Over the past decade the culinary field has experienced a sudden makeover in the public eye, changing the landscape of a profession into one as subjective as a cook’s palate. Certain cuisines are now considered interpretive and its techniques, ‘experimental.’
And behind this engine is the chef’s perceived place in the arena of culinary artistry. So what, then, exactly is the role of the chef today?
Most are thought of as mentors or at least they could be. Some, like Charlie Trotter
, are philanthropists as well, while others are environmentalists, like Dan Barber
. Some chefs today are authors, celebrities and reality show winners. What would a chef say his or her role is?
British chef Marco Pierre White has a few opinions about chefs, specifically those who don’t live up to their title. On restaurant empires and their chefs, he says, not only is a chef someone who has worked his way up in the kitchen from a boy cook to the head, but he had better be actively cooking in the kitchen, or at least expediting. White recently reproached chefs running burgeoning empires, stating that they’re just “living a lie” by accepting stars for restaurants that lack their daily presence. With a flagship restaurant that demands exorbitantly high menu prices, “I expect the chef to be there, cooking….the chef had better touch every plate that leaves his kitchen whether it’s with his palate, his eyes, or his hands,” he states. Otherwise, the food—and restaurant—is just “soulless,” making a pointed allusion to those of Alaine Ducasse
. “You can just feel it [their absence],” when you’re there eating.
So which chefs warrant White’s praise? Pierre Gagnaire
and Alain Passard
(Passard who is roughly sixty and still behind the stove).
Of course there are chefs who disagree, like Anthony Bourdain who defends the honor of select restaurant empires. There are chefs who get this right—Mario Batali, Bourdain says, is one who’s meticulously chosen the right people that fully share and understand his vision.
On Multi-course Tasting Menus:
Like White, Bourdain also disdains the multi-course tasting menu, wondering who enjoys feeling “bloated” and “gaseous” after dinner? Driving his point home, Bourdain repudiates the endless-course tasting menus and the chefs who create them. “I recently went to a restaurant that offered ONLY an 18 and 24-course menu….by the end I couldn’t even remember what I just ate a few courses back. ”
“I was even told how to eat something…I don’t want to be told how to eat.”
He goes on: “You don’t even have choices anymore,” Chefs have too much control these days and “…they’re forcing their menus on you….”
“Do you realize how easy it is to plate four of the same dishes for a table than to create four different entrees that were offered a la carte?...It’s not that difficult.”
And he sums up his complaints when he says, “You know, the most poisonous sauce in the kitchen is a chef’s ego.”
Bourdain agrees. “You know who really gets fucked is the pastry chef. Who wants to eat three or four courses of dessert at the end?” Way to stick up for pastry-folks, Tony. So what does White want when he eats out? “Just give me fish, roasted, on the bone, with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.”
On outlandish-behaving TV chefs:
But churlish as Chef White often appears, he’s also fair. “When you’re given the moment to be on stage and shine, the last thing you should be doing is belittling people.”
On advice to young cooks:
Bourdain: “Show up on time.”
MPW: “Listen to your mother.”
There’s nothing wrong with White’s depiction of a chef (or even Bourdain’s)—it’s just old school. And that’s what White is. Would anyone argue that a chef shouldn’t work his or her way up in the kitchen? Or, that chefs shouldn’t berate young cooks on national television? But whether a chef should possess authority over diners’ eating methods, well that’s of this new generation. Or whether the chef should be cooking in the heat of the kitchen when most people of age are exploring retirement options—personal choice that’s really a function of several variables. White’s entitled to his opinion, as are others, especially those he distinctly criticizes….