josh rosner

Archive for the ‘Fine Dining’ Category

SOME THOUGHTS ON … PARIS

In Europe, Fine Dining on June 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I first visited Paris in the summer of 1992. I was twenty-one years old and thought I was a poet. I wore a silly red beret, an over-sized coat and I spent much of my time trawling through second-hand bookstores, drinking copious quantities of coffee and sitting on the banks of the Seine writing poetry. I saw a few sights, of course, but I wasn’t there to be a tourist. I wanted to blend in. I naively thought my French was so good that nobody noticed I was a foreigner.

I’d spent two years trying to write a novel while living in London. It was a complete failure. Perhaps if I hadn’t spent every night at my local pub drinking myself into oblivion until last drinks were called, I may have managed some serious work. I was young. I chose to drink and party, assuming there would always be time to write.

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Traveling to Paris, I abandoned my novel-writing aspirations and turned to poetry. I desired La Boheme. I lived out of a cockroach-infested apartment in which the bed, the bathroom and the kitchen comprised the one very tiny room. But I loved it. There was a small wooden desk under the window with views of a brick wall. I thought it was heaven. “Being able to live alone,” wrote Albert Camus, “in a cheap room for a year in Paris teaches a man more than a hundred literary salons and forty years’ experience of ‘Parisian life’.” Every day, my beret a permanent fixture, I wrote arguably the worst poetry ever written in cafes (pretending I was Hemingway) and while strolling along the Seine (pretending I was Rambaud). Creatively, it was a failure. But a tiny piece of Paris stayed with me, even though I was not to visit again for two decades. Paris really is, as Hemingway put it, a moveable feast, in a way so many other sprawling metropolises are not. In truth, Paris was not what I had come to expect from the many French films I had seen. It was not the Paris of my dreams. You never get another first time, but I was happy with my Paris.

Twenty years later, my novel no further advanced and my poetry still appalling, I returned to Paris. It had changed. Or I had changed. Either way, despite my excitement to return, it was like a completely different city. It was as if I had visited the pre-Houssmann Paris only to return many years later after it had been knocked down and rebuilt. Nothing was familiar, least of all Parisians themselves. They were ruder; at least, even ruder than their global reputation. The places I had once loved – Notre Dame, Moulin Rouge, the Eiffel Tower, the sound of the Metro, students – were no longer charming. The city was dirty, smelly, expensive, and it seemed as if every Parisian walked about with a Galloises hanging from their lips, whisps of disgusting carcinogenic smoke lingering in the air for unsuspecting tourists to inhale. The footpaths were littered with dog shit. Poverty seemed to have made a surge in Paris with homeless people congregating outside major attractions and department stores. Gypsies, with small children in tow, begged or attempted to scam, from tourists. They carried little signs, written in various languages, asking for money. Or, as happened to me, a gypsy pretended to pick up a ring right in front of me, telling me she was returning my ring then asking for a reward. It was a cheap imitation, of course, and her coat was full of them. Instead of offering a few Euros I took the ring, pocketed it, and walked off, telling her in French, “You lose. Too bad.” Paris has lost its fun. It no longer had a soul.

I still did the rounds of the tourist sights and enjoyed myself. I ate in some of the cafes I had frequented twenty years earlier as an act of nostalgia. I wandered aimlessly around Montmartre with little regard for direction or purpose. I thought to myself that I’d had my time. Paris of the early 1990s had been my Paris. I was young. I didn’t have a care in the world. I was poor. Returning twenty years later I stayed in a suite in a luxury hotel. I could afford to eat expensive meals in some of Paris’s oldest and most exquisite restaurants. Most people would be pleased with the transition from poverty to comparative wealth, no longer having to live in a cheap hotel with barely enough money for a baguette each day. I was grateful, don’t misunderstand me, but the Paris I fell in love with no longer existed. It was twenty years older. Its politics had changed. Its place in Europe had changed.

In 2012 I returned again. Perhaps because I felt comfortable and safe, perhaps because I was capable of navigating the Metro network from memory, or perhaps because I was more visiting with no agenda, I was able to once again fall in love with Paris. I ate in some fine dining establishments, but I also stumbled across backstreet cafes off the tourist trail. I had fun. Parisians still smoked to excess, but I ignored them, passing it off as one of the city’s quirks. I visited old haunts and found new favourites. I realised I could never have too much of Paris.

In the days after leaving Paris this last time a thought came to me: I don’t need trinkets or kitschy ephemera to remind me that I love Paris. All I need to do is slow down and take the time to remember the joy that Paris brought me all those years ago.

It was, of course, me who had changed. Not Paris. Once I realised that I was free to embrace and enjoy a city that had once been the love of my life, even if for no longer than a European summer.

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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.