Tone-deaf dining

John Winterman, maitre d’ at Daniel restaurant in New York City, gives us “Eat This List: 5 reasons you (yes you) should embrace fine dining“.

To summarize (from the article):

  1. Forget the special occasion
  2. Fine dining is affordable luxury
  3. Fine dining has more than one entry point
  4. Why be obvious?
  5. Sensory emotion

Winterman does not give reasons, he gives some talking points and something to do with advertising or marketing. Take the first, “Forget the special occasion” … it’s playing on a kind of equivocation we hold regarding fine dining, that it should be rare and that it is really good. Here it’s about maintaining the qualitative dimension but disregarding the quantitative; it’s about subjecting the kind of elite luxury item that is supposedly beyond mere supply and demand and day-to-day economics to precisely that … to a need to expand its market share. Choose fine dining more frequently. “Fine dining” is now just a brand name of sorts.

The second and fourth oppose one another. The second suggests that — similar to the first — it’s something just about anyone can do. It’s not out of your reach; anyone can have it. Yet the fourth is trying to tell you not to be like everyone else. Either we accept this paradox as what it is … compartmentalization, lying to ourselves, holding contradictory views … or we suggest a dialectic that differentiates anyone from everyone. The singular from the masses, potential from actuality.

Or we can be more mundane and open to the possibilities of not-so-subtle class warfare. The target audience envisions themselves as “middle class”. Reason number two says that even if they are in the middle they can dream of the rare, the elite. The fourth reminds them that they’re in the middle and that they should not lower themselves to the vulgar. Value judgments abound, and we should avoid jeans and beer gardens; true culture is some sort of “French-American” cuisine. The rich don’t bother with such articles, and no one who self-identifies as poor is going to read this as applying to them. It’s about class, both as “social class” as well as some vague notion of being “classy”.

The third point is merely an extension of the second; Winterman is not even providing five different “reasons”.

And the fifth?

It’s an appeal to the personal, among other things. It’s an ironic entry and yet the only one, taken on its own, with a sense of honesty or sincerity. After paragraphs about money and reducing cuisine to a commodity Winterman cynically and brazenly implores us to think not about material goods but about those moments that impacted us most. He says “sensory emotion”; I think of Proust and Madeleines.

Winterman writes, “I carry distinct memories of first tastes, such as oysters at Acme in New Orleans, 1928 Cheval Blanc in the studio kitchen at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and Laurent Gras’ lacquered pork belly at the Fifth Floor in San Francisco.”

I, too, have memories of foods explored, but they do include senses and emotions, not just product labels and vintages. Of burning the top of my mouth on ćevapčići at the Zagreb train station. Of the first beer I brewed. Of Turkish coffee, or sweet mint black tea. Of freshly steamed clams in Newport, Oregon during a family vacation, and of lobster halves in Baja California when I wanted to order in Spanish but my recent Italian lessons kept intruding. And others. Some include restaurants, fancy or otherwise. But none were planned ahead of time … if I attend this restaurant, I’ll have a meal to remember.

Besides nutrition, food is about taste; that which tastes bad or which repulses us is disgusting.

Not unlike this “article”.

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