Tasting menus serve as cohesive dining experiences focusing on discovering the senses through culinary art. One night a year, expert chefs across Omaha come together under one roof to showcase their talents to a group of explorative diners. To raise money for local nonprofits and culinary scholarships, the Omaha Restaurant Association (ORA) hosts Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen: an annual event highlighting all aspects of the local dining community in a social and interactive environment.
Back in the ’90s, the event began as a single chef who would host a dining experience inside a person’s home. Formally called “Chef’s Night Out,” the event rebranded in the early 2000s and has since grown into 22 chefs serving more than 200 people. From the camaraderie built inside the kitchen to the careful craft behind each food presentation, Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen allows restaurants to hone their culinary skills and demonstrate their techniques through countless levels of flavor.
The event gathers head chefs who create five-to-six-course meals and wine pairings for various groups of attendees, all of whom enter with zero expectations. While guests enjoy their cocktail hour, restaurants stay busy in the kitchen and prepare palatable spoon samplings that will be selected later. Once they submit their samples, one representative per group picks the amuse-bouche they find the most eye-appealing, only to discover which restaurant is behind their selection. The chef then leads their group to a designated table, where they are wined and dined for the evening. A live auction concludes the night, where chefs donate exclusive dining experiences in their restaurants or private parties at one’s home.
Jennie Warren, executive director of the ORA, said many moving parts go into each year’s event. All chefs create their own menu, many based on products donated by suppliers—like wines, beers, and proteins. From there, chefs have complete creative freedom to build tasting menus to their desire and showcase techniques they may not always have the opportunity to show through their establishments.
For Matt Brown, advanced sommelier at V. Mertz, the event builds positive energy and connections between diners and chefs, which he said you wouldn’t otherwise see. “The chefs in Omaha are so motivated by high quality and interesting food,” he said. The 2023 event took place on April 30 at Embassy Suites Downtown, which donated everything from kitchen space to flatware to the hotel’s dining area for attendees.
In one room, each restaurant prepares courses in their designated stations—typically no larger than ten feet—with help from their sous chef and one selected student volunteer from the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College. “They cook on butane burners like they’re at campsites, but they’re executing some of the best food in the city,” Brown said. In the room next door, servers from each restaurant take care of guests as they patiently wait for their next course. “People on the other side of the wall don’t realize how talented these chefs are working in that environment and creating the level of food they do,” Brown added. “It’s a symphony of moving parts, and seeing the food come out is truly amazing.”
Omaha’s dining experiences are savored and respected by many, powered by culinary chefs dedicated to delivering the most tasteful experiences. Guests walk into Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen with an open mind, ready to explore unknown flavors and discover new cuisines. Between the chefs, sommeliers, diners, and servers, the event shines a light on all aspects of the dining community through a joint restaurant effort in an environment passionate for Omaha’s food and beverage industry. Year after year, the ORA brings its organization together with local restaurant talent and guides guests on a culinary journey—all while making a difference in the community. “You feel the excitement in the room,” Warren said. “To see the smiles on the chefs’ faces or the intentness when they’re creating so much detail into each plate is amazing. I’m so appreciative and proud of our board and committee.”
Proceeds from Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen benefit Foodbank for the Heartland, No More Empty Pots, and Saving Grace, as well as culinary scholarships through Metropolitan Community College Foundation and Hospitality Educational Foundation. To learn more or inquire about joining the Omaha Restaurant Association, visit dineoutomaha.com or contact Jennie Warren, executive director, at email@example.com.