It’s really easy to dismiss haute cuisine with an epic eye roll and dismissive wank. It can be finicky, stuffy, pretentious, and egocentric. It’s the supermodel aesthetic writ large in the world of food. We all stare longingly at some gelatinized cube of flavor with that innate sense of inadequacy driving us to either sell our cars to be part of the experience or to dismiss it entirely. Even chefs — so charmed by the form and function of food — have a long history of abandoning the fine dining scene for food trucks, always chasing the ultimate cooking buzzword “accessibility.”
Honestly, I love food. If you’ve read anything I write here on the subject, you’ll know that already. But even I rarely find myself geeking out on haute cuisine. One, I’m a poor writer who can ill-afford a $200 tasting menu with a $95 wine pairing — much less when you multiply that by two if my wife is joining. Moreover, I’m a very, very frugal person. I wear almost identical sets of clothes until they’re threadbare. I recycle everything. The idea of spending close to $800 on a single meal — no matter how transcendent — just feels… well… off.
Don’t get me wrong, I get why fine dining prices are expensive and I respect that. The training and quality of the staff (front and back of the house) at a three Michelin starred restaurant is worth every cent they charge. It’s just not really my jam. I’m more the dude that goes to Paris and hangs out in the Lebanese neighborhoods, eating schwarma, and shootin’ the shit about 80s Schwarzenegger movies.
That’s not to say I’m not open to eating at these places. I’m a food writer, after all, and hauté cuisine is a crucial part of the entire food ecosystem. Besides, even if my philosophy differes, I too fall into the habit of lusting over the great enfant-terrible chefs of our age. I follow Rene Redzepi, Vladimir Mukhin, and Alex Atala (amongst others) semi-obsessively. I respect their artistry immensely.
But I never fully realized what magic ingredient it was that drew me to these chefs. At least not until I sat down with two of them to eat a small, four-course tasting menu in Berlin.