Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is Fine Dining Killing Fine Cuisine?

We are in amidst of one of the most financially difficult times the country has ever faced and that is not lost on me. Job loss is growing, spending is weakening and people are eating shittier than they ever have. It is getting harder and harder for people to eat right, so they eat cheap and they haphazardly eat food that is slowly killing them. To make an argument for fine dining would likely be futile and lost on many people. However, I do hope that I can direct the thinking of a few who may be open contemplating the importance of a world of food that is drastically shrinking before our eyes.

First of all, I will not defend the pitfalls of fine dining - especially when it comes down to the overindulgence of items like 9 million page wine lists and $400 candle holders - items that the diner is paying for with or without their knowledge. I have trouble understanding whether or not fine/artistic cuisine can exist without some of the frivolity of services associated with the food. Can Jean Georges exist without having 3 separate FOH members setting plates in front of me simultaneously?

For many reasons, I simply do not believe that serving a creative and exquisite meal has to come hand in hand with excesses of fine dining culture. Why does the style of food dictate the style of service? Is there a linear relationship between technical plating and black/white jackets with bowties?

I think there are even bigger questions and conclusions that the industry may want to address. The first being this: Is fine dining killing fine cuisine? I have heard of a few paradigms of industry involving small kitchens redefining high-end concept cuisine at casual spaces, but are these restaurants actually models for a new trend or are they simply the exception that proves the rule?

Recently (ever more frequently) I've been hearing industry whispers and rumors about struggling high end restaurants and how they are on a path to absolute ruin due to ridiculous operation costs and spending. Is that a telltale sign that the fine dining restaurant model is no longer sustainable as it stands? And if so, does the artistic evolution/influence of cuisine have to suffer - essentially reverse course of action set from better times (especially considering all the restaurants gearing up for cheaper versions of their former menus just to stay open)?

What do you think? Am I the only one that cares or thinks that this is an issue? Probably.


  1. Great point! Some of my favorite restaurants offer extremely fine food but in a non-formal, non-fussy atmosphere. And, the wine lists include great wines at good prices but aren't full of the latest high-priced mailing list only stuff. The overall meal prices are then reasonable and one can relax and enjoy the evening.

  2. Sup Eddie. I think you'll find your answer in the changing spending patterns in personal consumption. They've changed DRASTICALLY in the past three decades.

    When are you back in MA or east coast? We should go to Fogo De Chao in Washington DC together.

  3. I think it depends on customer's expectation of their meal experience. There are people who truly want to taste fine cuisine; on the other hand there are also some people who want to enjoy the ambience, service, decor, etc...

    If I could produce fine cuisine I would like to see as many people as possible to enjoy the food, but I also want my customers to have unforgettable fine-dining experience to accompany my carefully prepared fine cuisine.

  4. I definitely think the economy will work changes to the "fine dining" market; I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, or by any means that it signals the death of "fine dining". I have always been much more interested in the food than the trappings, and would happily sit on a milk crate to eat a great meal.

    I don't think all the fuss and expense on service is necessary to "fine dining". Look at a place like Jose Andres' minibar (where I've been ) or the David Chang places (where I've not been). Minibar is 6 seats in front of a makeshift sushi bar/kitchen type setup plunked into the middle of a casual restaurant; everything is handed to the diner by the chef, other than drink orders. Or Robuchon's Ateliers, which also mimic the open kitchen / sushi bar type of layout (though much more posh and much more pricy).

    There will still be the "temples of fine dining" for those that can afford them, but I think they will be fewer and further between - and while the well-established ones may sustain themselves (and even they will likely have to make some concessions), it will be increasingly difficult for new entrants to the market. If the economy forces a redefinition of fine dining that focuses more on the food and less on the accoutrements (which I think it will), I'm good with that.