Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Rant

Thank goodness someone in the mainstream press is finally commenting on celebrity-chef fatigue. I have been very tired of this phenomenon for some time. The New Batali Restaurant. The New Colicchio Restaurant. The New Keller Restaurant. In Berkeley, the New Waters or Relation-Of-Waters restaurant. I blame Keith McNally, in part (not to mention Jean-Georges Vongerichten), but I also blame the food magazines that, for want of paparazzi photos of movie stars, have created this monster cult of celebrity chefs whose new restaurants in far-flung locales become pilgrimage sites. What happened to the idea of going to a restaurant and eating a meal prepared by the chef whose job it was to cook at that restaurant? To develop menus for that very place, on a small scale, for a local patron base, without worrying about whether the same ingredients would be available at his other restaurant in Vegas? Why now, when we give such lip service to the small and local, are we so eager to fly across the country for the same Miso-Glazed Cod at Nobu in LA or Miami or Dallas that we ate at the Nobu in New York? Why are we interested in a chef's restaurant "concept", rather than a chef's own touch in the kitchen? I hesitate to heap kudos on anyone, knowing that tomorrow they could decide to join the fray and up their pay, but right now I raise a glass to Wylie Dufresne, Gabrielle Hamilton, Sharon Pachter and Charles Kiely, and other like-minded chefs for keeping their cooking at a scale they can control, rather than delegating their ideas to their sous-chef heirs.

2 Comments:

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous extramsg said...

Because the Nobu in Dallas, Miami, etc, is still a darned good restaurant. Keller's French Laundry is fantastic even after Per Se, another fantastic restaurant, opened. Why do movies advertise "A Film by Steven Spielberg"? Because he made Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Color Purple, Saving Private Ryan, etc.

Restaurants don't make food, chefs do. So why shouldn't there be some amount excitement about a restaurant by a chef who has proven he can make great food?

Aren't you placing an unfounded assumption in your argument by implying that chefs who have more than one location don't keep "their cooking at a scale they can control". I'm sure that's true in some cases, but may not be the case in most and certainly isn't the case in some.

What you're saying here seems to portray more about an idealized notion of what a restaurant should be than about the quality of the food. Sure, some celebrity chefs get their honors through their personality (eg, Rachel Ray) than their skill. But others seem to have truly earned their status (eg, Thomas Keller) and shouldn't be dismissed because they can cook AND manage well.

 
At 5:47 PM, Blogger Mrs. Delicious said...

I dunno if the other restaurants are still fantastic. A chain by any other name (hello, Wolfgang Puck) is still a chain, and I think the "specialness" of the original restaurant suffers when a single chef decides to open countless other restaurants managed by a corporation. What fun is a "destination restaurant" when that restaurant is already Everywhere You Want To Be? Keller is a brilliant chef -- I would never dismiss him -- and my meal at The French Laundry was a revelation, but why open a clone in New York when one of the best parts of being at TFL is the location and the journey? I am absolutely an idealist, and I feel that no matter how ethereal and transcendent the food is, in the end, what makes a restaurant great is the connection and communication through food between a chef and his or her patrons, which doesn't happen once that chef spreads him or herself too thin.

The Stephen Spielberg analogy holds no truck with me and in fact may help prove my point. Sorry.

(I must say, too, extramsg, that I was very surprised to see that you were the author of this comment! You are such an iconoclast on your own blog!)

 

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