You know the names. The French Laundry in Napa, the famous-but-now-closed El Bulli in Spain, and Charlie Trotters in Chicago (also now closed!). In Manhattan, Eleven Madison Park and Per Se. With reservations almost impossible to get, and chefs in charge of both dining time (likely several hours) and menu (multi-course tastings of whatever they please), the meals will cost you several hundred dollars- at least. These restaurants have paved the way for a tasting-menu approach that celebrates the chef as an artist and is only gaining in popularity around the country. But a recent article I (Lauren) read in Vanity Fair questioned the shift in power from diner to chef: With that kind of price tag, doesn’t it matter- at least a little- that the chef have an interest in what and how much I want to eat?
While I would likely not choose to dine at one of these celebrated restaurants over others solely based on their fame, the article left me thinking. Isn’t there something magical about being at the mercy of a great chef? I love sitting back and letting a chef guide my palate. At a nice restaurant given too many mouth-watering options, my husband and I will often, willingly, default to the server’s recommendation on dishes. We’ll do the same when traveling, when we may not be familiar with the ingredients on the menu (or if it’s simply in another language we can’t translate). And one of our favorite weeks of the year in our city is restaurant week, when the best restaurants in town each serve their own single, four-course menu set by the chef. We willingly let go of the power to choose our meal and let our dining experience be at the mercy of an expert. And on the topic of hard-to-get reservations-isn’t that part of the fun if you’re lucky enough to snag a seat?
So what do you think: Do you like to hold absolute power and choice over your dining experience? Or are you one to save your pennies to enjoy the luxury of a tasting-menu experience…one where you’ll likely try something you wouldn’t have otherwise? Would love to hear your thoughts on this!