Alain is the chef at La Manière, one of the oldest and most prestigious dining establishments in town. Since the restaurant’s opening day his fare has been lauded as the only authentic continental cuisine being served in the region.
People would come from miles around, having made reservations months in advance. In order to reserve a table at La Manière one must first have been invited by one of the regulars. After dinner, if the meal was to the guest’s liking (and how could it not be?!) then his or her name would be entered in Le Grand Livre, allowing them to join the ennobled ranks of La Manière’s regular clientèle.
For many years business had been booming. The pages of Le Grand Livre continued to fill up with the names of those who desired to be part of Alain’s gustatory world. His menu (written entirely in French of course – the language of l’Escoffier) never changed. La Manière’s customers soon learned every nuance of the menu’s language and came to love it’s comforting, yet delicious, predictability. No unwanted surprises at La Manière. In fact the food was so undeniably perfect that Alain removed all salt and pepper shakers from the tables. To suggest that Alain’s food needed additional seasoning was heresy.
Amazing as it may seem, on occasion an invited guest did not appreciate Alain’s offerings. Whenever a trembling waitress would return the rare dish that some unsophisticated trouble maker deemed inedible, Alain’s massive pride would erupt in fury;
“What? They do not like Alain’s food? Who are these people? What are they doing in my restaurant? They do not know Espanole from ketchup! What little taste they possess has been corrupted by the likes of MacDonald’s and Pizza Hut. They have been led astray by poseurs. Send them away before they corrupt La Manière and her clientèle.”
Fortunately this happened so infrequently, and La Manière was so busy, that rarely did the seat of any misguided guest stay empty for long.
One day though, on a Tuesday evening, something unspeakable happened; in the dining room there was an empty table! A fluke, an aberration.
But by Tuesday of the following week there were six empty tables. Now there was talk among the staff. They noticed that, although the old guard were still dining at La Manière religiously, there were fewer and fewer new guests coming back. It was rumored that tastes were changing, that people wanted something different, maybe with a bit more spice – a cuisine that was not so…’stuffy’.
When Alain heard these rumors he became indignant; “Absurde! Where can people go for good food, real authentic food? La Manière is the only place. Only we serve the freshest ingredients. Only we have the knowledge, the training, the skills to prepare food in the time honored ways of history’s first master chef’s. My brigade have all been rigorously trained in the authentic, traditional ways- modèle classique – the only true way to cook! Do you think just anyone can cook? If these lost souls want to eat fast food garbage, then let them!”
But the people were not going to MacDonalds or Pizza Hut or even Outback. They were going to new restaurants; restaurants that were more casual, more lively, more chaotic and colorful, but restaurants that also served great food. Using fresh and exciting ingredients from around the world these young chef’s were creating a brand new cuisine. Aside from devotion to the guest experience, there were no culinary rules that must be followed.
Rather than boxing themselves into one particular way of preparing food and adopting labels like “Italian”, “French”, “Mexican” or “Chinese”, they combined the world’s best techniques and it’s best recipes and produced foods that were new, unique and exciting. In many ways they were following in the footsteps of the original master chefs, the ones who were the first to understand the subtle nuances of this rather mundane art. Those early masters blazed the first culinary trails among a people, who up until then, had only looked at food as a means of maintaining their meager existence. The ancestral cooks had one thing in common with these new young chefs – they had spirit. A passion for creating new and wonderful taste sensations. And a love of people, and the pleasure found in feeding hungry people. The celebration of the meal. Joie de la vie!
Alain stood in his quiet, half empty dining room, (on a Friday night!) staring out of La Manière’s front windows. He could see at least a half dozen of these busy new restaurants, happy people lined up outside their doors, yearning to partake of the festive atmospheres within. He could see that none were dressed in evening attire, that there was little dignity to be seen among their ranks.