Is it possible? An abundance of high quality food is causing fine dining to change?
Over the last two decades, high-end chefs in America established their reputations around dishes created from rare ingredients and items served at the peak of freshness. In recent history, these two areas of food products have not readily been available to the public. Indeed, to their credit, the very chefs who helped to build networks of local farmers, food purveyors and distributors and who, in turn, expanded their offerings to the general public are responsible for the public demand. Chefs were the rock stars of the dinner table and everyone wanted in on their secrets, or to emulate their craft.
Today, we have an economic downturn, but this as the only cause of the change of economics in the restaurant industry, albeit a predominant factor. The same formerly rare food products are now becoming readily available and markets have started to feature local, up-to-the-minute fresh foods. For example, just over a decade ago mesclun lettuce was only seen in upscale restaurants, now it is everywhere. The same micro-greens and baby vegetables chefs would wow customers with are sold at major grocery store chains. Casual restaurant concepts around the country serve organic food and these formerly exotic ingredients. Why spend $150 for one dinner, when the same food can found at an upscale bistro-style restaurant for $30 to 50 dollars per person. To add to the dilemma, one can eat like a king much cheaper than this by shopping at local farmers markets and cooking at home. Recipes and techniques are readily available in a matter of minutes on the internet. Food is no longer the lone star, now more than ever, the upscale restaurant has to entertain through service, constructed presentation and themes designed to mentally transport the diner away from the locale they sit in.
While enjoyable, this is often a distraction that competes with the food. High-end restaurants have been the bastions of the well-to-do with an additional peppering of the middle-class. The foods of the rich and noble have always been looked up to and desired by those not as fortunate. Numerous parallels to this can be studied in the history of culinary endeavors. Thus, culinary economics are cyclical as engineering advances in food manufacturing and agriculture offered food products previously only available to the elite, thus making them available to the general public. Grocery store shelves are full of such storied items; White flour, refined sugar, Strawberries out of season, refined oils and frozen foods are a few examples. As a result, products available are determined by what is purchased, not by what is healthy.
We advanced ourselves into nutritional depletion and are facing the consequences with such issues as obesity and malnutrition in lower income children. Education is the key to transcending this economic wheel of misfortune. The first steps are simple, starting with reading labels and learning what you are eating. Next is to act on it by shopping local and eating organic foods. Cooking at home and growing a garden are the most significant things to do that will educate us about the value of food.
It is not a black and white decision, but a gradual commitment to change. There is no time like the present to take charge of our destiny and good health.