My snarky answer is – if proponents of haute cuisine and others of similar ilk use this sort of attitude, then let me give a loud and emphatic yes.
Let me backtrack a bit. The basic premise of the article (essentially that we’re losing something as four-star Michelin restaurants become fewer and fewer) is agreeable. To someone like myself who believes in acknowledging and respecting influences of the past, the idea of saving or maintaining what these places bring to our culture seems reasonable enough, even laudable on some levels.
And then this sentence occurs after a bit of introspection about the joys of High-End places:
Intellectually, then, I conceded the need for serious restaurants.
Y’see…it’s the word ‘serious’ that tees me off. And it’s done no favors by being pared up against the adverb ‘Intellectually’. After reading that sentence, my eye started to twitch involuntarily as my hackles were surely raising. Anyone who has read this blog for the past five years may recognize that this is just the sort of thing that sets me off.
Look, most restaurants are serious endeavors, even if they do nothing more than serve pizza parties and have enormous arcades. The goal of any restaurant should be to be in the black enough to please the investors, whomever or whatever that may be. As recent events have clearly demonstrated to us all, anything dealing with money is a serious business. If this is not the primary goal of a restaurant, then I’d have to wonder what their purpose is.
Admittedly, the make money goal can be (and some may argue, should be) matched with other, more philosophic goals. Anything from “Revolutionizing the techniques for food prep and service” to “having a place where my pals can hang out” can and do work with the “As long as we make money” goal.
Perhaps the author of the piece wasn’t talking about the seriousness of the business, but the seriousness of the philosophy of the restaurant. Even there the phraseology does a disservice to any restaurant that can’t claim roots in the High End French restaurant traditions. Barbecue joints, noodle houses, road side diners, and a plethora of other types of restaurants are all important to food culture as a whole. In fact, there are arguments to be made that these places are possibly more important than the places that serve Haute Cuisine as they are more readily accessible to the common citizen. To make the assertion that Four-star restaurants are more serious, and thus more important than other restaurants is the worst form of snobbery, the worst form of classism.
When the author of the piece asked a chef why fine dining matters, his response was as follows:
“Because a great restaurant,” he replied, “creates an illusion of a life where everyone is happy to see us, every need is met and everything tastes better. And we need this now more than ever.”
This is true of all restaurants, not just four star places. The fact that both the chef and the author failed to see this point astounds me.
I’m of the belief that everything has a place. Mozart is equal to the Sex Pistols. Warhol is equal to Rembrandt. And Per Se is equal to my favorite dinner. All provide something intellectually that the other cannot.
By insinuating that fine-dining restaurants are the serious places, it cheapens and insults every place else.