We struggled from the beginning to define fine dining. Even the French, who essentially invented the thing, don’t really have a term for it. It’s much easier to make declarations about its condition—Fine dining is dead! Fine dining has changed! Fine dining is taking a nap!—than it is to say exactly what fine dining is.
So here are eight far-flung chefs answering simple but tough questions about their industry—where the ship is headed, where it’s been, who’s on board, why anyone should care. They represent a squad that is Taylor Swiftian in its caliber (but hopefully a shade more diverse in its composition): a little bit of the old guard, some young guns, the keepers of the flame, world movers, Californians, Chicagoans, New Yorkers, the French, expats, a New Zealander, and a Dane.
We enlisted our elite team of global super friends to track down a few of the more elusive specimens in this collection. Christine Muhlke interviewed Yannick Alléno; Kevin Pang spoke to Noah Sandoval. Their opinions aren’t always harmonious. At the end of the day, that’s the beauty of fine dining: people from opposite corners of the planet working with the same fanatical dedication, motivated by wildly different reasons.
René Redzepi is the once and future king, the chef of Noma in Copenhagen, and the founder of the MAD Symposium, which is his forum for trying to find answers to the deeper and more existential questions of chefdom and sustainability. He talks to Peter Meehan about defining fine dining, the changes it has undergone, and its future.
Ben Shewry, chef of Attica in Melbourne, Australia, talks to Chris Ying about the transferable lessons of fine dining and how his restaurant is for anyone who enjoys life.
After dropping out of high school, Noah Sandoval needed to make some money to pay rent, and buy weed. He started cooking. Now the chef of Oriole in Chicago, he spoke to Kevin Pang about his path to fine dining, and how importance it is for young cooks to be patience as they climb the ranks.
“Fine dining? I mean, what the fuck does that mean?”
At Saison, Joshua Skenes’s restaurant in San Francisco, the answer is a heap of caviar that’s been cured in seawater they gave to their caviar packer. It means jellyfish from fishermen they’ve paid to search for that specific jellyfish. It does not mean tablecloths or the need to wear a suit.
Fine dining can’t be populist, Alleno says, but it is for everyone. Christine Mulkhe talks to the chef of Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen about being an outsider, finding his voice, preparing French cuisine for the twenty-first century, and why fine dining is like a Porsche.
Early in her career, Liz Benno worked in places where the chefs yelled at cooks. Then she took a job under Mario Batali at Babbo and experienced a different atmosphere: one where creativity was encouraged at all levels. She spoke to Rachel Khong about that difference, finding a work-life balance, and how fine dining and casual dining should be treated differently.
Fine dining still matters, David Kinch says, because ideas there trickle down to all levels of dining. But fine dining has also changed: if a restaurant is moribund and static, and not creative, and not moving forward, and antidynamic, it goes out of business. Rachel Khong talks to him about that pressure to innovate, and what he thinks is wrong with tasting menus.
Fine dining seems glamorous from the outside, but the reality of running a fine dining restaurant is anything but. Anita Lo, chef of Annisa in New York, talks to Joanna Sciarrino about how the industry is broken and what needs to change to help it move forward.