small price to pay for good food

small price to pay for good food

The chance to have an amazing experience at one of the best, if not the best restaurant in the world is evaporating over the next year, and it is part of an overall implosion in super high-end fine dining.

I’m talking about the kind of place that is so far out on the creative plank they’re entirely in their own category.

Namo in Denmark is a three Michelin star restaurant that diners plan whole vacations around, with a menu populated with things like reindeer hearts and duck brains.

According to a recent New York Times piece, chef and owner René Redzepi is closing Namo in 2024, not due to a lack of customers, but because the whole business model of offering extreme dining experiences for upward of $500 per person is unsustainable.

The cost in money and labor is just too high, and Namo, along with an increasing number of such places, has been called out for grueling workloads and low or nonexistent pay. Until recently, the large number of interns on which Namo relied were unpaid.

It takes an obscene amount of work to produce those artful plates and tiny portions. Micro greens aren’t just washed. They’re carefully separated, sized and inspected leaf by leaf after having been grown in the restaurant garden. Making a supply of stocks takes days.

Someone has to smoke the beeswax bowls. These tasks are often done by interns under the judging eye of an assistant chef taskmaster, with lots of bullying and abuse over exhausting hours. All this for no paycheck, though many may be able to parley the experience into great jobs at slightly lesser places later.

To say you spent six months pickling radishes in a ridiculously well-respected kitchen under one of the half-dozen greatest chefs in the world can bring more later rewards than 10 years of laboring in the fanciest places in Paris.

The problem is the concept only works with near slave labor, which is why many chefs, under pressure from watchdog groups, are choosing to close up shop. It’s just too grueling for everyone involved, including them. Young, passionate chefs don’t begin their careers with the expectation they will be brutally treated and unable to practice any of their skills. “Don’t touch the knives, don’t taste anything and don’t talk.”

How many young cooks, having grown up with the Food Network and the rise of celebrity chefs, dream of working in an immaculate, well-run kitchen while they save for a restaurant they can call their own? How many seek a career change after a year of the reality of working at the very top level of the game?

Of course, restaurant kitchens in general are notoriously difficult environments, with a lot of big egos and flaring tempers under the pressure of constantly demanding work. This is true everywhere, and even locally, there are schmancy restaurants that are known to be difficult environments and who forget to pay their people.

Rather than put myself through any of that, I think it’s much more fun, interesting and educational to immerse myself in a home kitchen and try to turn out those tiny-portioned, beautiful plates myself.

Your knives can be as sharp as any to be found. You can spend hours inspecting and trimming artichokes while you sip a nice wine and chat with your favorite person, with no one to scream your hair off if you miss a spot of brown.

You can learn to cook a filet mignon yourself, in your own kitchen, that is as good or better than anything you can get out. You can steam a sexy batch of crab legs, or make a heavenly shrimp bisque, or just a really good grilled-cheese sandwich, if that’s your thing.

You’ll have to wash the dishes, but that’s a pretty small price to pay for good food. It just takes time, patience and a big dollop of love.

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