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Restaurants now days and Chef Tyranny

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

Did anyone read the article in Vanity Fair: 

 

Tyranny–It’s What’s for Dinner

 

 

After reading this article it really said much of what I have been feeling about restaurants for the past several years. More and more it seems that it is less about the patron and more about the restaurant and the chef. The author does an excellent job of dissecting the incredibly long drawn out tasting only menus that are so popular now. What really rang true for me was the shear tedious nature of these meals (i.e 50 at El Buli 40 or more at French Laundry). Having eaten at Alinea it is an extremely long meal. Food was amazing but it is just a long time to sit and eat. You feel like there should be an intermission. 

 

There are some particularly good quotes in this article but one of my favorites is

 

 

 

Quote:
more and more diners will discover that absolute power irritates absolutely

 

 

I thought this article would be great for some discussion and wondered how others felt.

Thanks,

Nicko 
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Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
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post #2 of 18

I agree with a lot of what the article says; however I also agree with the free enterprise system and up to this point no one is forced to patronize any restaurant.

 

Granted some chefs seem to have lost sight of the reason that most people primarily go to a restaurant; however some people seem to have lost sight of the reason that most people primarily go to a restaurant.

 

I love to eat out. I love to be blown away by cuisine. I love to have my envelope pushed by creative genius. As much as I love everything about the entire dining experience, I cannot sustain my enthusiasm for the sensory explosion much beyond a 12 course tasting menu. Even that many courses and my attention has started to wain. 8 or 6 is more optimal for this foodie diner.

 

When I opened my restaurant in 1992, I wanted to do a pre-fixe menu period. Chef's vision period. After all, I am a genius and know best. I had enough business acumen to realize that attendance at my establishment would be voluntary and not mandatory.

 

My compromise, between my ego and my reality based business side, was to offer a weekly changing menu with 14 entrees and in addition, to offer a pre-fixe 5 course wine (or without) dinner which could be ordered by 1 or all at any particular table. Occasionally at special events or holidays it would be strictly pre-fixe and the number of courses might be extended, but 8 was about the max.

 

40 - 50 tastes is just way beyond my simple mind and comprehension, or it could be attention deficit disorder on my part, and that is both as chef and or diner.

 

At any rate that is my rant and story and I am sticking to them.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #3 of 18

I too agree with a lot of what was written.

I have been to the French Laundry in Napa, TRU in Chicago twice and Charlie Trotter's once.

I can tell you first hand that the article is spot on.

post #4 of 18

There is no way that I or my husband could do that, sit there for hours, eating what someone else finds 'tasty' and pay hundreds of dollars for it, NOPE.  That's why I cook!  I love food, but I just do not see the value in what these folks are doing.  I may not putting out sous vide steaks or foam this or any of that nonsense, sorry.  It's FOOD and I'm the guest.  I am no Professional, but, geez, I feel as though some of these people have just plain gottin' too big for their britches and it's because of the patrons swooning over them, media-hype and Television.  The best food that I have ever had, anywhere in the world, have been small Mom& Pop places, tiny hole-in-the-wall joints, local grub, period.

That's my 5¢

post #5 of 18

  Going to a restaurant, paying large amounts of money besides the point, and being told what you are going to eat, how the food will be cooked like it or not reminds me of my childhood years.  The saying was at our family table was" If you don´t like what is for being served, breakfast is in the morning." 

 If people allow themself to be served in such manner they should have known my mother, it would have been a match made in heaven. 

 The whole tasting menu thing is pure snobbery along with the smoke and mirrors. No Thanks, I am paying so I would like a bit of input in the selection I choose.

post #6 of 18

When I was in France and went to a place for lunch only(2 and 3 star places.) If m reservation was for noon,  I finally finished at about 3.45. . The luncheons were great. I went to Bocuse, Restaurant Pic in Velance, The Jules Verne and a few othe rgreat places. In fact they were so good I actually liked staying and watching the flow and the service of the dining room

CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #7 of 18

The thing is, for a Chef....for me...... going to some of these places is more of an educational thing over snobbery.

I am constantly trying to improve my presentations, come up with new and different ideas for creating food at work,

so, to me, this is more like industrial espionage.

 

Yes....I find the whole logistics of eating in such a venue as being over the top.....but again.......I'm there for the food more than anything else....

post #8 of 18
We always try to vet a chef (and the ambiance of his venue) before investing time and $$$ in a tasting.
Have not indulged ourselves recently, the last time was Dec 2011 at one of John Besh's places in NOLA...
Took a couple of hours and cannot recall even one dish that didn't pass muster, IMO.
Have never dined at a multi course place as described in the article and probably never will.
Intimidated?
No, just cannot sit still that long lol.
post #9 of 18
I have got to say I am getting getting pretty sick of this reverse snobbery against the concept of long form tasting menus. If its not for you, don't go. As for "not seeing the value" in this sort of enterprise, well where the heck is value in yet another place that sells ceaser salads (that are not even real ceasars), meatloaf, and "gourmet" burgers. The idea of of this style of fine dining being a problem is exclusive to food critics that are looking for sydication in a dwindling job market, nothing more. This issue is class baiting at its worst. I am BBQ chef who serves his food on paper. I am opposite of this level of cooking, and will tell you there is nothing wrong with long form pre fix dinning. If you dont like it, it means you dont like it. Nothing more, nothing less.

For my part, I would be quite happy if Godzilla came along and tromped every damn "gourmet" or fusion food truck into a puddle of paste. If there is a true culinary misstep in our time, that is it.
post #10 of 18

LOL. This is a cool thread. 

 

I spent two(2) weeks working at TFL.  It's not "just a restaurant".  People don't go there because "it's another restaurant".  People go there because of the 3+ hour episode.  The patrons have no problem laying out the $$$ for what they get because they take it as "a complete evening out" kinda thing.  It's a "dinner show".  They are putting their faith in Keller giving them something they can get nowhere else, at a level no one else can give them.  It's a different type of serious entertainment.  Is TFL a place for everyone?  No, I don't think so.  But I do know that it's booked full, every day, for months in advance, by 10:30-11:00 every morning.  I think you gotta respect that idea. 

post #11 of 18

Allan, I think that we can agree to disagree here. 

Everyone has their own opinion, you have your and I have mine. 

I don’t have hundreds of dollars to throw away on a single meal. 

Yes, we did try one, mainly for the experience and on the

recommendation of ‘food experts’ saying how fabulous it was, IT WASN’T!! 

But that’s my taste buds and my wallet.  I really don’t look at it as ‘reverse snobbery’. 

And that’s my take on it.

It's about the guest, not the chef's ego.

post #12 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanMcPherson View Post

I have got to say I am getting getting pretty sick of this reverse snobbery against the concept of long form tasting menus. If its not for you, don't go. As for "not seeing the value" in this sort of enterprise, well where the heck is value in yet another place that sells ceaser salads (that are not even real ceasars), meatloaf, and "gourmet" burgers. The idea of of this style of fine dining being a problem is exclusive to food critics that are looking for sydication in a dwindling job market, nothing more. This issue is class baiting at its worst. I am BBQ chef who serves his food on paper. I am opposite of this level of cooking, and will tell you there is nothing wrong with long form pre fix dinning. If you dont like it, it means you dont like it. Nothing more, nothing less.

For my part, I would be quite happy if Godzilla came along and tromped every damn "gourmet" or fusion food truck into a puddle of paste. If there is a true culinary misstep in our time, that is it.

Well said.   

 

Also there are some Chef's out there that do a much shorter version of this kind of tasting menu.

If it doesn't sell Chef's won't do it.  Simple as that.

 

If it sells and makes people both happy and chefs money then great.

 

PS - I never did read the article as I couldn't get by the "2 hours late for our reservation because our plane was delayed by weather"  that kind of put me off the entire thing.  

Talk about a 'pre-text'... wow! 

 

How many chefs here have allowed a reservation to be held for 2 hours past last call just because some of the party is eating?

 

Entitlement indeed~!

----

 


"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

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----

 


"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

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post #13 of 18
Thread Starter 

Alan,

 

I think you are missing what I am trying to get across in this thread. This is not reverse snobbery at least from my perspective from my experience. What it is to me is not treating the guests like, well guests. Instead you are kind of pushed around a bit and not really treated well in many instances. Most of the experiences I have read about El Bulli where not comfortable enjoyable dining experiences. I also felt the same when I ate at Charlie Trotters it was pretty amazing food but, it was not an enjoyable experience  I bet you I would enjoy eating at your bbq place a hundreds more than Charlie Trotters.

 

All this to say that I have eaten at some amazing fine dining restaurants and had a completely different experience. To be honest with you Al I feel it is totally an American thing. When I dine at the restaurants in Europe I just don't get the snooty vibe that I get at places like Trotters or French Laundry. 

 

Eating at Alinea is just plain odd. The food is amazing you can't argue that, but it is so darn awkward. The servers literally having to explain every dish. You never get a break it is not relaxing or enjoyable. It really is all about the food.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanMcPherson View Post

I have got to say I am getting getting pretty sick of this reverse snobbery against the concept of long form tasting menus. If its not for you, don't go. As for "not seeing the value" in this sort of enterprise, well where the heck is value in yet another place that sells ceaser salads (that are not even real ceasars), meatloaf, and "gourmet" burgers. The idea of of this style of fine dining being a problem is exclusive to food critics that are looking for sydication in a dwindling job market, nothing more. This issue is class baiting at its worst. I am BBQ chef who serves his food on paper. I am opposite of this level of cooking, and will tell you there is nothing wrong with long form pre fix dinning. If you dont like it, it means you dont like it. Nothing more, nothing less.

For my part, I would be quite happy if Godzilla came along and tromped every damn "gourmet" or fusion food truck into a puddle of paste. If there is a true culinary misstep in our time, that is it.
Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
(26 photos)
Reply
Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
(26 photos)
Reply
post #14 of 18

Sometimes I hate the way the server is forced to run through the list of stuff on the plate.  I used to think menu descriptions were bad enough.  Nowadays we can't even fit the descriptions on the menu.

post #15 of 18
Hi Nicko,

I think I am reacting to hyperbolic use of terms like tyranical. Its not as if anybody is going to waltz in off of the street to 11 Madison Park blind and expect to order a club house. Generally speaking customers know what they are getting in for, and I guess somewhat ironicly, they are in for getting what they don't know.

When you talk about being a guest and being treated as such I think we are looking at things from opposite ends of the spectrum. As a guest, I tnink of being welcomed into somebody's home, having them show me something of themselves. I don't leave my house and expect to have my own life reflected back at me. When dining out I want to be shown something that I hadn't thought of myself.

Maybe I am a freak, but I would honestly rather eat something interesting, even if I didnt "like" it per se, than something merely "yummy." Otherwise, why bother anything but grilled cheese?

Its funny, but I ate at Trotters last spring. My reaction was quite different than yours. I am exhausted at this time and dont have the mind to get into it right now. We just opened a second restaurant and its been 14 hour days since early December. I am passing out now but would love to explore this tomorrow.

Al
post #16 of 18
Aaand, I'm back.

So as I was saying the Mrs. and I ate at Trotters last year. I found the service quite incredible. When I say incredible, I mean it in the true sense of the word, like is this really happening? I honestly found it fascinating to watch the foh brigade, or try to watch, as they seemed to mysteriously appear out of nowhere. There was a definate air of theater and ritual in the entire experience. But beyond that there was a real feeling of hospitality to the evening. While service started out extremely formal, as our servers got a sense of Naiomi and I they became much more casual and jockular. Food descriptions stopped being laundry lists and more like "check out that little crunchy crumble under the goat, see if you can tell me what it is?"

There seemed to be a bit of a feeling among the public that Trotter was last years man, and, well, fair enough. He is a known commodity now, and frankly his style is kind of condified. No shame in that. Hell, I would love to be known for a style! That said the food that night was a great example of a tasting menu done right. Each course stood on its own, but the progression was had a sense of order and structure. While there was no announced theme to the menu it seemed clear to me that each plate was an ode to a different country or cousine. A simple idea, but it gave a structure to hang the whole thing on.

There were two courses that really stuck out. A halibut dish that was just super solid cooking, nothing that reinvented the wheel, but so good. That was followed by a venison dish that was the most virtuosic cooking I have seen. Honestly, two of the four elements on the plate were not that good. At least when taken appart. Eaten together, totally amazing. This was a crazy balancing act, It would have taken just one element out of wack to sink the whole thing.

Anyway, Chef Trotter himself was a very gracious host. Sent me off with a couple of bags of signed books, gotta like the swag!
post #17 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by kaneohegirlinaz View Post

Allan, I think that we can agree to disagree here. 
Everyone has their own opinion, you have your and I have mine. 
I don’t have hundreds of dollars to throw away on a single meal. 
Yes, we did try one, mainly for the experience and on the
recommendation of ‘food experts’ saying how fabulous it was, IT WASN’T!! 
But that’s my taste buds and my wallet.  I really don’t look at it as ‘reverse snobbery’. 
And that’s my take on it.
It's about the guest, not the chef's ego.

I didnt mean to come off as confrontational to you as I think I did in the cold light of day. The whole thing hinges on the concept of value. Its a purely subjective thing of course. We all have things that we are willing to spend more money than our neihbors. Well all have things that are too expensive at any price. This is normal. I half jokingly say that I like to spend under twenty or over two hundred dollars on a meal. Its the inbetween that will dissapoint.

I guess my problem is that is idea expressed,in the article that these sort of menues are a problem to be solved. I mean, its as simple as not going to these places. I mean, if you dont like BBQ, dont eat at my place. And start saying that I shouldnt be doing my job at all. Thats just silly. If there is an egomania issue here its with the author of the article.
post #18 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by kuan View Post

Sometimes I hate the way the server is forced to run through the list of stuff on the plate.  I used to think menu descriptions were bad enough.  Nowadays we can't even fit the descriptions on the menu.

When I was sous at the Haliburton wemwould do off menu tastings, usually about seven courses. It drove the servers nuts but we wouldnt,tell them what was coming up until it was in the window. This was exactly to avoid the mechanicle plot synopsis descriptions. We always tried to keep it spontanious and fun.
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