Did We Create This Culinary Monster?

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

There’s been a lot of talk lately about what kind of restaurant town we really want to be. In the Philadelphia magazine that’s on the stands right now, I’ve got an essay asking what it means to our restaurant scene when being merely great is no longer a guarantee of success. We’ve been writing an awful lot about VolverJose Garces‘s new high-stakes (and high price) gamble at the Kimmel Center which now stands as the most expensive dinner in town by a long stretch. And as we all know by now, between knee-capping reviews from both Craig Laban and our own Trey Popp, and a whole lot of people on the streets wondering if the storied Walnut Street address might be better off if it was just turned into a Jamba Juice and ignored until all the ghosts of Le Bec-Fin have departed, Avance is having itself a very rough month.

And now, with all this in mind, I just ran across this essay over at Esquire’s “Eat Like A Man” blog which essentially lays the blame for every modern sin in restaurant-dom squarely at our feet.




I mean, not at our feet as in Philadelphia's feet, but our feet as eaters and instagramers and desperate lovers of The Next Big Thing. To wit:

Restaurants, after all, are commercial enterprises. We are seeing more disorienting food on our plates because, on some level, we demand it. We show up; we whisper and point at the chef holding court in his (inevitably open) kitchen; we push photos of his food to our Instagram feeds (#genius #solucky); we work the visit into rounds of restaurant one-upmanship for as long as it flatters us to do so. We rarely stop to question whether we actually enjoyed the experience.

Diners have spent the past decade developing a blistering chef fetish. Public fascination with the innermost thoughts and inspirations of people who cook for a living has fueled chef-centric websites like Eater, The Braiser, Grubstreet, and Food Republic. Festivals have multiplied, putting professional cooks on stage as entertainers and lecturers. TV has made them celebrities. But for every chef who is a truly formidable thought-leader, there are fifteen other aspirants out there, filling the gaping content maw. So you have to ask yourself: how many times can you repeat the phrase “chefs are the new rock stars” before they start acting like them?

Harsh, I know. You can check out the full essay at the link below. And though I'm not sure yet if I do, if you feel like calling bullshit on it all being our fault, put it in the comments section and we'll all fight it out together.

You Have Created Today's Culinary Monsters. So Have I [Esquire]

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  • snooper

    uh hello? does anyone really give shit who’s fault it is? is that the real story or is that restaurants have become a soul crushingly empty experience, bereft of narrative that actually means something beyond social currency? people go to restaurants like they buy jeans; “what does this say about me?”. boring. like picking a whore. they have become arbiters of taste and lifestyle and people buy it to compliment their facebook lives. its become a chore to go to the next vernick or vedge for some. it feels like restaurants have become the cool table in high school where those with the attention and cash can afford self reward. good food is longer about good food. good food has become a “like” that i can show my friends who i am. i say, take your locally reclaimed floorboards, your edison bulbs, your chewy craft bullshit beer, your “inventive” design and your lip-service understanding of “hospitality” and shove it. i prey the end of this bubble but we all know in our bones there are will always be a hearty market for the beautiful people and their terrors that they aren’t actually in the right restaurant.

  • jam

    i couldn’t agree more with snooper. while i admit that i have been to many of the “it” restuarants, it is very much becoming a chore and a HUGE drain on my pocket. not to mention that i have recently found that cooking at home with my husband and dogs is much more enjoyable than being in a crowded restuarant with a bunch of strangers and barely being able to hear the conversations at my table. i don’t actually care who’s fault it is, but but restaurants of late have certainly changed.

  • Pedro

    No. This is not new – go back to the beginning of the last century, and look for anecdotes of British aristocrats and American plutocrats poaching French chefs from each other. They’re numerous, and often quite funny in the deranged intensity of the goings-on. There’s fewer records further back, but I am going to guess that poaching Henry VIII’s cook was, if anything, more dangerous than marrying him. As for chefs behaving like rock stars… Screaming at underlings, throwing cookware, ejecting patrons: these are all events I witnessed myself in Philadelphia decades ago, and have read about everywhere always. It’s just that they were acting like *French* rock stars, and who ever heard of such a thing? Johnny Hallyday who?

    And no, none of it is not a bad thing: as she mentions, but fails to fully consider, there are many, many anti-griddle-free alternatives out there. Alternatives for those who don’t *want* nasturtium petals, alternatives for those of us who don’t *always* want petals, alternatives for those who absolutely must have their brined nasturtium petals sous-vide. Yes, the press focuses on the new, because it’s hard to rewrite the old over and over. But comforting classics are out there, and always will be. Meanwhile, our food scene thrives, with Bhutanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Indonesian, Senegalese, Peruvian joining French, Italian and good ol’ Mom-and-pop, all of it cheek-to-jowl with temples of microgreen-tweezering preciosity. And in all categories, some of them will be good, many at best so-so, and only a very few are truly great. Ninety percent of everything is crap, but the ten percent are worth the search. So lets focus on *that* division.

    • snooper

      im sorry, wtf are you blathering about? ive literally re-read your post 5 times and aside from being unable to grasp the syntax i have no idea what your are your trying to say. how bout this, try speaking simply, cliff notes if you will. or perhaps speak to a specific audience with a clear point of view. after writing this, ive tried again to re-read, im still clueless. ive never been that bright at comprehension but i try. i would ask you to distill your meaning but ive already put more than an embarrassing effort into it but i clearly realize now, i dont give a shit what you were attempting to chatterbox about.