What’s Brian Canlis’ take on the evolution of fine dining?
It’s quite the topic right now. I think the role of fine dining is like the tip of the spear for cuisine. It’s what pushes the entire industry forward, and then the rest of eating follows it. I mean if you look at the whole farm-to-table movement, that started in fine dining and now it’s ubiquitous. You look at different areas of sourcing or you look at being micro-seasonal, all these things are fine dining — even molecular gastronomy or modernist cuisine was the tip of the fine-dining spear. Now those techniques — I mean modernist cuisine, their new book is the Modernist Cuisine at Home — so you’ve got Ferran Adrià at El Bulli, and then 10 years later you have the home cook using a circulator. That’s really cool.
But the one trend in fine dining that makes me uncomfortable is that the chef continues to get elevated at the expense of the guest. When did the restaurant become an altar for the guests to come bow down at? That’s what I don’t like. I think you can be a great chef, be an artist with your food, be the tip of the spear and do mind-blowing things, and still leave the guest at the center of the stage, still revolve around the guest, still say, “We’re here to serve you and we’re going to blow your mind, and we’re going to have fun doing it.”
I’ve had experiences like that in some of the best fine-dining restaurants in the country, but yet I’ve also had experiences where I’m treated like I’m so lucky to be in the presence of this restaurant. That whole trend of “the guest worships the restaurant” — I don’t like it. I like “the restaurant worships the guest.” That’s hospitality; that’s what makes it fun. Then if you can do that while delivering mind-blowing cuisine and service, then everyone wins, and it’s great. You don’t have to sacrifice the guest to make the world’s best dining experience.