While OAD’s survey-based rankings offer a valuable counterpoint to fine dining’s entrenched powers, the organization’s legitimization of social media self-aggrandizement represents the very peak of competitive conspicuous consumption. Chefs who cater to this globetrotting cabal do so to the detriment of their own communities, impeding the development of an inclusive, distinctive regional taste.
Diversity, the death of insight, and the necessity of playing nice.
With more and more restaurants embracing the world’s most popular culinary genre, it pays to know just which vision of “Italy” one will be exploring in a given dining room.
The “Mickey Mouse factor” refers to the phenomenon in which children who are picky eaters at home are willing to try all sorts of new foods within Disney’s theme parks. If you extricate the concept from its theme park setting and apply it towards dining writ large, the mechanism actually proves quite enlightening.
Sadly, Kim’s attacks work to slow the process of cultural exchange by which the next generation–standing on the shoulders of all those who have struggled before them–finds the acceptance he sorely lacked. The real shame is that Chicago’s food press has indulged in Kim’s narrative of victimhood, incentivizing the sort of tantrum that seeks to suffocate the generation of new recipes–without inhibition–in utero.
Like children staring up at Rainforest Cafe’s artificial night sky (or shaking from the booms and quakes of its fake thunderstorms), Alinea’s customers are served an illusion. They are led to believe that a food’s trappings are valuable even when divorced from satisfying flavors, from nature, or from nostalgia. They are tricked into thinking that a restaurant which denies dining’s transcendent, human dimension has any value as a conjurer of culinary gibberish. They are, ultimately, suckers who are being sold a future where a restaurant’s quality grows with how “Instagrammable” the experience is.
The “enlightened” fine diner’s goal, when all is said and done, has little to do with fulfilling personal pleasure. Their goal should be an appreciation of an establishment’s distinction–relative to any other place in the world–through understanding what is done and why.
Reviewing restaurants with respect to “reality” rather than “hyperreality” means enveloping oneself in the insecurities of an audience that has little to no experience with “fine dining.” It means preserving the magic, educating the consumer when necessary, but never letting one’s cynicism infect the experience (let alone the political axes one has to grind). A critic should challenge their reader without ever blowing smoke up their ass.
In the age of airborne viral transmission, the relationship between “server” and “served” has never been more consequential and, ironically, impersonal.
If critics of the screen and stage can single out individual actors for praise and criticism, then why can’t restaurant critics?