by Bourdain

"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?

by Ruhlman

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.

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88 Wonderful responses to “HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?”

  • Sara

    why isnt anybody talking about your sandals? I thought Giuliani got rid of Tevas with the peep show booths.

  • SJM

    As a chef who starged with MPW at Harvey’s in 92 and 93 and later at his 3 star, I have to say that nothing surprises me about him even 16 years later. I saw things in his kitchen and dining room that you would not believe. He was like working with God in the kitchen, even when he threatened to break my eyeglasses for dropping a plate. He lives for the controversy of any situation and will never change. He doesn’t care what you or I think about him. Thats what made him who he is. Where do think Gordon gets it from. GA should also not care what MPW thinks and continue to do what he does. Thats what makes us chefs. In closing I want to say that he is the best cook I’ve ever seen touch food. The person who called him ‘washed up”, you wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in his kitchen.

  • milo

    “does it deserve “best restaurant” accolades??? Best meal??? when all it really comes down to is a high end pig out.”

    Whether it deserves those accolades depends on how good the food is, not the number of courses. Some of the best meals of my life have been multicourse ones. And more courses doesn’t necessarily mean “pig out”, often the more courses, the smaller each one is.

    It makes no sense to compare a multicourse meal to an all you can eat buffet, it’s a night and day difference. Completely different food and completely different philosophy.

    It should also be noted that there are countries where more courses are the normal way of doing things, like Italy and France. I’m sure when they see americans eating meat, potato, veggie they think we’re nuts.

  • luis

    I mean Milo, if you are paying $250 a plate and up… odds are you will not be washing it down with Diet Soda??? Or Heineken?
    It’s after ten pm here…and I hear baby birds chirping outside. high on the weeping willow. Time to close the office and adjourn to the living room… so the birds can get their sleep. Later gaters….

  • luis

    Milo, I agree with you and I endorse the format because there are folks out there that enjoy it. Else the restaurants couldn’t survive.
    My point is, does it deserve “best restaurant” accolades??? Best meal??? when all it really comes down to is a high end pig out.
    I once asked a really great all you can eat chinese house with real quality food, how they made money. You know after seeing folks eat plate after plate…. The answer was simple. The food was divine for most common folks, the ACE IN THE HOLE for the restaurant was simple. It was explained to me that the human stomach holds a fixed amount. Five pints? comes to mind.
    So the restaurant would calculate the cost of five pints of the MOST expensive ingredient and PRICE the Admission to it.
    Very simple and if you make money in 85% of the dishes… you have a succesful restaurant.
    But my guess is they made money in as much as 94% of the patrons.
    The problem is with confusing business with art. Its OXYMORON…..analogy.
    I fill you full of FOAM….and you pay me for an expensive meal. Ambiance and good conversation not whistanding..good karma can cure a heart attack and put viagra out of business.

  • Maura

    milo, I think maybe “smorgasbord” has become synonymous with “buffet” and “all you can eat”, in the worst way possible. But, that’s just semantics. I agree that dismissing something because of the number of courses makes no sense at all. You can have a great meal of just homemade soup and bread; you can also have a great meal like the one in “Big Night”, and end up crying at the end of it because your mother was such a terrible cook. :)

    On the other side is the American tendency to love a meal just because there were a million choices and the portions were huge. That’s where the crap is likely to appear.

  • milo

    “There’s a chance that it’s my youth and ignorance talking…”

    Yeah, probably.

    It’s easy to dismiss something you’ve never tried. It’s also easy to realize how wrong you were once you have tried it.

  • milo

    “Anyone that thinks a tasting menu of twenty or thirty items is NOT a smorgasboard of crap and more crap meant to impress the easily amused and stuff rich patrons bellies full o’crap and take their money is out of their minds.”

    With all due respect, I’d say anyone who dismisses food based on number of courses with no regard for quality is “out of their mind”.

    To me it’s unimaginable that anyone would elevate any other factor over “does the food taste good?”

    And really, why is “smorgasbord” such a dirty word? In all honestly, I would probably eat several small plates instead of a couple big ones at every opportunity if restaurants offered the option and it didn’t end up costing more than the equivalent amount of food in entree portions.

    Why not have the equivalent of “tapas” at all types of restaurants?

    For me, that’s the biggest problem with most restaurants – the prices and portions keep me from being able to try more than a couple things.

    But maybe I’m just weird.

  • luis

    OK, OK, I got it…finally. An extended tasting menu = a high end deconstructed smorgasboard, all you can eat….etc…
    I got it. Nothing wrong with it folks, other than the disingenous illusion of being a regular meal at a regular night dinning out.

  • Garbanzo

    I ate at Alinea on Sunday night and had their 26-course tour, along with wine pairings. I knew what I was in for, and ate lightly in the prior 24 hours, but it was still a hike for even an ardent fan (I had to halt the wine for the last few courses, because it then would have been too far over the top). I had a 14-course meal a few years ago at L’Astrance in Paris that was unfinishable due to the amount of food.

    But that being said, I wouldn’t have done it any differently. Being a NYer in town for a few days, I wanted to see the full range of Achatz’s prowess and the 14-course tasting menu wasn’t enough (I know it sounds like a lot, but many of Alinea’s dishes are 1-3 bites). It’s food tourism to be sure, so the only thing I have a qualm with is the matter of waste — not being able to eat all that beautiful food due to biological restrictions.

    Interestingly, there was an article in the NY Times a few months ago about people vomiting in high-end restaurants, partially due to OD’ing on mass quantities of great food.

  • MessyONE

    Gee Bob….

    Why do you even care what the chef’s personality is like? I’m sure none of them are all sweetness and light 100% of the time, that’s true of everyone. It’s all about the food. It’s about the difference between the craftsman and the artist, and being able to understand that.

    If the food is transcendent, I don’t care if the chef calls cute little puppies bad names, hates little kids, shoves grannies on the street and smokes obnoxious cigars in other peoples homes. Most of us are lucky if we can do one thing, anything, as well as a good chef (or glassblower, or painter, or whatever) can. A lot can be excused for the sake of art.

    As for the concept of tasting menus. I think they’re something that Americans in general have problems with. In our house, it’s nothing to be at the dinner table for four hours or more. With four people at the table, we frequently go through four to six bottles of wine in an evening. It’s fun, and our American friends are frequently shocked when they look at the time when dinner’s over. They haven’t noticed time passing.

    That’s what a good tasting menu does. It takes a long time, everything tastes and feels heavenly, and you don’t feel as if you’ve swallowed a cannonball when you leave the table.

    It’s really not that complicated.

  • Bob

    naw… I personally would skip the finest meal in the world to not support an a-hole. It’s called leading by example.

  • MessyONE

    Depends on how bad he/she (to be fair) is. No, I won’t give my business to a real – um – scummy person. On the other hand, I’m there for the food, and that’s what I’m paying for. I’m not interested in the personal lives of the people that make it. That said, there’s something to be learned from even the most unrepentant reprobate (You’re just going to have to trust me on that one. I had to learn how to rebuild a carb from SOMEONE, right?)

    Besides…. I’m the kid that had “doesn’t work and play well with others” all over the elementary school report cards… You just can’t reform a real rebel, I guess. In the final analysis, I’ve had more fun than many of my contemporaries, too.

  • Bob

    glad I cancelled my resv a couple months back at Alinea and went to Blackbird instead… several people in the know didn’t want me going to Alinea, so I relented.

    Now I think I know why they were so firm in their persuasions to veer me away from Alinea – the guy sounds like a jerk.

    So my advice to “celebrity chefs”… if your demeanor is a tad crappy… your crappy personality may eventually filter out to the public – and they may not respond well.

    Celebrity (or very popular, public) chefs are just like other celebrities. They should take clues from the Hollywood and music types…

    Then again, it would have been positively wonderful had MPW shaved his head and started beating GA’s car with an umbrella…

  • luis

    There is nothing new under the sun really, Smorgasboard, all you can eat, tasting menu a mile long…. are basically all the same thing. You re-invent the all out pig out all you can eat but discretelly hide the deed by bringing out one tiny little ‘old byte at a time…all night long… Frankly I’d rather quit after five bytes and taste some of their vino and good conversation till it’s time to call it a night. But if at the end of the night you roll out all twenty courses and lay them before the stuffed bellied patrons… then what?…. ? fun or fallacy?

  • DJK

    “As to the question of whether or not the modern creative chef for whom artistry and creativity is paramount should have responsibility–or even care–about how their customer feels an hour after eating, I’m on the fence . I’m obviously more than willing to stuff myself beyond reason at a “once in a lifetime” meal.”

    This is a topic I wouldn’t mind seeing expanded into a blog posting of its own. Especially since ruhlman might know the answer to the question–does Thomas Keller take his customers’ fullness into consideration? If so, how, and if not, why not?

    All I kept thinking for the last several minutes of your meal at the French Laundry documented on FN was, “what a waste.” On top of that, it felt so uncalculated. And neither “waste” nor “uncalculated” are words (the red underline for “uncalculated” suggests I could stop here for that one) that seem to fit Keller’s philosophy.

  • luis

    Vincent, no I am not!. The debate is out of focus!. Think about it. Who cares if you eat one dish or twenty?. Anyone that has ever been to a smorgasboard knows a lot o’crappy food is no substitute for a well prepared and balanced meal.
    And food is for living and enjoyment not for fun and play. And God’s little creatures that are not part of the farm programs are off limits. Anyone that thinks a tasting menu of twenty or thirty items is NOT a smorgasboard of crap and more crap meant to impress the easily amused and stuff rich patrons bellies full o’crap and take their money is out of their minds.

  • Frodnesor

    CJ – it’s reassuring to know that your comment on GA was just a garden variety ad hominem character attack and not a cancer joke.

    Frankly, I really don’t much care whether someone thinks Achatz is “passive aggressive” or White is a “washed-up cooking celebrity.” I’m trying to figure out if there’s any value to what any of them had to say about the current state of contemporary cooking.

    If MPW was speaking purely as a matter of personal preference, that’s fine but doesn’t do much to really add to the general discourse. If he’s arguing his preference is the “only right way,” that’s something else. Among many other things, it seems to lose sight of the fact that many of us eat out to experience things we couldn’t accomplish at home. I can cook a fish w/ lemon salt and olive oil, I can roast a pretty good chicken. I can’t even begin to do what they do at Alinea, and that is, for many diners, part of the appeal.

    My personal guide has always been almost exactly what AB said above: “Is it–at the end of the day–delicious?” and “Is it fun?” There’s plenty of room in that tent.

  • Natalie Sztern

    DL are u trying to say that Grant sat in on this discussion and did not comtemplate for one minute that it was NOT going to be controversial or is it that he did not think he would be the subject of this controversy?

  • DL

    From Marco Pierre White I expected controversy, I expected over-the-top statements. This is someone who wrote in White Heat, tongue firmly in cheek I imagine, “I find the lobster a beautiful creature. A lobster to me is more beautiful than most women are.” I’m saying I expected more from Ruhlman (who is gracious enough to leave my critical post on his own website.)

    The exchange was just painful to experience. Marco probably wouldn’t even recognize Grant, but it verged on an ad hominem attack. It was like having a drunken friend unknowingly and repeatedly insult your family in their presence. I thought it was getting ugly and Ruhlman should have moved on to another topic. He felt it was fair game, that the criticisms were general. Fine.

    I’m sure Grant has heard these exact criticisms before many times. I know he’s had to face bigger issues than big bad Marco Pierre cracking wise about his cooking style, but obviously Grant thought it was out of line or he wouldn’t have e-mailed Ruhlman about it.

    Again, it’s not the merits or lack thereof of tasting menus that has some people upset (I couldn’t care any less), it’s the nature of that one particular discussion. Obviously this board contains some foodies who worship “bad-boy” chefs but some of us in the industry don’t buy the macho bullshit and expect professionalism in a real forum. From Ruhlman, at least. The other two, we understand, have personas to maintain.

  • Big Guy

    Sounds like Achatz et al are forgetting that the craft of cooking not all about self-indulgent wankery. As a chef you have a paying audience, just like a pop star. Not everybody loves the 30 minute long Phish-esque noodle jam.

  • CJ

    Frodnesor: “making a wisecrack about a chef’s recovery from tongue cancer?”

    Exactly where did I make a “wisecrack” about his recovery from cancer? Here, let me save you the trouble, I didn’t…the guy has never lost his ability to talk…get with the program.

    The comment has nothing to do with his tongue cancer and everything to do with “typical GA passive/aggressive” behavior where he smiles through everything and then flames who he wants to behind closed doors.

    There isn’t anyone who is surprised by GA’s willingness to sit through MPW’s legitimate commentary and then flame Ruhlman after the fact for not “sticking up for him”.

    Heck…he didn’t even have the stones to confront Ruhlman face-to-face…he did it via email. Shocker.

    And then, in a not surprising move, rather than talk with MPW one-on-one about his views, he does it from the comfort from the stage the next day.

    Again, shocker.

  • ruhlman

    DL:

    Sorry you thought I was sitting idly by as Grant was personally attacked. I didn’t see it as a personal attack and Grant is fairly secure in what he does to weather a professional attack.

    I think it’s a worthy debate, which is why Tony posted.

    In my view Grant is a genuine artist, whereas MPW is a craftsman. Again, there’s room for all and the market will determine what survives and what doesn’t.

    In the end, though, I’m with Kate. Bring on the Jello!

  • Kansas City rube (now San Francisco rube)

    And who says food isn’t important?

    The passion and thought that have gone into some of these posts remind me of long conservations I’ve had on art, politics, and religion.

    I am reminded by the many “what is art?” arguments that have been raging for centuries.

    And while I agree that simple food is fantastic and really lets the flavors express themselves, I am fascinated by the pageantry and creativity that go into the long menus. There are so many great, simple restaurants out there but very few where you can get a 25 course degustation. And I certainly don’t think that you have to pick sides.

    I don’t share Bourdain’s worries that these menus will somehow change the culinary landscape raise the cost at every restaurant, although a populist argument is an interesting way to make this point.

    In the culinary world, we don’t suffer from a lack of choices. Quite the contrary (depending where you live). In big markets–where all these restaurants exist–good restaurants survive; bad ones fail, no matter what format they decide to serve the food. It is alarmist to think that these grandiose restaurants will somehow squeeze out all the rest serving good, simple food or somehow force them to serve multi-course menus.

    The culinary world, like the art world, is always changing. Trends come and go. If you don’t like abstract expressionism or long degustation menus, don’t worry, I’m sure change is just around the corner.

  • Kate in the NW

    This is sounding less and less interesting as it goes on. It’s turning into Celebrity Chef Smackdown. Can’t we at least put these guys in a big vat of Jello or Mousse or something if that’s the point of the thing?

    Or can we talk about the FOOD?

    (Yeah, yeah, I know – some people follow the chefs, some people follow the food, some do both…I don’t mean to knock either one, but this is degenerating into WWF…or maybe WTF, I’m not sure which…)

  • Frodnesor

    CJ – making a wisecrack about a chef’s recovery from tongue cancer? Sorry, you get the “dumbest comment” prize – in a landslide. DL, thanks for the insight into what actually transpired.

  • CJ

    Your credibility took a big hit with this comment: “washed-up cooking celebrity”

    Then you obliterated to hell with this one: “The big deal is seeing a chef turn on one their own”

    Nice job.

    No chef is above reproach, NO ONE and calling MPW a “washed-up cooking celebrity” might be the dumbest comment I’ve read on this site all year.

    If Achatz can’t handle the legitimate critique of his craft and needs his “writing boy” to back him up…then don’t go the session…or stand up and say something. Oh wait…it’s Grant Achatz, WTF am I thinking?

  • jscirish27

    I want to preface my previous comments by saying, a) I have had the tasting menu at Le Bernadin and recall it being fantastic, but I can only specifically remember one dish (a scallop amuse bouche — long before the sake course) from the evening. b) I remember eating the foie gras poutine at Au Pied Du Cochon like it was yesterday. My point being, sometimes the food, which is the very point of the tasting menu, gets lost in all of the courses. Just a thought . . .

  • DL

    So if you weren’t there, this is more or less what happened. I’ll assume you’re familiar with the principals. Marco gets started on a rant about multi-course tasting menus. He wants to order what he wants to order, make his own choices. (“A 12-course menu or a 24-course menu, what kind of choice is that?” he asks). He doesn’t like waiters telling him how to eat the food (you know the joke, “start with the yadda yadda and then drink the…”). He doesn’t want one scallop he wants a plate full. It goes on and on.

    It’s funny, and yeah I get it, but sitting two rows into the stands, pretty much right in front of the action, is Grant Achatz, the rightly heralded chef at Alinea, where precisely all the things Marco mentioned happen. It wasn’t just the relentlessness of the attack, it was the specificity. Sure critical review is part of public life, and you have to have a thick skin and all that, but Grant just fought his way back from stage four cancer of the TONGUE, and he’s in New York City to share some of what he knows about enhancing the dining experience, and he’s got to listen to this washed-up cooking celebrity bash what he does day in and day out.

    So what, that’s life, you might be thinking. Well Ruhlman, who was moderating the talk, and who has written more about Grant than probably anyone, does nothing to steer the conversation away once Marco has made his point. Nothing. He lets it go on, long after it’s served any practical end. Marco’s twisting the knife and Ruhlman just watches. Maybe he thinks it’s entertaining and so he shouldn’t interfere because entertainment is what he was supposed to provide. Maybe he’s overawed by Marco. Whatever. The big deal isn’t “simple food vs. multi-course tastings” which is an apples vs. oranges non-debate. The big deal is seeing a chef turn on one their own, and seeing a supposed ally of the victim, the one who could have done the most to help, sit by idly.

  • Vincent Mack

    wow luis i think youre crazy dude.

    chefs arent spoiled – we are getting what we have been waiting for. for YEARS.

    if we want to “kill” people with tasting menus because we can get the best product in the world at a moments notice – whats the harm in that?

    people are paying for it – people are loving it. chang is in fucking ESQUIRE for christs sake. ESQUIRE? really? charlie rose? really?

    the debate seems a bit ridiculous to me. you have a choice to eat where you eat, what you eat.

    shelley – i hope you and yours are well – take care.

  • craig thornton

    i think after hearing both sides i am more in the middle as well. reason being after reading “is it good” i think thats what its all about in the end. i know that many people have many different tastes, memories, blah, blah that make things good or bad to everyone and i know that food is different than it was “back in the day”, but i think MPW/bourdain have somewhat of a point if the main issue is, “is it good” because i have eaten so many bad meals, i cook for a living and i know that pushing the limits of food is needed for progression, but i feel that eventually (more like a lot of places now) are just throwing shit together to get in on the action, then all of the sudden you are eating snow crab with aerated milk chocolate durian gel garlic sheets oregano and pomegranate air, then thinking who the fuck thought this up, and did they do so with reckless abandon, why can’t i just have a piece of fish thats been cooked properly, but most people getting into culinary school will graduate, never wash a fucking dish and try to create this “grand” tasting menus without actually having the skills to learn how to make simple comfort food that everyone can relate to, and when you can’t relate, your food will never relate because the backbone will never be there. i think MPW would think differently if some of these menus at these restaurants actually had good food all the time instead of treating patrons like gineau pigs (i am in not in any way saying keller, adria, aduriz, heston, achatz, or any of the other big dogs doing these types of menus are using patrons as gineau pigs, i am saying that there are a lot of places who are and these are the people who give these types of menus a bad rap) as far as being spoiled i don’t think anyone is spoiled, everyone has to work to get to the top of whatever is they do, anyone can get to the top if they wanted to, if anyone gets special treatment (bourdain, rhulman, patron at alinea) its because they earned it through working their way up, everyone has the same opportunities to succeed, some way more than others but thats life. i came from a scumball childhood and i am still climbing my way through working and trying to stay focused, so if i ever get to the top and someone says i am spoiled i think i will punch them in the throat. the guy who made the comment, if he were in bourdains/MPW/whoever else the comment was directed towards shoes would he feel the same way? i highly doubt it. good topic though, it’s nice to see so many different sides.

  • Shelley

    Here in Houston, still without power, and I’m thinking to myself:

    “Multi-course tasting menu? Right about now that would be a case of MREs from a FEMA trailer…”

    Glad I could find a spot to plug in and see what’s cooking on Ruhlman’s page! Got to go back to my dark place and miss the Emmys next. :(

  • Bob McGee

    Oh crap, who cares?
    I love food, growing it, cooking it, eating it. little plates, big plates, lots of courses, a few good plates, smorgasborg.
    Having just returned from a week at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minn (a culinary anti-mecca) I can honestly say, please, please let culinary freedom reign.
    There is so much to do that hasn’t been done, so many flavors that haven’t been tasted. These chef’s, spoiled or not, create their own success with the menus they develop.
    These customers, spoiled or not, can enjoy the fruits of the labor…or not.
    There are so many great meals to be had, it seems like the last thing I need to worry about is how many courses.

  • Chefkef

    Please post that video of Grant Achatz. If not here on youtube or something. I would love to see that.

  • elise

    We are spoiled, both the customers and chefs; we pay with our own money to people who make us satisfied with food.  They give us pleasure, no other reason to spend $200 for a meal.  The chefs’ creativity and pleasure for creating the food is satisfied by serving their best.Must admit to looking at this from afar, live in Indiana, most people here think Applebee’s is great and what are herbs?  It does make traveling worthwhile and TB more entertaining.  Plus, it is great motivation to work on cooking skills.

  • b.barnett

    I believe it’s “lighten up Francis”

    Let me know when the humans get fork tender. I’ll bring my Shuns, a lobster bib, and a big “WWJD” toothpick.

  • luis

    “If it were my house, I’d welcome all.”
    “IF IT WERE MY HOUSE, I’D WELCOME ALL.”
    yes, yes… everyone exept folks that go around killing little creatures of GOD just to get culinary kick!. Those folks will burn in HELL!….. for awhile… till they are fork tender and repentant. My hell if I had one o’cours…e.
    But it seems we live in some sort of EXTRUDED ethical and spiritual world were we were NOT ALL the same cards…. what a fucking mess!!!

  • JennieTikka

    Oooook, okay. Now I get it. Mea culpa to TB – he apparently wasn’t the one bashing the “make it stop” degustation menus.

    The last thing I’ll say about this is something I’ve noticed about how people react to professionally trained chefs. I hear a lot of “But I don’t eat that way” and “I don’t NEED that” when it comes to certain types of dining.

    My comment is – how can anyone insult someone for doing what they have an obvious talent for? Why is cooking the one thing we can judge as a talent that might just be obsolete??

    We’re all behaving as if there is some actual basis for judging cooking. There isn’t. Its good if you like it. Its bad if you don’t. There’s room for everybody. Even BAD cooks.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Bourdain, finally you have hit the nail on the head and this world must stay open to talk and controversy in a Democratic way.

    the world of cooking is not linnear and every chef has his/her own style…but what kind of conference would this have been if everyone on stage had the same reference of thought.

    Plus just having read the contents prior to the weekend; if Chef Aschatzm nor the other presenters, could not have predicted this kind of diatribe between the two panel members…well, I find that hard to believe.

    And yes, a great many chefs were insulted but a great many who stand by their stoves day in and day out were finally given acclaim too. Plus the Bouley’s of the world know exactly where they stand in their skin and I can probably predict that they don’t care what anyone thinks of them.

  • FoodPuta

    Thanks Frodnesor,
    Really, they all have their points. Just feels like with MPW, he has this “Born Again” tone about him.

    But then he paid his dues.

  • bourdain

    “I’ve no doubt that MPW’s comments were sincere, if not indulgent. They would have been without reproach and probably even charming if stated in another context. But at a chef’s congress that showcased the type of food that he dismissed and whose underlying theme was “The Responsibilities of a Chef”, they were irresponsible. ”
    says foodplayer.

    I respectfully disagree. MPW’s comments might not have been polite–or particularly welcome. But “inappropriate”? What better venue than a chef’s congress where, presumably, most in attendance have actually experienced (or even helped prepare)elaborate tasting menus? As noted by many here–it’s hardly the burning issue of the day–outside of a professional forum. And MPW certainly has the moral authority to bluntly express his opinions on food and dining. It should hurt no one to listen to them. At a time when chefs like Adria and Andoni Adruiz are constantly expanding the realm of the possible, it would seem entirely appropriate and even necessary for chefs to ask themselves often:
    ” Is it–at the end of the day–delicious?”
    and “Is it fun?”
    As to the question of whether or not the modern creative chef for whom artistry and creativity is paramount should have responsibility–or even care–about how their customer feels an hour after eating, I’m on the fence . I’m obviously more than willing to stuff myself beyond reason at a “once in a lifetime” meal.
    I keep coming back to the audience member who observed ” …but you guys are SPOILED.” True enough. But so are a great majority of the clientele who can and do afford to patronize these long degustations. The next generation of chefs will likely decide if MPW was the canary in the coal mine–or simply a cranky old dinosaur.

  • Frodnesor

    For those looking for some more detail on what was actually said at ICC, unfortunately the StarChefs website gives only a little detail on the MPW-Bourdain-Ruhlman panel:

    To end the day, Michael Ruhlman, Anthony Bourdain, and Marco Pierre White got comfy (and critical and at times contemptuous) on stage for their hour-long conversation about “the role of a chef.” Ruhlman, a food lover and author of numerous books about food and cooking (most recently a sous vide book with Thomas Keller, and an introduction to the Alinea cookbook), prodded Bourdain and White on their thoughts about Michelin stars, chefs staying in the kitchen, multi-course tasting menus, and advice for young cooks. Bourdain described one of the trends in culinary business, saying “Marco made early on a transition that a lot of chefs are making now— today the successful chef is becoming more a CEO than a cook.” White (a man of strong opinions if there ever was one) spoke of his decision to renounce his Michelin stars, saying he had three options: keep slaving away behind the stove, live a lie by keeping the stars but not being behind the stove, or be honest and leave Michelin, and the restaurant, behind. According to White, restaurants that still charge high prices even when the chef they’re known for is no longer there every night are operating off of false pretenses – also, the character of the restaurant suffers, he says, when the chef isn’t there to guide them with his presence. Bourdain took a more practical approach, speaking of the “chef/CEO” and the Mario Batali model (creating restaurants with/for the talented chefs that work for you) as valid ways to evolve as a chef. White also railed against multi-course tasting menus and modern cuisine, expressing his preference for “fish, on the bone, with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.” When asked to give advice for young cooks, White said: “Cooking is a philosophy, it’s not a recipe—unless it’s pastry, then it’s chemistry. Keep your head down and learn your trade. As Fernand Point said, ‘perfection is a lot of little things done well.’” Bourdain said: “show up on time.”

    But gives a little more on Achatz’s reply:

    The last act of the day (and the Congress programming) was Grant Achatz (Alinea, Chicago)—and he did his grand finale duty well, scintillating the audience with his defense of modern, creative cuisine. In a response to Marco Pierre White’s histrionic bashing of multi-course tasting menus and creative food, Achatz listed “the most important restaurants in the world”—Heston, Ferran, Wylie, Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges, Joan Roca, etc—saying, “Without creativity, ingenuity, our industry would be static. Cooking would be homogenous…food would be monotonous….cooks and diners would be mindless.” He went on to talk about the service pieces used at Alinea (designed by Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail Design), using them as a jumping-off point for a discussion of the ways in which a chef can control and enhance the dining experience—and showing the audience that everything at Alinea has a purpose. That, said Achatz, is what he considers to be his responsibility as a chef: “…putting forth new ideas in a respectful, purposeful, creative way.”

    http://www.starchefs.com/events/icc/2008/wrap_up/html/index.shtml

  • foodplayer

    I don’t think it’s clear that AB’s opening quote on this post is from Chadzilla’s comment, made on a previous post.

    Like Chadzilla, I was also in attendance at both of these events.

    I’ve no doubt that MPW’s comments were sincere, if not indulgent. They would have been without reproach and probably even charming if stated in another context. But at a chef’s congress that showcased the type of food that he dismissed and whose underlying theme was “The Responsibilities of a Chef”, they were irresponsible.

    It was apparent from the time that he began pacing the stage that chef Achatz had more on his mind than plates and utensils. When he spoke, it was a passionate defense of “modern gastronomy” and the intentions of a tasting menu. He definitively convinced us that food can be art and reminded us why we are the better for it. It was a brave speech from a courageous chef.

  • Maura

    LLR said: “there are few things more tragic that a disappointing entree that leaves me envious of my fellow diners.

    I assume you mean “nothing more tragic” in the food world, because…otherwise?

    Natalie Sztern said: “For someone who was not there but read every excerpt either on Serious Eats or other sites…I am totally at a loss for what or who has written the above entry – it is totally nonsensical especially since some of the references concern only those who have actually participated in the event and on the days indicated.

    If this is a mea culpa, I am not sure this is the right forum…perhaps Star Chef’s who hosted the weekend would be a better place since the readers would totally understand the blurb above, which I am sure was written quickly with great emotion – which is why it makes no sense, at least, to me: and I have a slight indication of what actually was said on both days.

    Just come out and state in a clear uncontrived way, what you mean? If reading the war of words between the panel and Chef Aschatz, as transcribed by bloggers, is correct, then I think a great many chefs have been insulted – and Mr. Bourdain – you need to do more than a simple post on the ruhlman blog.

    But seriously…explain what exactly you have said above?”

    Seriously, indeed. I managed to find chadzilla’s original comment, because I have nothing but time on my hands, :) and I’m still a little confused. I think I’ve figured out what the catalyst for this post was, but I’ll be damned if I can grasp why tasting menus should be a subject of controversy. Even with all the silly discussions/arguments I’ve read and gotten into about food, this seems like a non-issue.

  • Xparamental

    Blah, blah, blah…questioning the ‘tasting menu’ is like asking whether the ‘dollar menu’ at McDonald’s or Wendy’s is going away.

    Achatz will certainly not be taking his off the menu…and Marco will still be entitled to his opinion ( yawn ).

  • MadFud

    “It’s a very lucky thing, to experience this worked over, heavily manipulated, highly refined food.”

    A very lucky thing, indeed.

    Food is such an expressive form – it can say as much, or as as little as the chef chooses to share. It is simply balanaced by the experience of the diner.

    My angst is with the want for rules to surround it. Too much talk, let’s just eat.

  • NYCook

    Look EVERYONE loves the multicourse tasting menu, but thats befause you eat at Alinea and French Laundry and Per Se once in a while. And to be honest it can be overwhelming. Eating like that all the time it would be like eating thanksgiving everyday of the year. I would much prefer a steamed pork bun at Momofuko more times then not to a tasting menu at Per Se, I think most chefs would, but that doesn’t mean when I go to Per Se I don’t fully enjoy/appreciate that meal. Personally I think Le Bernardain does it better then anybody in NYC balancing multi course tastings with practicality. MPW is just set in his old school ways he was a “Roux Robot” trained from a diffrent era with diffrent ideas on food and his stance is that of the old crumudgeon, and in all honesty Achatz seems to me the whiny little kid who tells on everyone, do you think in his hay day Marco would care what another chef thought of his food? We know he wouldn’t, whether it was Albert Roux or Pierre Kaufmann or whomever, why does Achatz care so much about what a has been(MPW) and a never was(bourdain) think of his food.

  • methodlab

    i’m going to have the luxury of eating a “special dinner” next month, cooked by none other than bourdain… 3 courses to be more precise! having worked hard enough to pay the high cost of a meal at alinea, there is nothing like it that i have experienced!!! it’s REVOLUTIONARY as opposed to the MPW/bourdain approach to EVOLUTIONARY… minor advancements in “classical” cuisine. but isn’t yesterday’s avante garde today’s classical??? the white/bourdain/ruhlman crew has had the luxury many, MANY times over to dine in these lengthy degustation experiences… in fact, in the tokyo episode this season of “no reservations” not only did bourdain have a sushi degustation menu, but he also did kaiseki. the look of joy and fulfillment tells me that damn!!!… he musta really enjoyed that!!!

    you want simple food, hey that’s fine too for family style or catching a fish, grilling it on the beach and sipping back some beers; but for the rest of us who don’t have a TV network jet-setting us from michelin star restaurant to michelin star restaurant… paying for every one-bite we pop into our coddled mouths, and instead work our asses off so that we might, might get ONE chance to experience these offerings…

    V – JOG ON!!

  • LLR

    “can [achatz] not express himself with a tighter menu that changes often?”

    i don’t think it is a bad question, i just don’t believe chef achatz’s goal is only to express himself. saw a conversation he had with ruhlman at the steppenwolf theatre in chicago (across the street from his restaurant) in the fall of…06, i think i was. he described a passionate desire to evoke emotions, to make the meal an experience…to surprise.

    i really believe that many of the courses he sets before diners do just that. but others are simply delicious and not as shocking. i think the idea of the single visit as a comprehensive experience of what a chef has to offer IS the more modern approach. i hate to go to an acclaimed place while travelling and risk ordering the wrong thing. there are few things more tragic that a disappointing entree that leaves me envious of my fellow diners.
    i really want to see the breadth of what a chef has to offer, and to leave astonished by what food can do! i think achatz or anyone else would be hard-pressed to accomplish such a feat in 5 courses. but you are right, i think if it was truly just cooking to ‘express himself’ he probably could be fairly successful with a brand new menu of a few dishes every night, and plenty of chefs do.
    i see space for both, though obviously i have a preference.

  • faustianbargain

    ruhlman said: “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?).”

    his proteges, his collegues and..and…well, you have to remember when all this happened. there is a lot of fantastic narrative you’ll hear from mpw about why turned in his stars. until one recalls nico ladenis who was also non-french, ran a french restaurant, chez nico and turned in his stars. he gleefully threw a rotten customer’s money into the fire to make a point. what else do they have in common? the late great alan crompton-batt, their PR god and friend.

    there are stories, ruhlman…and some good ones too.

  • faustianbargain

    as much as i would like to tell bourdain to eat shit and tip over, i am afraid he is right.

    anyone who questions marco pierre white’s credibility when it comes to running successful restaurants is an idiot and ignorant. even tho’ the man himself can be insufferable sometimes..but it happens to the best of us..or so i have heard.

    a tasting menu doesnt have to be more than 1-2 # of entree, plat principal and dessert. add amuse bouches, pre dessert, petit fours..and that should do for a tasting menu. anything else is overkill. when chefs crowd more than that when it comes to the number of courses, they are acting out of what i’d like to call a ‘scarcity mentality’…in other words, it seems to me as though they are giving ‘most value’ for money because they are not sure if the customers will come back again to dine at such premium prices.

    the customer may get full value, the restaurant may be able to get good returns, but what the restaurant loses is a repeat customer and a good eating experience. the problem i see with the high end restaurants(at least here in america) is that they seem to want to make a profit/break even within 2-3 years. give it 5 years with a plan to stay in the business for a few decades or more. restaurants and chefs need good restaurant investors-mentors and chef-partners..not corporate terms weighing them down.

    can achtaz not express himself with a tighter menu that changes often?

    marco was lucky because he had nigel platts-martin. he also didnt have to design china.

  • JennieTikka

    I’ve eaten at the French Laundry. By the last few courses we were uncomfortably full but kept eating anyways because we knew how special the meal was. I’m sure we’ll do it again. I’m sure we’ll eat elsewhere at other 3 star restaurants. We sure won’t do it very often. We certainly don’t eat like that more than once every couple of years or so.

    I have to agree with Matt, further up the posting list. Bourdain seems to have a real problem with culinary styles that he isn’t good at.

    There is no moral superiority of a simple meal over a marathon culinary freak show, i.e. the long form tasting menu, in my mind. Both have their place.

    Had my hubby offered me Applebee’s for my one and only 40th birthday I’d have been offended, to say the least.

    Chicken feet and beer at a wedding would be disturbing.

    Special things for special occasions – that’s how I see it.

    For Bourdain’s part this has more to do with a lack of culinary skills. Don’t feel bad, TB – I seriously doubt I could get a job at any of Keller’s restaurants either.

    Doesn’t mean I won’t snap up reservations at these places, when I can get them…..

  • CaptainK

    I’m just a foodie, myself. Started out watching Rachel Ray on FN and making some of her dishes, then got into the more intricate dishes of Ina Garten and Tyler Florence (and yes, I still use a bouquet garni in my beef stew). I’ve eaten at one of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants and tried the tasting menu at a local (acclaimed) Japanese restaurant (fantastic, but as some previous poster suggested, its two bites of sushi or shashimi and it’s gone). And, its all good!

    Lately my cooking has been influenced by Alice Water’s “The Art of Simple Food” and I have cut back on the fancy sauces, etc., and the food is still great.

    My point is that there’s room for all under this large tent called “cuisine”.

  • sousa

    i must say that i am an admirer of all parties involved in this debate and have been and continue to be a student of both schools of thought. props to the people doing what they love at a level that the rest of us could only achieve in our wildest dreams. have to admit that i am sorry i missed achatz’s passionate rebuttal.

  • Frodnesor

    Too bad we all didn’t have the opportunity to hear the point-counterpoint, complete with “Tony you ignorant slut …” but it’s a little hard to understand how anyone could argue that both styles of cooking (or eating, depending on what side of the transaction you’re on) don’t have their merits. If MPW doesn’t like small portions, then he can have his fish on the bone with lemon, sea salt and olive oil. If Bourdain is weary of doing 20+ courses at TFL, fine – pass that reservation on to me next time.

    Me, I like the Minutemen, and I like Sister Ray at 17:27 too. And if there is an audience for both, then what is the problem? Do we really need to make a judgment that one is inherently superior to another? Is there really some platonic ideal of a “meal” that we are trying to achieve here?

    What I find curious is the implicit suggestion that these multi-course tasting menus are improperly decadent or somehow a sign of the decline and fall of western civilation. Think of the rijsttafel, or the Korean custom of serving multitudes of different banchan with a meal. They may be done at the same time instead of seriatim, but it’s just another way of eating, that’s all.

    As for how you physically feel after one of these meals – I did the 12-course “short form” tasting, rather than the grand tour at Alinea, so I can’t speak to the full monty. I did ~25 courses at Jose Andres’ minibar, many of which were 1-2 biters. I would not have gone home hungry, but was not so full that I didn’t swing around the corner to Jaleo to get a plate of jamon iberico before calling it a night.

  • Julia O.

    Ideally, after any meal, I like to feel as if I can take a 20 min. walk back to the hotel/subway/through a park and not feel like I’ll be puking in the shrubbery, or worse. I hate being overfed. It does matter – this question of how a meal makes us feel. As a tall woman of scandinavian descent, I can eat like a lumberjack. But, less so with time, and I’ve gotten grumpier about feeling manipulated into an overstuffed state — tasting menus terrify me these days. It’s WORSE when that food is expensive and I’m feeling honored to be eating this chef’s stuff. I’m all for a little restraint in the number of courses and the sheer volume.

    Here’s a simpler metric: I no longer desire any meal that makes me prefer Alka Seltzer to my husband’s naked body afterwards.

  • MessyONE

    Does it matter? Really?

    There are tasting menus that are utterly peerless. Schwa, for one. We ate there twice before the Great Shutdown. If we’re diligent about calling them, we might get in again around Easter 2009. The space is tiny, and they don’t have a liquor license, so it’s BYOB (Chicago liquor laws are Byzantine in their complexity), but who cares? Our strategy is to bring a couple of bottles of very good champagne, then sit back and enjoy the ride.

    The other that springs to mind is at Casa Mono. Brilliant. Utterly lovely, perfectly paced and a lot of fun. I like the place in general, but to be seated in the corner people watching and having splendid things dropped in front of you at intervals is a happy, happy experience.

    Both places have got it right. The courses are beautifully paced and each one is utterly exquisite. There are no false steps, no “not quite there” moments. There’s no formality, no waiter with capped teeth and moussed hair insisting that you call him “Bob” explaining each grain of pepper on the plate. You are left alone after a brief description to just EAT.

    A truly wonderful tasting menu is like truly wonderful sex. You have to surrender all control, focus on the sensation and the world outside goes away.

    Then again, my favorite meal of late was at NoMi. I rave to all about the foie brulee appetizer….I STILL have no recollection of two different people talking to me while I was eating it…..

    We’re off to North Pond next week. I can’t wait.

  • Natalie Sztern

    By the way, Chef Bourdain, I do not think you have anything to apologize for…your performance is exactly what your fans came to hear: A chef uncensored. This is what you get the big bucks for; but do not insult us by trying to steer the sticky situation into a discussion on how many dishes make a tasting menu: leave it alone and let this firestorm solidify your next booking.

    Had Grant not brought the subject none of this would be in the blogs – but know that at the very least you have stayed true to your fan base and frankly, to me, that is all that matters. If fellow chefs cannot differentiate your on-stage personality with who you are, who really cares? Certainly I hope u don’t.

  • Natalie Sztern

    For someone who was not there but read every excerpt either on Serious Eats or other sites…I am totally at a loss for what or who has written the above entry – it is totally nonsensical especially since some of the references concern only those who have actually participated in the event and on the days indicated.

    If this is a mea culpa, I am not sure this is the right forum…perhaps Star Chef’s who hosted the weekend would be a better place since the readers would totally understand the blurb above, which I am sure was written quickly with great emotion – which is why it makes no sense, at least, to me: and I have a slight indication of what actually was said on both days.

    Just come out and state in a clear uncontrived way, what you mean? If reading the war of words between the panel and Chef Aschatz, as transcribed by bloggers, is correct, then I think a great many chefs have been insulted – and Mr. Bourdain – you need to do more than a simple post on the ruhlman blog.

    But seriously…explain what exactly you have said above?

  • bourdain

    I might add that David Chang has an excellent and thoughtful piece in the new Esquire on the likely effects on menus (positive and negative) of skyrocketing food prices. If you look at the tasting menu discussion with Chang’s predictions for the future added to the mix, it becomes a slightly less ivory tower issue.

  • George

    I have never experienced a multi-course tasting menu, and I won’t act as if I have. I definitely consider myself well versed on the subject of food, in that I am well read regarding current and past trends, can cook from recipes very well, and come from a food-obsessed Greek family which has taught me the beauty and satisfaction which comes from a great home-cooked meal. I often concoct very tasty dishes of my own for myself and my loved ones, strictly based on my (and others) knowledge and experience. I have never been to Spago, Nobu, Per Se, WD-50, Prune, French Laundry, El Bulli et. al. (please forgive my ignorance of the best restaurants to a great tasting menu, but I’m sure you catch my drift, since my point has more to do with expensive cuisine as a whole). I would love to experience this one day, but am still young (read paid very little) in my career, with young kids, and can’t justify a price per head approaching (and often exceeding) $200. My view is that I’m not really missing anything. That’s not to say that these amazing chefs don’t develop interesting and worthwhile menus. My dilemma comes from the fact that I love the dishes that I come up with so much, as well as the traditional dishes of my family, that I can’t see myself being that impressed with a new variation of an eggs benedict, smack dab in the middle of a 12 course menu, paired with the perfect wine, on a silver platter, with a hot waitress waiting to perform felatio…

    Now I’m no dummy. There’s a chance that it’s my youth and ignorance talking (along with a few too many Great Lakes beers for lunch), but I honestly feel that I could go the rest of my life without dining at any of the top places in the country, and still have no regrets about the subject while lying on my death bed… Then again…who knows? Perhaps one day I’ll be fortunate enough to travel the world, and experience the best there is, loving every bit of high-cuisine. The realist part of me doubts that (I’ll enjoy it) very much.

    On a related note, isn’t it Bourdain who has touted the value of a good home-cooked meal? When I think of that, I can’t help but entertain the notion that many of you are a bit spoiled.

  • Chris Hennes

    I order an entree when I just want to eat something because I’m hungry. I order the tasting menus because they are interesting. Both have their place. When Applebees starts offering a tasting menu, then I’ll get worried… until then, if chefs want to play with their food, I’m happy to let them entertain me.

  • chadzilla

    In response to the first commenter (since I was the one who posted the original comment in the debate from Michael’s previous post (http://blog.ruhlman.com/ruhlmancom/2008/09/more-travel.html), Chef White was speaking out against multi-course menus in general (not just 24 course tasting menus)… I would guess he was targeting anything over 5 courses because at that point it would become necessary to scale down your portion size to plate one scallop instead of the ‘plate of scallops’ that Chef White said he would prefer.
    Chef Achatz’s response ended by saying ‘there is more to food’ than the plainly cooked fish. He said that in a way that suggested there is room in the culinary world for all experiences (how ludicris it would be to only ever eat tasting menus). This was the point. It’s just like Robuchon speaking out against the ‘new cuisine’ at the last ICC and then having Jose Andres deliver his response at the end of the last day. The innovators of past days need to learn to allow the innovators of today to get the respect they deserve. There is room in the ‘food world’ for all of these to coexist peacefully… the El Bulli’s, the Burger Kings, and the Momofuku’s.
    And since this blog exists as a food forum, then it is more than appropriate to discuss tasting menus… we can talk about Obama and the middle east on another website.

  • Aaron

    Interesting –

    I keep thinking though that Tony’s shows have done more to popularize the notion of a tasting menu then anything else in the world. A huge part of the shows are often watching Tony sit at places like the French Laundry and other high end joints and be literally tortured with plate after plate of unbelievable high end food. It’s hard not to imagine a bunch of douchebag viewers seeing that and going to their local pretentious ‘high end’ place and demanding the same treatment.

  • Kate in the NW

    Does this really have to be an either/or? Red state/Blue state? The ideas are interesting to bat around, but it is sort of an ivory tower argument. As far as I know, no one’s talking about replacing my nice homemade beef stew or my beloved Taco Truck with deconstructed, powdered, titanium-coated whatchamacallits.

    If those guys are having fun making it and at least a few people are having fun eating it, what the heck…let them eat cake!

  • craig

    I like music. I like seeing good artists perform. Petty and Springsteen are a couple of acts that choose longer shows to display their tunes. I pay a few bucks for a seat to see them. I sit through a couple of hours of music and leave satisfied BUT STILL wanting more. I don’t pick the set-list. I hope that their years on the road have taught them the craft of showmanship. In these days of Rock-Star chefs, I would prefer that they set the stage for me. Long form with the greater variety of choices being a good thing. There will always be an audience of over-privileged consumers willing to pay top dollar to experience some chef’s “greatest hits” (Keller’s “ice cream cone”). Let the kids jam. If someone thinks that four courses of a “market menu” best defines their art, more power to them. I am currently spending too much time at work tuned to Spring TV watching chef Daniel Rose and crew do their art at Spring in Paris. Four simple plates… for 16 covers.
    In the end, the market will inform the chefs what the consumers will sit through and what is merely ego. All chefs do not have the luxury of a six month “back to the drawing board” like Adria. Their experiments go through the pass and on to our tables. Some are down right brilliant, some don’t even make it home to the dog. I am willing to support the “long form” degustation. Who knows where the next Charlie Parker is jamming next…I got the time and the appetite. But if it aint Pink Floyd performing “The Wall”, I can still be satisfied with three good chords and a backbeat in a bar with the right atmosphere. Street foods can be brilliant, so can a 12 course “greatest hits” tasting from a chef who has some chops. I am not in the profession, I am a consumer. And I do consume. Show me something new, remind me of something I thought I had forgotten. Feed me! I will GLADLY pay the tab. Every person that has ever done repetitive work for a living has tried to put a spin on it, make it different, or try some new technique in order to stay sane doing the job. Creative people will always think about a bigger idea, and should be encouraged to do so.
    White seems to be going through his Bob Dylan phase of putting himself out to the public more these days than in the past few years. With American TV on his plate and more public appearances, more power to him. The tasting menu may not be his current style, but it does fit others quite well.
    F**k it, Who wants pie?

  • jscirish27

    As a professional cook in NYC at a restaurant known for it’s very good yet simple seafood, I have strong opinions on this topic. First of all, I will preface my comments by saying I have all the respect in the world for Keller, Adria, Aschatz, et. al… These guys have revolutionized the concept of fine dining, making it as much about theater as food. That being said, the things that I yearn for as a cook are always the most simply prepared, market driven dishes. I love peasant food. Give me a good cassoulet or a braised lamb shank and I am in heaven. Sometimes I think that by constantly trying to elevate the technique and the technology, we lose out on the joy of the simple goodness of the cooking and eating experience. That is not to say I’m not wowed by it all (I would love an anti-griddle), but I think that some restraint should be employed as well.

  • Phil

    If there’s an audience for it, there’s never such a thing as “too much.” Whether it’s to your liking or not is another matter. Obviously Keller, Adria, and the like have blazed a trail with this style of dining, and perhaps it’s been taken to ridiculous lengths. But again, that’s subjective. If the chef has a story to tell with his food and it takes him 5 hours to tell it, so be it. So sit down, shut up, and eat.

    I just hope it doesn’t go out of style before I get a chance to experience TFL myself.

  • matt

    Cant the schools of thought coexist?
    It seems Bourdain (who is always vocal) dislikes that style because he cant do it himself. He has never been a innovator in the culinary field and seems to positively ooze jealousy when the “greatest chefs in the world” are mentioned and attacks their style.
    In the latest book he described slapping some chef from Chicago upside the head with a pepper mill if he told him how to eat his food.
    Isn’t the only reason the public has heard of Bourdain is because he wrote a book and then made a show? He was never famous for his trade, the others are, and its because they dare to stand out.

  • JBL

    I too am a tad flummoxed as to whence the question arose; especially after string searching the comments under the previous posts. Regardless, with respect to Mr. Bourdain’s excellent questions, the answers could fill reams. Thank you for providing fodder with which to blog about (after some serious pondering naturally).

  • carri

    I think that the freedom of creativity that the likes of Keller and Atchatz practice is important in that, sure, not everyone can (or should) operate on that same level…what it does, through the trickle down of exposure to such exacting minds, is elevate what we do in our everyday lives…case in point: my 15 year old making crepes from the French Laundry cookbook…being sure to strain the batter. It’s such a simple thing, but makes a huge impact in the final product.
    However, if you are serving a tasting menu, one of the factors that must be considered is how the meal as a whole affects the person eating it…’cause no matter how creative or wonderful the food is or how much time goes into making it, it’s still gotta be DIGESTED!

  • claudia (cook eat FRET)

    after eating at charlie trotter’s this past july and knowing i’ll not be back for too many reasons – except the food, i think that chef trotter is onto something. this is an excerpt from his site:

    It is important to Trotter that diners enjoy a perfectly balanced meal that continues to satisfy afterwards.

    “I do not want guests walking out of the restaurant feeling as if they over-indulged because of excessive cream, butter, and alcohol. I want them to feel stimulated and alert, knowing that they will be able to look forward to breakfast the following morning. Food doesn’t have to be rich to taste good.”
    ———————————

    i believe the grand menu was 8, perhaps 9 courses at most. the food was absolutely excellent. now if they could just bulldoze the dining room and fire some of the robots…

    in defense of per se and alinea and all the numerous courses, the table is yours for the night. slow down and take a breather, a stretch a stroll half way through. i mean, you’re not doing this on a regular basis.

    and – many of the courses are literally two bites and poof – gone…

  • Patrick

    Interesting take by White. After reading his biography, it is obvious that, at a previous time, he too was obsessed with the concept of the “grandiose”. Not only did White want to win three Michelin stars, but he also wanted to win the most awards for service and atmosphere (I forget exactly what these are called). Only after this did he retire. I was left with the impression that, personally and emotionally, White was worn down. He suffered in his private life (failed marriage), and he was determined to a better father and husband (remarried). As such, he walked away from the kitchen.

    Now fast forward to when Bourdain visited him on his show in England. White talked about an almost religious communion with nature, and when they ate they ate à la Escoffier. Forgetting White’s family life (for it is not of the highest importance right now), Marco took a giant step backwards, gained some perspective, and reevaluated his outlook towards food. No longer is White talking about the “grandiose”.

    As for your question if people such as this are “on to something”, I think that White would answer an unequivocal “yes”. White would probably also say that this too is a good thing. At some point the “quantity vs quality” argument comes into play. A scaled down menu would allow the talented chefs to distinguish themselves as the margin for error is reduced.

    Should rules apply? Simply put, no. I cannot think of another instance in the English language (other than food) where something is described as “sinfully delicious”. By limiting how chefs can treat food would strip it of one of its most defining characteristics.

  • Nathan Ehlers

    I saw both the panel on Sunday and Achatz’s response on Tuesday. The problem with the discussion (besides the fact that it was spaced 2 days apart and certain people weren’t even there to hear the response) was that it presents the issue as a false dichotomy. As if to say that we can either have an 18 course expression of the chef or some fish and lemon. The entire series of lectures, seminars, panels, and demonstrations really highlighted the variety that exists in the world with respect to food, chefs, and the act of creation. The best part is, we get to eat every day, sometimes multiple times a day, so really, there’s time and room for a protein shake, a bowl of pasta, and a meal at WD50.

    As for the nature of a tasting menu writ large, I think that becomes a question for each individual assembling the meal and the community to which they’re selling it. Capitalism bares these things out and cream always rises.

  • J

    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?”

    who is asking this question if Bourdain wrote the entry?