My last two articles were in defense of McDonald’s and chain hotels. This month’s article – in defense of fine-dining – completes the industry punching bag hatrick and mini-series. Unless of course I (or an active reader) can think of another devil that needs an advocate?
Fine-dining usually refers to both the location as well as the kind of food that is being served. The latter is usually gourmet food – or haute cuisine, as I grew up calling it in the more Francophile hospitality circles in Switzerland.
These days, a lot of people are critical of haute cuisine as well as of the restaurants that serve it. They rightly point out issues such as levels of disregard for animals that are excessive even for the food industry (foie gras, anyone?), authoritarian chefs that foster abusive atmospheres in the pursuit of genius, exclusivity (as in the opposite of inclusivity, not as in the marketing-shtick) and a hyper focus on aesthetics that not only seemingly forget about the actual purpose of food, but also cultivate the normalization of food-waste, which is not only irresponsible, but also often leads to disastrous or nonexistent profit margins. Unless, of course, restaurants compensate by drastically underpaying their employees. But let us not open that can of worms this time, this month.
A role to play
When they put it that way, one might rightly start questioning what the point of fine-dining is in 2021. Is there one? Although I too am a sceptic of anything that comes off as snobby (and, as you might have noticed, someone with a soft spot for things that don’t), I still think haute cuisine has a role to play.
Among other things, fine-dining – in part thanks to some of its brightest stars – was and still is largely responsible for (re)introducing a focus on quality (ingredients), and craft, over quantity. It can therefore be argued that, although itself not innocent of food-waste and other unsustainable practices, haute cuisine overall pushes the industry in a more sustainable direction.
Some of other its merits are less tangible, but, in my view, no less important. As my mother, herself a hospitality veteran, put it when I brought up the question at the dinner table: haute cuisine, at its best, is like space travel or the Olympics. It might seem increasingly frivolous, and often tainted, but occasionally it also pushes the boundaries of what was thought possible and has a genuine capacity to inspire.
By doing so, haute cuisine and its most famous acolytes not only promote creativity in the whole hospitality industry, but are also one of the few things that still make the industry look attractive to young people trying to decide what to do with their lives. At its best, it also makes an excellent learning environment, bringing young chefs from all over the world together in experimenting, and rediscovering and perfecting their craft.
Therefore, in an age in which an increasing amount of problems – ranging from changing dietary habits and environmental regulations to staff shortages and inflation – need solutions, fine-dining might still have some offer. The rest of the industry should be thankful.
About the author:
The co-owner & founder of start-up 1520 in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, Marius Zürcher was a participant at FCSI’s ‘Millennials’ focused roundtable at INTERGASTRA 2018.