josh rosner

TWO MICHELIN STARS. €300. ELITISM?

In Fine Dining, German Culture and Society on October 4, 2012 at 5:55 am

My favourite restaurant in the world has a view to die for. Its wood paneling and subtle tones of cream are stunning.

The service is impeccable. The food is incomparable. The Lorenz Adlon restaurant, located on the first floor of Berlin’s iconic Adlon Kempinski Hotel just metres from the Brandenburg Gate, is a two Michelin star restaurant with the most exciting degustation menu I have ever eaten. Yet such attention to detail, in all facets of the fine dining experience, don’t come cheap.

View of the Brandenburg Gate from each table in Berlin;s Lorenz Adlon restaurant.

The eight course menu, with matching wine, features dishes such as Halibut and Langoustine, Scallop and Pork Belly and Braised Rib of Nebraska Beef, all served with synchronised perfection by the wait staff, with a view of the Brandenburg gate from each of the six tables in the restaurant. At €300 per person, it is a fine dining experience that is out of reach of many travelers, to be sure.

People like me, who spend their disposable income on opera, non-economy-class travel and fine dining tend to be labelled an elitist and a snob. I can live with both labels. It’s my money and I’ll spend it how I like. But as much as I enjoy fine dining, the number of Michelin stars a restaurant has tends not to be what drives my decision. I have eaten in one star and two star restaurants, but as of yet, not a three star restaurant. When I travel I tend to choose restaurants based on local recommendations, published reviews and quirky menus. I certainly eat in more ‘standard’ eateries than I do fine dining establishment.

Nonetheless, I do find the cult of the celebrity chef and the fight to achieve a Michelin star disturbing. It is certainly something to be applauded that your average Joe now knows and understands more about food than his or her parents did, but I lament the decline of our culture to a point where chefs are spending all their time on television, rather than in the kitchen, held up as an authority, dolling out advice on all manner of topics unrelated to food.

Last year, chef Olivier Douet of Le Lisita, located in the southern French city of Nimes, gave back his much cherished Michelin star. At the end of the day, pragmatic economics won out. With a Michelin star comes an expectation that a certain level of service will be offered, alongside the quality of the food. Better service means a bigger staff means increased prices for dishes. Douet decided he preferred having customers more than he loved his Michelin star. He turned his gastronomically demanding restaurant into a humble brassiere. The clientele came flocking back.

In 2003, France’s most famous chef, Bernard Loiseau, owner and head chef at La Côte d’Or, finished a full day’s work in his kitchen then took a shotgun and shot himself in the mouth. France’s Le Figaro newspaper had published an article hinting that Loiseau was about to lose one of his three Michelin stars. It’s said the loss of a Michelin star can cost a restaurant as much as twenty-five percent of its business. Conversely, business at La Côte d’Or increased by sixty percent when Loiseau won his third star. Nine years after his death, it has maintained its three stars.

So is it snobbery or elitism to eat a €300 meal in a two Michelin star restaurant? Probably. But so what? We are all be free to spend our incomes as we see fit, as long is it isn’t illegal to do so. I choose occasionally to spend it in on the perfect meal.

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