Opinionated Abut Dining Survey

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May 12, 2008



I'll through my hat in on this one too. Is the reason that so few French chefs have appeared on the scene in the past ten years simply a product of the way chefs are trained in France? It seems like one spends years in a kitchen as a second before ever going out on one's own. For example, are there many chefs like Cerutti who, in other countries, would be out on their own, but in France are tethered to a larger name?

Steve Plotnicki

Well I think that how the working capital is invested determines how chefs are going to be trained. If more working capital was available for stand alone/chef owned restaurants, there would be more of an emphasis on creativity and chefs would be trained accordingly. But since the money is going to underwrite conservative dining experiences, that is how the chefs get trained. Unless of course you are lucky enough to be able to work for a chef like Passard or Bras.


I'm glad to see your opinion on this matter. Prices for haute gastronomie in france are completely over the top. Food can surely be an amazing experience but can never justify such prices.
I see another reason for it.
The chefs are running after the michelin stars or some kind of recognition/prestige. the level of staff needed is therefore high and leaves business in rather precarious situation. Running a fully staffed restaurant is simply extremely expensive and people are also less and less ready to pay high prices. As mentionned some of those restaurants wouldnt survive if money wasnt thrown in from the outside, dictating the kind of food served and breading restaurants which simply live in the past. Paris is full of restaurants like this.
But it was just the same at l'arpège (chef owned restaurant)where I ate last week (left a note in the survey). I found it too expensive (3 course meal @ 250 euros) but I am sure that passard could never cope with lower prices. Food was delish by the way.
It is a catch 21 situation.
I think big stand alone/chef owned restaurants are on the decline.
I have worked in many restaurants and seen even more go down. Not many make money. Chefs should concentrate on their food rather than what michelin or gault millaut say and also think business. Not by charging over the top prices but rather by compromising along the line like cutting down on staff level. The creativity should then naturally follow going in pair with happy-healthy business.
This is my first post so I need to thank you for this great site.

Steve Plotnicki

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I think the single biggest factor in the pricing of restaurants in France is cultural. In the instance of Louis XV, what drives the pricing is an outmoded concept of luxury when it comes to cuisine. Like you say, much of that is invested into staffing but, the style of cuisine - one dripping with viscous sauces to punctuate the experience - is the style of cuisine that one usually finds at hotel restaurants. Notice how the more progressive chefs in France, Pierre Gagnaire, Alain Passard, Pascal Barbot etc., do not work in hotels. And if they did, they would have to water their cuisine down to appeal to a less knowledgable clientele who demand a greater percentage of luxury (as they know it) to be present in their cuisine.

In terms of Passard and his pricing, I think his restaurant is a holdover from the 90's and he prices his cuisine in accordance with the stature of a Michelin 3 star retstaurant that harkens from that era. But I suspect that if he was of the same generation as chefs like Barbot, his menu would be more reasonably priced.


Steve, Isn't Gagnaire in the Hotel Balzac?

Steve Plotnicki

Yes it is. But I am not talking about restaurants that are merely located in hotels, I am talking about hotels that subsidize the restaurants within the hotel as a way to attract clientele. That wouldn't be Gagnaire, but it would be Ducasse and Yannick Alleno at Le Meurice among others in Paris, and the restaurants in Las Vegas or Robuchon at the Four Seasons in NYC.

Now tell me, if a hotel has a huge investment in a restaurant as a way to keep guests within the hoitel for dinner as opposed to their going elsewhere, do you think they are going to encourage the chef to serve progressive cuisine or do you think they want him to serve safe, conservative food that won't offend anyone and that your mother-in-law wants to eat?

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