Cowin: Are tasting menus tyrannical or a good thing?

Dufresne: At WD-50 we switched to a tasting menu. It's not about imposing my will on diners; it's about showing them what we're excited about cooking and eating.

Keller: At the French Laundry we were doing a prix-fixe five-course offering, and then we added a tasting menu. Then we added a vegetarian tasting menu. But we have a rule about not repeating any menu items, so we were preparing dozes of dishes each night. After some time we realized that 90 percent of the people who were coming in wanted the tasting menu, so we limited ourselves to the nine-course tasting menu and a vegetarian tasting menu. It took a lot of pressure off the kitchen.

Ripert: Every night we sell 80-90 tasting menus. Customers love them and so do we because it allows us to tell a story. When Pink Floyd released its concept album, Dark Side of the Moon, it was telling a story. That's what chefs do with tasting menus.

Keller: You also have to consider that if a restaurant is offering a tasting menu, it's because it's successful. If tasting menus didn't sell, they wouldn't do it.

Cowin: What was a pivotal moment in your career?

Keller: Opening Rakel in 1986 in the center of the universe, New York City. And equally as monumental was when it closed in 1991. That was hard. So I moved to California and had a goal of opening the French Laundry, even thought I didn't have the finances. I thought about it every day until I realized the dream.

Ripert: A big moment in my career was at Le Bernardin when I was working as a chef under Gilbert Le Coze and he died of a heart attack. I was 26 at the time and I was happy doing what I was doing, but I had to take over. The New York Times critic Ruth Reichl was not so sure about me and she came in 12 times before we got our review. She finally gave us four stars. It was a sad time for me, but I was so focused and that review had a huge impact on me.

Dufresne: In May 2011 my daughter was two years old but I rarely saw her because I was constantly working. I was wearing myself out and I got the shingles. David Chang told me then that I had to take a month off. I had never taken time off, but I knew I had to change. I had built a good team of people who could run the restaurants without me, and I had to trust them. It has changed my life for the better.

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