Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Fine Dining vs. Cheap Eats, Continued


Recommended Posts

Because most people in a fancy restaurant on any given night aren't there for the food, and because there's a limited audience of people who want to eat Pierre Gagnaire's cuisine off paper plates while sitting in the back alley on overturned milk cartons.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Why aren't there places with fancy food but not fancy digs?"

Jordyn - Well why aren't there hambuger joints where women wear gowns?

This issue was raised by someone on the French/Chinese thread. It's because the visual aesthetics of haute cuisine, along with the textures of the foods that are smooth and luxurious do not lend themselves to t-shirts and jeans. If you were to match Robuchon's potatoes with a fabric, what fabric would that be, denim? The art of dining is geared around a specific event that incorporates not only intense cooking technique but all the rest of the trappings of the world that corrolate to the expenditure of that technique. Don't you think it's a good thing that we live in a world that is a bunch of interrelated parts?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... it's obvious that people would prefer to talk about food that is at a level of technique they could master over a discussion about shucking.

Ah, but there is much to discuss beyond shucking about Bowen's Island oysters.

Not only that these are marsh oysters in clumps as opposed to the more typical individual oysters and are the oysters truly roasted or steamed, but one can easily get into a half hour conversation with the guy roasting the oysters about the marsh around Bowen's island, cooking techniques, seasonal variations and such.

Also - spade as opposed to shovel for best transporting the roasted oysters from pit to table, does the wet burlap bag placed over the oysters while they roast enhance or detract from the flavor of the oyster, iodine versus more modern medical balms for treatment of the nicks and cuts, and the best way to remove Bowen's Island mud from one's shirt.

Or one can shut up and finish the mound of oysters in front of him so the next shovel full off the grill heads his way.

Seriously, I agree that it is easier to find complexity in high cuisine, but there are exceptions.

The first that comes to mind is barbecue. All manner of regional variations, all manner of cooking within those variations, all manner of sauces to serve with the barbecue, etc. Add sides, and heritage of barbecue and barbecue around the world...

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Strip steak of course. What are you crazy?

HOLD ON A MINUTE. Steve P, you were shouting at me yesterday, and now it's my turn The above was your answer to Steve S's question, "Which is the better steak?" Given that strip steak is CHEAPER than filet mignon, all your arguments yesterday about the best being more expensive were wrong, contradictory, according to your own standards.

Peachcreek: That sounded like a great place with some fine cooking.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Don't you think it's a good thing that we live in a world that is a bunch of interrelated parts?

When I read words like this I think I really am an existentialist. Is Arthur Andersen your accountant? :laugh:

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Why aren't there places with fancy food but not fancy digs?"

Jordyn - Well why aren't there hambuger joints where women wear gowns?

This issue was raised by someone on the French/Chinese thread. It's because the visual aesthetics of haute cuisine, along with the textures of the foods that are smooth and luxurious do not lend themselves to t-shirts and jeans. If you were to match Robuchon's potatoes with a fabric, what fabric would that be, denim? The art of dining is geared around a specific event that incorporates not only intense cooking technique but all the rest of the trappings of the world that corrolate to the expenditure of that technique. Don't you think it's a good thing that we live in a world that is a bunch of interrelated parts?

What I really like is having my options open. If Jean Georges Vongerichten wants to serve me a meal in a dining room with lots of linoleum and where I need to walk up to the kitchen pass through and get my own food, I imagine the food would still taste plenty good. Sometimes that's all I want--really good food, without all the trapping of the fine dining experience. This turns out not to be very easy, though.

Some chefs probably believe that the experience of their food is intimately tied to decor and service elements. I suspect another factor is economics: you can probably earn more money from your food if you fancy it up a lot.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Ah, but there is much to discuss beyond shucking about Bowen's Island oysters."

Holly - I agree with you. But all you are saying is that certain ingredients are so complex by themselves that they warrant much discussion. For example, one need not sample George Blanc's Poulet Bresse avec Creme to have a discussion about the virtues of a Bresse chicken. In fact there is an argument to be made that the simple roast chicken is best way to prepare it. But these examples are the unusual exceptions. Most times, the amount of technical expertise that goes into the preparation of food, providing it has been done with competence, makes fine eats more interesting.

Yvonne - You are confusing liking something better with the concept of quality and what people are willing to pay for. I've never said that lesser quality things can't be more enjoyable than better quality things. All I've said is that things are usually priced according to their quality, not based on their likeability. I like BBQ but that is meat and cooking of poor quality and it is priced accordingly. Where is the inconsistancy in that statement? A good hamburger is better than a bad strip steak. In fact it's better than a mediocre one. And while I prefer to eat strip over filet, as I stated a few posts ago, that woudn't be my choice if I was dining at Alain Ducasse. At Ducasse I would much prefer the filet steak because its texture more suits that type of cuisine and the general tone of the environment. In that environment I wouild find a strip steak much less enjoyable than a filet.

We don't always choose the most important thing to eat, or the best thing. We choose what is appropriate considering the circumstances. Sometimes it is appropriate to eat Bowen Island Oysters on a pier with a tank top and shorts and follow it with a Surf & Turf of a great lobster and a small strip steak. And other times it's appropriate to wear a coat and tie and eat those same oysters with some Sauce Mignonette and then have Tournedos Rossini. The latter meal is bound to cost more because they probably would have chosen the oysters a bit more carefully, taken some time to get the sauce right, butchered the filet and foie gras in the Rossini to perfection and spent countless hours getting the sauce for the Rossini right. That's what people are willing to pay more for. All that effort into getting it perfect. And that's why filet steak costs more. It is conducive to being in that environment and strip steak isn't.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"What I really like is having my options open. If Jean Georges Vongerichten wants to serve me a meal in a dining room with lots of linoleum and where I need to walk up to the kitchen pass through and get my own food,"

Jordyn - Well sometimes I imagine that the Mets don't play at Shea but at the Hunter High schoolyard and and I can just walk around the corner and hang with my homies. Sometimes they even let me in the game.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The late Chef Louis Szathmary who ran "The Bakery" in Chicago - considered one of Chicago's finest restaurants in its time (and where, as I remember, one entered through the kitchen), also opened one of the first Soup restaurants in the country. $5 got you a bowl of chicken soup with half a chicken in it and some good, crusty bread on the side.

A lot of chefs of great restaurants open a glittery bistro with still relatively high menu pricing and sleek decor, but Chef Louis is the only chef I can recall who has made his food available to the masses.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What are the economics here?  Does strip steak fetch twice the price of ground beef because there's a bigger demand for it?  Do expensive cuts of meat generally outsell cheap cuts?

No because the expensive cuts are a relatively small percentage of the carcass. Most of the luxury cuts are in the short-loin sub-primal. There are for example only four or so Peter Luger-sized porterhouses in a side of beef, whereas there may a hundred or more pounds of ground-beef-appropriate muscle.

Lobel's gets a higher price for filet mignon than for boneless strip, yet the overwhelming majority of steak connoisseurs will tell you that the strip is the more flavorful cut and is superior. I don't know a single steak maven who would order a filet over a strip if given the choice. But there is a perceived luxuriousness to tenderloin among the clueless because it is so tender, and there's simply more strip than tenderloin in a carcass. And since the porterhouse is both strip and filet/tenderloin, and the strip runs longer than the tenderloin, a carcass that is butchered into porterhouses will have pretty much no filet portion available for sale as just filet, so there's almost no USDA Prime tenderloin out there. Some, but hardly any. Therefore the better cut is less expensive and in less demand. Now assuming Plotnicki agrees that strip is superior to tenderloin he might say that of course he knew that but still as between two strips the better strip will fetch a higher price. But while that's most likely true it's clearly not a statement you can extrapolate to broader based food comparisons. You can't even extrapolate it as between cuts of meat from the same animal, and you certainly can't extrapolate it to prove that all food that is better costs more than all food that is worse.

Likewise, as I said before a hamburger is more complex than a steak, as is any preparation where lower-quality cuts must be smushed up and reconstituted and perhaps combined with other ingredients in order to make them delicious. It typically requires more skill and training to accomplish that than it does to get a great steak from Lobel's and throw it on the grill.

Steve P., I can't believe we're still stuck on this point. I quoted Steve S. again from yesterday. Do you think he's wrong?

Just sticking to beef, do you think butchers price the filet higher than the cuts used for grinding based on a perception of "quality" - i.e., smoothness, silkiness, whatever - or based on the considerations Steve mentions.

Of course, consumer demand is relevant too. But there does seem to be quite a demand for ground beef, as well as for filet.

Or if you prefer, turn to pork. Do you think pork belly is of lower "quality" than pork loin? if not, how come - on your theory - it's priced cheaper?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Again we've touched lightly on the subject of economics. My preoccupations are with food which I can readily, even constantly afford. I enjoy an occasional splurge, especially in France, but I would not direct the major part of my attention to food which is usually inaccessible.

As for what is most worthy of attention and most interesting to discuss: There are many people (I among them) who consider John Thorne to be America's best living food writer. Last year the James Beard judges seemed to share that opinion. But John writes almost exclusively about food which he cooks at home. He rarely writes even in passing about restaurants, and *never* about expensive ones. He has said in so many words that he can't afford them.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jordyn - Well sometimes I imagine that the Mets don't play at Shea but at the Hunter High schoolyard and and I can just walk around the corner and hang with my homies. Sometimes they even let me in the game.

So, are you agreeing that economics is the overriding factor? The Mets play at Shea Stadium because they can sell a lot more tickets there than at Hunter High. Jean Georges cooks (every once in a while) at 1 Central Park West because he can charge a lot more there than he could at my linoleum join in the East Village?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Most times, the amount of technical expertise that goes into the preparation of food, providing it has been done with competence, makes fine eats more interesting.

Wishing I could locate a sound file of myself banging my head against the wall...

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Most times, the amount of technical expertise that goes into the preparation of food, providing it has been done with competence, makes fine eats more interesting.

Having been there - amid the food technicians, flavor tecnologists, operational mavens and marketing whizzes - all reeking of compentency - I would suggest that far more "technical expertise" has gone into the development of a Big Mac than into any "fine eats." :smile:

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wilfrd - You are fixated on the final price and I am fixated on the butcher and the public noticing the difference in quality(ies) between cuts of meat.

It is irrelevent for my point whether the difference in price between the lowest cut of meat and the highest is a matter of cents. The issue isn't to assign meat a value, it's to assign it a purpose based on how its qualities best lend themselves to an occassion. I hope that makes sense because it's a hard concept to get out.

For example, rib lamb chops are a nicer cut of meat than leg of lamb. So you see Cote d'Agneau on the menus of three star restaurants more often than you see a rack of lamb. But switch venues to a bistro and you are likely to see the leg more than a rack. Now why do you think that is?

Of course this isn't a set rule but, in my experience it's usually the case.

Ultimately this results in the leg of lamb being priced below what the rack is priced at because, IT CAN'T BE USED FOR THE PURPOSE PEOPLE WILL PAY THE MOSY MONEY FOR.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So you do disagree with Shaw? Filet mignon costs more than hamburger because a kitchen can make fancier dishes from it, and people will pay more - not because you can get much less of it from a cow. And leg of lamb is cheaper than rack because you can't make fancy expensive dishes out of it, not because there's much more of it per sheep.

What does anyone else think?

(I'm not fixated on price. You've said on more than one thread that, all things being equal, there's a correlation between cost and "quality". I think we should get to the bottom of it, and see whether that's true or not.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having been there - amid the food technicians, flavor tecnologists, operational mavens and marketing whizzes - all reeking of compentency - I would suggest that far more "technical expertise" has gone into the development of a Big Mac than into any "fine eats."

And the same is true for frozen or refrigerated packaged prepared foods that are sold in supermarkets. The application of "science" and "technology" to food preparation and storage in the commercial, mass market world is staggering. It makes a 3 star kitchen look like a sand box. The same is true for the issue of "complexity."

On the other hand, the meal I ate last evening at Blue Hill included dishes with subtle, innovative combinations of ingredients and textures that transformed the basic ingredient (duck, char, cod, scallops, etc.) into a surprising and new taste experience. And I suppose that's one of the things "fine dining" at its best, should do. It should cause you to experience the familiar in unfamilar, and pleasing ways.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We should be able to clear this up once and for all:

1. The most interesting food to discuss is the most complex, made from the best ingredients by the greatest chefs, and is therefore the most expensive.

2. The best food writers in English are generally considered to be Elizabeth David, MFK Fisher and Richard Olney. Among living writers, John Thorne is probably the principal contender. Not everyone would agree, but I think more knowledgable readers would accept this list than any other list one could come up with.

3. All these writers devoted almost all their attention to what they called simple food, provincial and peasant dishes from France and Italy. (John Thorne has gone further beyond this, in the direction of ethnic foods, than any of the other three.) What they *rarely* wrote about was elaborately prepared meals in expensive restaurants. Instead they wrote about ordinary cuisine, well prepared from good local ingredients.

4. Therefor, our greatest food writers have perversely chosen not to write about the most interesting subjects.

Now that we've cleared that up ... :wacko:

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...