The End of Haute Cuisine

chef.jpgAlain 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.

“Infidèles!”

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  1. #1 by Alan on March 31, 2008 - 1:20 pm

    Christian:

    I liked the metaphor.

    I liked the little bit about removing even the salt and pepper shakers because how could you possibly improve on what we “serve up” or maybe, you don’t want to “add anything” to what your served because it’s already perfect the way it is.

    But Chef Alain did not stay current. He reached a point of “perfection” and was not willing to change as people’s tastes evolved. (He couldn’t conceive of why he needed to?) Maybe he could’ve served the same food and been creative in the presentation.

    ALAN

  2. #2 by netprophet on March 31, 2008 - 3:39 pm

    Chris, I’d first like to say, thanks for inviting me to play. I would have liked to get in a little earlier but this is actually a good time because most of the discussion thus far has created a clearer path in seeking the prize.
    I agree with most of what has been decoded (for lack of a better word). How many chefs have you known, who through their works, have demonstrated their personal belief that it was because of their endless struggle and the many years of exhaustively studying the old masters that brought them to the perfect dish…the perfect understanding of the perfect food, which of course needs no additional seasoning. Now that Alain has reached his godlike status he is not about to allow any improperly educated fool to replace even a raw onion with a grilled one. Is not the only logical metaphoric reference to God the Word within the cookbooks?

  3. #3 by Christian on March 31, 2008 - 5:31 pm

    Thanks Alan. And I want to stress that your name being similar to the chef’s is entirely coincidental. I’m glad you picked up on the salt and pepper shakers – I once worked with a fellow who did just that.

    Netprophet – welcome back! Sorry we got off on the wrong foot earlier. And of course you have hit the nail on the head- biblical idolatry. But not cookbooks (plural) or just any cookbook but how about Le Guide Culinaire by Auguste Escoffier?

    I remember situations where if i a new approach to a dish was suggested someone invariably would say “That is just not done! It won’t work, just see what Escoffier has to say.”

    Of course Escoffier himself would experiment and innovate and wrote other books after Le Guide, at times making changes to earlier recipes. So a religious following of what someone had always done successfully before would not be in his personality.

  4. #4 by lovewillbringustogether on April 1, 2008 - 12:22 am

    Apologies for sounding like a Traditionalist – not spending anything more than an absolute minimal amout of time in ANY church (marriages and funerals mostly) i’m not sure if i should be appalled or honoured?? ( I ‘m guessing the former? 😉 )

    I think i see the issue more one of repelling our own human natures and those things that lead to boredom (such as familiarity is so liable to do for non-spiritual humans and spitiual ones alike) in favour of a direct link to Him – even if it is offered to us in ways that sometimes make us feel ‘uncomfortable’ rather than catering to our ‘taste’ for things new and exciting.

    There are certainly things that are very ‘traditional’ about God ( scripture e.g. would this not be comparable to Le Guide Culinare? something that resists re-writing and updating?)

    God to me is able to be consumed and enjoyed by EVERY view and taste. he is not just one style of Chef or restaurant but changing and swapping between them to find one your ego likes ‘best’ has a certain danger i believe.

    A church who becomes inflexible to the needs of it’s flock is probably not one that should remain viable for long and perhaps deserves to have empty seats and be attended by those who fall asleep and consider they are still doing what God wills for them But neither should they ever become purely ‘populist to the extent of not upholding those traditions that tie us to that which we seek today and have always sought – a true connection to the Living God every moment of our life.

    Oh and God in His infinite Wisdom made Onions with a raw flavour that leaves much to be desired whilst ensuring that in the frying or baking therof have a sweet savour pleasing to the Lord! 😉

    Amen!

    love <B

  5. #5 by Christian on April 1, 2008 - 6:33 am

    God to me is able to be consumed and enjoyed by EVERY view and taste…

    That, of course, is much of my point.

    ….he is not just one style of Chef or restaurant but changing and swapping between them to find one your ego likes ‘best’ has a certain danger i believe.

    Who’s talking about ego? There is no more ego involved in preferring one faith tradition over another as there is in preferring Tuscan cuisine over that English. Or Miles Davis over Mozart. But one someone says;”I only listen to classical or jazz. You’ll never catch me listening to that swill that today’s young people like.” – that’s ego.

    But I get you’re point. Some of the new, hip, Willow Creek style churches can be likened to that nasty trend we saw with ‘theme’ restaurants – from Planet Hollywood and Rainforest Cafe to the horrendous Crash Cafe. It’s no longer about the ‘food’.

  6. #6 by lovewillbringustogether on April 2, 2008 - 5:48 am

    To me ego relates essentially to ‘personal taste’ (our likes/dislikes).

    Some do indeed swap ‘faiths’ – convert – for ‘personal’ reasons as well as those who swap churches within the ‘same’ faith.

    Theme ‘cafe’s’ cater to different kinds of taste. not just our food tastebuds, to ‘win us over ‘ (to the Dark Side, Luke!)

    The personal ego comes in when we ‘move’ restaurants because we find something in it we don’t agree with – even though the food is still identical to what we once loved so much but now cast aside for the ‘new’ menu du jour.

    love <B

  7. #7 by Christian on April 2, 2008 - 6:59 am

    But then aren’t we in danger of setting ourselves up as judges here? It’s very ‘hip’ to criticize the slick mega churches today or the unsophisticated back woods church in Appalachia – how can we really know what is in the hearts of those who attend diligently or search endlessly? In fact, what of those who do not attend at all but find community at the YMCA? Or the ACLU? Or the Rotary Club? Who says one must be ‘religious’ at all to know and serve God?

  8. #8 by lovewillbringustogether on April 5, 2008 - 3:08 am

    Exactly – it is not up to us to ‘judge’ others – especially when we are such poor judges of our selves!

    I do feel however that you and i try to make others aware that what they sometimes can only see is the ‘right’ way to be doing things (or was the ‘wrong’ way) is just ONE of many views and very often does not co-incide with what HE wants us to be doing/seeing.

    And you and i still are capable of being just like ‘them’ from time to time 🙂 however right we feel we are (or maybe especially when we feel WE (self) is right).

    Agreed?

    love <B

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