Mouthing Off: Let the Dining Room Belong to the Diner

That gastronomy, particularly the fine dining kind, has drastically changed over the past three or four decades is beyond any doubt. One of the more-significant ways is the shift from good and gifted chefs doing the maximum to serve and please their clientele to what is now many “celebrity” chefs increasingly controlling at your expense the restaurant-going experience. It’s the predictable result of the food and restaurant boom created by the mass media and public relations machinery, and the often-questionable glorifying of this class of chefs. While there is no scarcity of culinary talent in a growing number of cities, towns and countries, there is more to a restaurant than the skills in the kitchen that influence the quality of one’s great-expectations restaurant-going. Among them are the degree of choice or the number of available dishes; the dish information provided on the menu such as the method of cooking and preparation, product origins, the cut of the meat, the part of the fish, and much more; the quality and freshness of produce; the use, if any, of cooking shortcuts; the training and competence of the dining room employees; the level of comfort and the quality of the dining implements; how well the restaurant treats you; and the  “bang for the buck”. While all of this varies from restaurant to restaurant, there is no doubt that what this has helped produce is a legion of docile diners largely brought on by this hyper-glorifying of high-profile chefs and their restaurants.  There are now so many more people going to these chef-driven restaurants that the number of these restaurants keeps expanding,  which invariably  creates  dilution,with the result that the chefs and restaurant owners have also created a situation that turns diners into docile pawns who continuously lose autonomy, or a voice in their own meals, further giving such chefs and restaurateurs more license to short-change the client in the  aspects of dining we mentioned above.

At the opposite end of the docile diner is the alert and outspoken one; not obnoxious or a know-it-all, but one who is justifiably critical, well-informed, and most important, asking the right questions to extract more often the more satisfying outcome. At moments when I have good reason to complain, I’ll remind the server, the restaurant owner or the chef that I am performing a public service for the benefit of those currently unknown; i.e. the restaurant’s future clients. With “Engaging Food” we aim to do the same. Our preferences and biases will come through on occasion, but generally speaking, we’ll call them as we see them. And when we share something we really like— a restaurant, a dish, or another kind of gastronomic enterprise, we may very well praise it with exuberance.

Robert Brown

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