Fine dining has died its latest death, according to a “comprehensive” new study based on a poll of writers. Or has it? Bruce Palling writes in The Wall Street Journal that a multifaceted survey of “70 anonymous food writers and critics associated with the San Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurant Awards” has given a sharp picture of high-end dining around the world. “Local” menus have replaced “global” ones, apparently, and fine dining has been kicked to the curb by “fun dining.” Foraging is on the rise, we learn, and Modernist Cuisine is “apparently dead.” Why? Is foraging “fun dining?” Is Modernist Cuisine un-fun? What’s for dinner?
Presumably, food writers and critics are on the front lines; they see this stuff on the plate every day and they are tasked with such duties as parsing the broadest meanings of things like Thumbelina carrots. So, as the dining scene shifts, they should know about it, right? In the WSJ, Palling seems skeptical of explicit conclusions that might be drawn from the survey’s results, pointing out that some “exquisite langoustines” served to him recently at Noma came from more than 600 miles away, a fact at odds with the overwhelming consensus that the Copenhagen restaurant specializes in a committed kind of all-local, all-the-time cuisine (though the restaurant itself makes no such claims).
Even the survey study’s author Lars Peder Hedberg, who publishes and edits Sweden’s White Guide to restaurants, says that the results do not take into account the effects of social media like Facebook and Twitter, whatever that means. “Traditional luxury and bling is on the rise in developing markets — on the plates as well as all around them — ” the report states, “while more mature and sophisticated markets are moving in the opposite direction towards a new simplicity.” Ah, the new simplicity: We’ve heard that one before.
More than anything, it seems like fine dining still exists in spades. Probably because of the economy it’s just been dressed down to an almost unrecognizable degree. The folks who would have traditionally gone to Le Bernardin are all really dying to wait on line in the East Village to get a bar stool and a five-course omakase. It’s all going to take some getting used to. That is, after all, why we have all of these new rules for dining out, right?