Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why do you go to restaurants?

In a piece for SFGate's food coverage, Clark Wolf counters "Best Restaurant in the World" chef Rene Redzepi's contention that people go to restaurants only to refuel or to be challenged by listing the myriad other ways that restaurant dining affects him.

On the Purpose of Going to Restaurants

The range of emotions that Wolf describes echo my own attachments to food: "I delight, I remember, I grab comfort, I just smile. Food can make me giggle or get me teary, deeply satisfy or stimulate my desire for more. It can calm me the freak down or really rev me up." But it also speaks to the visceral power that food holds -- which is exactly what makes it a powerful tool for communication generally, and culinary diplomacy more specifically. The range of emotions that food can inspire speaks to the range of ways in which food can be mobilized to reinforce or counter a particular message.

Of course, it also speaks to the stakes in getting food right: "Food gone wrong (or professionally wronged) can get me crabby or leave me sad and empty – all while feeling full. It can confuse and upset, annoy or mildly amuse." Or just inspire uninhibited aggression:

Clark also balks at the constant need, mostly on the part of young male chefs, for food to be a challenge, and the fact that critics and gastronomes consistently associate bold, edgy, revolutionary with "best". To which I say, hear hear! As a visceral, and often times primal, experience, food should be about what it inspires within you, the eater, regardless of the preparation techniques involved. Obviously, surprise and innovation can be compelling. But there is also the risk of alienation that accompanies edgy, revolutionary food, which seems to undercut one of the primary purposes of eating (in my mind): to revel in one's food, to enjoy and savor and be satisfied. Food education, learning to understand and appreciate new foods, might be work, but food itself shouldn't be.