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The era of the globetrotting chef

Fat Guy

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It seems that the era of the globetrotting chef is upon us: Ducasse, Vongerichten, Nobu, Puck . . . even artisans like Thomas Keller, thought to be the last holdouts against mitosis, are now operating multiple restaurants (including in Las Vegas). I'd be particularly interested to hear where Michael and Clark think the future is taking us with respect to multiple ownership. Will it ever again be possible to be a globally influential chef with just one restaurant, or are Adria and a few others the last of a breed (though even Adria is involved in many projects now)? Will this be good or bad for cuisine?

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)

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This bring up the question of is Ducasse a chain, I believe you posted on this in another thread Steven.

Think of the whole forum as a fabric. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum


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How can it be a bad thing if they create great restaurants?

The thing is, great restaurants are incredibly hard to create.

There are two issues that interest me. One: does the great chef, the one who has achieved some sort of truly original impact on diners, vitiate him or herself, dilute the gift, waste the talent by opening a series of four-star copies or lower end rollouts? Not if they've already left their mark. Indeed they stand to strengthen their work by expanding, if they can do it well. Chefs as we know have expanded with varying degrees of success. (Whatever happened to stephen pyles and star canyon?) The best, acting like CEOs, are able to spread their standards throughout their entire organization. Those whose standards don't trickle down have a spotty track record.

I think the real danger is young chefs who get into the business not with a four star restaurant as the goal, but with the goal of being CEO of a spread of four restaurants, and product and books, before they've developed any meaningful standards of their own or created anything of unique value in the culinary world.

Or perhaps worst of all, a generation of young chefs whose goal is to be globally influential. Can you imagine getting into this business with that as your goal?

Very interested in Clark's view on this subject.

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The future of multiple owneship might best be understood in part by understanding first the motivation on a chefs part for multiple ownership and second the ability to multiple task, delegate and execute. As an example you can use say Todd English compared to Vongerichten and a lessor degree Keller. I think the motiavetion in these three chefs vary and as a result the future for all three are going to be quite different.

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I hear the concern but do not share it. If by artisan we mean servant then it's certainly time to end that run. Alain Senderens and other greats have come to realize that it is neither economically possible nor culturally necessary to stay at the stove for a lifetime. Western culture celebrates the talented and those stars in turn expect to make a good living and have a nice home, life, third wife...

And after all, who would you rather have as owner of a slew of restaurants? A wildly talented and accomplished chef or a real estate or money syndicate of greedy thugs?

A really good chef, like those listed, can create wonderful places for people to gather and enjoy and learn and grow - in the dining room and in the kitchen. Food is a birthright and a responsibility. This is just a logical evolution.

Marion Cunningham - author of the magical Fanny Farmer and other cookbooks - used to say the home made bread (so popular in the 70's) the was lousy is still simply lousy bread. Artisan, hand made, small bunch and all that is romantic in concept but actually needs to be really good to be worth our time and tummies.

Some cheffie globalists will crash and burn (Rocco...). Some will bump a bit but continue to thrive (Jean George Vongerichten, Ducasse...) And some will stay in Chicago where they belong (like the terribly self important but deeply limited Charlie Trotter). This is a series of individual efforts but all, I think for the better, as more good food and good cooking goes to an ever widening audience.

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At the risk of going on a tangent, it would seem that the reason Trotter isn't opening a restaurant in New York is that the cost spiralled out of control, not because he's "deeply limited." (Full disclosure: I've never experienced his cuisine, so I don't personally know what his strong points and limitations are.)

Michael aka "Pan"


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consolidation is an inevitable consequence of progress

it is not value laden however

i think what will be the defining characteristic of this transition to multinationals who are in fact branded people will include:

how integral is the personality?

how complete is the organizational system?

how financially viable is the model?

globetrotters legacy will depend primarily on their credibility, and in this way is no different from single unit operators/

it would be a shame if grand chefs were only "grand chefs" but there is no reason to think this must be the case, even if it seems likely and probable

even ferran is not ferran anymore, but he is a mature product, it is highly likely that the next baton wielder is not on the cultural radar

think china

think brazil

this is the real question, will globalization strengthen or undermine the powers that be

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