The Chefs Speak Out

the chefs speakLucky Peach in their issue on fine dining interviewed chefs from around the world on the state of fine dining. Here are a few insightful excerpts but the whole piece is worth reading:


Rene Redzepi, chef of Noma in Copenhagen on fine dining today:

In fine dining, there can be a lot of the same, and that’s a problem the guidebooks created. Although they increased the standard, they also made everything very formulaic: you needed a slab of foie gras and pigeon or beef on the menu. Today, it’s different. Fine dining restaurants will have to showcase more of the natural world to stand out—we’re going to have to be explorers. A lovely piece of steak or a nice piece of lobster won’t be enough—everybody can get that. At Noma, for instance, we’re vegetarian six months of the year.

Ben Shewry chef of Attica in Melbourne Australia on what draws him to fine dining:

In one word: freedom. That’s why I’m drawn to it. That’s why I run the business the way I do, because I feel like I have the freedom to decide whatever I want at the restaurant. People come to see our expression of cooking and hospitality; they don’t want to see another person’s or another organization’s expression.

Josh Skenes of Saison in San Francisco on availability:

We have to accept that if you’re going to cook really great food it can’t be on a really large scale, right? I don’t even like how big Saison is now. The quality of the products we have here is as good or better than anywhere in the country, but even for me, I still want, you know, better shit, because there is better shit that exists in the world.

Yannick Alleno of Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen on the future of fine dining:

To prepare the French cuisine of the twenty-first century, because it’s going to be very strange. Socially, it’s going to be a very disturbed century, so we as cooks should prepare for that. It’s going to be very different in ecological terms. French cuisine is still really stuck on the codes of the nineteenth century; it’s not ready yet for the twenty-first. It’s important that we reflect.

Liz Benno, who worked at Craft and for Mario Batali:

I would like to see fine dining not be bashed as much as it has been. It should be treated differently from casual dining, especially in the reviews. It’s different, and it needs to be treated differently. To have nine courses at Per Se, different for each person depending on which tasting menu they choose, be given two stars—the same as Superiority Burger… There’s a huge difference. Casual restaurants should be just as appreciated, just differently.

David Kinch, chef of Manresa in Los Gatos, California on the purpose of fine dining:

I want people to come in and leave everything, including their cellphones, and their angst, and their anxieties, and leave their entire frantic outside world—that’s what fine dining does. Talk to this person in front of you, enjoy that glass of wine, how it matches this dish that we worked on all day. Appreciate what we do, because you’re paying a lot of money, and it’s a failed business model if we don’t deliver the perception of the value. You go to the latest hipster places that everybody says are replacing fine dining—it’s loud, it’s noisy, and everyone is on their phone anyway.

Anita Lo, chef of New York’s Annisa Restaurant on the economic climate for fine dining restaurants

Things have to change. Our industry is broken in many ways, it’s incredibly hard. Everyone seems to be trying to do their fast-casual concept and a lot of these higher end restaurants are closing and it’s very sad to see.

We can’t find cooks anymore. The problem is money. New York has been the culinary center of North America on some level, but it can’t continue the way it’s going. We’re losing restaurants. I find it outrageous that someone like Bill Telepan can’t make it—he’s a really great chef with a big name. They raised the minimum wage for waiters, and his restaurant couldn’t handle it. For a tiny little restaurant that just doesn’t make sense. I’m a liberal and I totally get why you need policy for places like Denny’s. But was that really necessary for a high-end place where waiters are making decent money from tips?

We’ve tried out a no-tipping policy, and it hasn’t been great. We’ve lost a lot of diners. I think people just don’t get it—they have sticker shock and don’t really get what it means.

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