From the $1500 dinner to Russell Baker's Francs and Beans
Are we heading for tougher times economically? Are we already there? I am not sure if we are indeed heading for the meltdown that some have been declaring, especially last week. In any case, the announcement of a $1500 dinner jointly produced by two of the most renowned chefs in America, Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller, coming as it did in the midst of the Lehman Brothers collapse and all, could have probably been timed better. I haven’t seen that much outrage over it, except for this on Food Musings. I must say that I don’t feel upset or anything (and if I had the money to spare, which I don’t, I’d sign up for a couple of seatings for sure), but it is a lot of money to spend on a single meal. Of course, fine restaurant dining is not really eating, it’s entertainment - and some people don’t bat an eyelash at paying such amounts for prime seats at say, the Superbowl or a concert.
Speaking of a lot of money to spend on a meal, the most famous such incident in not-that-ancient history was the $4000 (for two) feast consumed by former New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne and his friend chef Pierre Frenay, back in 1975. They actually only paid $300 for it - Claiborne had won a prize for ‘dinner for two anywhere in the world’ in a charity auction. In true bon vivant style, they had a 31-course, 5 hour blowout extravaganza at a Parisian restaurant called Chez Denis. This display of extravagance outraged many, including even the Pope. There is a nice summary of this incident here (scroll down to Critic’s Revenge).
The best thing to come out of this was a classic piece of writing by Russell Baker, called Francs and Beans. The entire text is here. I have a tattered book of his collected writings, of which this essay is by far my favorite. It should be required reading for anyone who writes about food, especially those (whether newspaper critic, food blogger, or Yelp.com reviewer) who take it far too seriously.
Now where’s my bottle of cheap gin.
(I Twittered about this briefly so my apologies for repeating myself if you follow me there.)