possible to ultimate replicability, but without small corrections we couldn’t do it, so we check and adjust.