Evolution of Fine Dining. Carrots Are the New Caviar.
Foie gras from France. Caviar from the Casbian Sea. White Truffles from Alba. What do all these things have in common? Well, if you have all these items on your menu, then you're in for one terrific dinner, no?
These items are notoriously ultra expensive. Foie Gras around $80/lb, Caviar around $5,000/lb and white Alba truffles clocking in at around $2,000/lb. These items are hard to obtain and take a lot of resources to get into your hands. I wonder if, given how expensive these are and how far these imports have to travel to reach most restaurants, they might have become out of fashion with the locavore oriented, recession-hobbled culinary scene, not to mention the carbon footprint they leave.
The World Changes...
Environmental concerns, carbon footprints, GMO seeds, big agriculture, mono-cropping and other factors continue to help mold the new find dining experience. People with food allergies and health conscious diners demanded healthy alternatives. They wanted food that was grown nearby so it could be picked ripe instead of being picked green and allowed to slowly ripen on some shipping truck burning fossil fuel to ship it across countries. More and more restaurants started growing their own. They would also team up with local farmers to grow specific items for menus and the world was reminded that "heirloom" did not just describe jewelery.
Is fine dining dead? I have heard that question asked a lot. I have also asked this question a lot. To best answer this question, we need to define "Fine Dining". This is not as easy as it seems. The term fine dining seems to be evolving at a fever pitch. This evolution seems to have begun it's start over a decade ago when the war on terrorism began. The American Nation was in a state of shock after the attack on 9/11. We wanted to be comforted. Wanted to be able to relate to things. We were craving the familiar in an unfamiliar, new world. We were in an ambiguous war that few really understood. Who was the enemy? Where was the front line?
Menus started changing in the bigger cities when it was evident that people were reluctant to venture out to the former "hot spots" where new and exciting experiences were provided. It used to be: Crisp, white linens, sparkly crystal, fine silverware, expensive china. Stiff and formal. Strict dress codes. Expensive. Celebrity Chefs. Big egos. How many times have you heard "Chef prefers you eat the amuse first, then take the tomato-vodka shot immediately after for the full effect..." Food with instructions. Meh. This would start to change.
Creative chefs, trying to lure back clients in order to stay in business were putting creative takes of meatloaf, stews, hamburgers, fried chicken and the like on the menu. Comforting. Things would continue to change. Economy crashes, job loss, fear, uncertainty. Restaurants tried to cope. Expensive linens were removed, modest service pieces were being used. Extra formal touches were being removed, service was becoming more streamlined. Restaurants tried to reduce overhead to lower prices. Lesser cuts of meats were being used. Ultra luxury items became less and less used. Chef's needed a new draw. Caviar, truffles and foie gras would have to be replaced with a new "luxury".
What does fine dining look like today? It's a much more casual experience. It's an experience that's dictated by the patron. Blue jeans are in and crumbers are out. The chef knows the people who grow his food. The carrots that are on your plate were grown just for you and just for tonight. Yeah, those white truffles are great, expensive and traveled half way around the world to get here. But those carrots were grown for a select few. Picked at their peak and put on you plate in just days if not hours of being picked. It's more personal, intimate. Yeah, they don't cost as much as that caviar, but it's important to remember that all ingredients have equal culinary value, regardless of cost. It's the Chef's skill, the light touch that makes them sing. So, in essence, you're spending less money for a more personal, intimate experience that uses environmentally responsible techniques to produce and supports your local economy. This is why carrots are the new caviar. What will fine dining look like tomorrow? Only you can decide.