"Cannot wait for your additional comments on the discussion panel. I
also wish that you would have heard Chef Grant Achatz's response to
some of the words of Chef White. The passion in his words put a lump in
my throat as he defended the true 'craft' of what he does (multi-course
tasting menu to those who weren't there).
I actually have it on camcorder video and would be happy to mail you a copy if you desire.
What I would really like to know is why the 2 of you (especially
Bourdain who is never restricted with words) said nothing in defense of
the tasting menu?"
Michael, the poster mentions Chef Achatz's impassioned response to
some of Marco's comments during the panel–and my general expressions
of wariness and exhaustion with the longer, larger and more involved of
today's "degustation" menus. Achatz is, of course, exactly right–that
if chefs like him, Wylie, Keller, Trotter et al can't express
themselves in the long form–and as creatively as they are able–what's
the point of it all?
Maybe the audience member who suggested " But…you guys are
spoiled" put his finger on it. On the other hand, as much as I love
and admire what Keller, Adruiz, Dufresne, Adria, Andres and others do
(the idea of ordering a la carte at Per Se or the Laundry being
heretical to me) , MPW has–with blunt instrument, perhaps, hit on a
subject worth discussing: WHERE is the point of diminishing returns?
How much is too much? Ripert, Gras, Adruiz's "tasting menus" are
decidedly scaled down from some of the more full-on experiences. Are
they on to something? Is that a good thing? Do–or
should– rules apply at all when you're talking Big Boys like Keller
and Adria? How, ideally, should we feel physically after a grand
tasting menu? And does it matter?
THE END OF THE MULTI-COURSE TASTING?
I returned home to find an email from a miffed Achatz saying my silence in the face of Marco White and Bourdain’s criticisms of the elaborate tasting menu was just as bad what they had to say. He clearly felt stung by what was said. I understand, this is his work, after all, and he takes it personal. But I trust he’s not losing sleep or changing his menu. If he’s like every other chef I know, he’s added a 35-course and a 50-course tasting by now.
I didn’t say more during the conversation beyond the fact that I still liked the tasting menu because I was moderating those two characters. Also, I wasn’t sure exactly what I felt. And last, who really cares what these aging, spoiled (deservedly), rarefied, former chefs think? These guys get hammered by the kitchen wherever they go, they are so revered. No wonder they only want a steak frites or some grilled chicken knees and a good beer. I understand that.
But let’s remember that Marco Pierre White—who again, I found uncommonly articulate, passionate, and smart, a cook who has a lot to offer young cooks—made his name doing just what grant is doing, serving the highest of high-end food. The guy reportedly fired customers when they didn’t behave the way he wanted them to (or was that his protégé?). He had, and has, an ego the size of the Chrysler building. How do you think he got to be MPW in the first place? He was merely stating his personal preference. Should we prefer what he does? No.
Bourdain too—was he or was he not enjoying for all the world to see over and over on Food Network a mutli-course tasting at the French Laundry (with the brilliant coffee and cigarettes course)? I was there. He loves it and wouldn’t turn it down today. But once or twice a year. The way most of us experience it, if we do at all. You’ve got to understand, it's hard for him to go into a restaurant and not get killed with food. He doesn’t live a normal life, restaurant-wise.
It’s a very lucky thing, to experience this worked over, heavily manipulated, highly refined food. Read my unalloyed endorsement of it in the Alinea cookbook introduction. Judging from the fact that it’s still impossible to get a FL rez, 14 years after its opening, that Alinea is packed and Achatz’s cookbook is already in its third printing before it’s even published, that Jean Georges and Michel Bras and Le Bernardin and Fat Duck and El Bulli are all flourishing, clearly innovative elaborate cooking and dining is not going anywhere. It’s a big world. With lots of people. There’s room for pork belly Chang and grilled chicken knees and artichokes #3970, with more to come. If it were my house, I’d welcome all.