I’ll be honest. I’m largely posting this thought because I want it to be on the record for a couple years down the line so I can follow up on this prediction.
There’s a new restaurant opening near me in Downtown LA (isn’t there always?) whose big idea is that they’re going to have a new chef from top restaurants throughout the country who will run the kitchen of this restaurant for a season.
I don’t think this is a good idea. I could be wrong. But here’s why.
This feeds right into this mythological idea of “The Chef” being a magic person; that the mere presence of The Chef in any kitchen will supernaturally create a transcendent dining experience. This is an idea designed to make money at the expense of producing quality food.
Quality food is not produced on a mercenary basis. The Chef doesn’t instantly create a quality kitchen. The Chef nurtures it. The Chef trains his staff. The Chef is intimately familiar with not just the culinary options that are within a couple hours’ drive of his restaurant, but also the people who bring these products to his restaurants. The Chef needs to know what he can get and when. He needs to know what goes on his kitchen.
One of the great joys of a truly seasonal restaurant is the return of menu items each season. The tomato salad returns in mid-summer. The root vegetable sautee comes around in the winter. Fall means shell bean ragout. If you’re constantly parading new chefs through the door, how will your restaurant develop its identity? If these guys are looking to flop their dicks on the counter, piss on the fire hydrant, and then move on, you’re not opening a restaurant, you’re opening a Chef Showroom.
And again, I could be wrong, but there’s yet to be a great restaurant that isn’t run by a chef who is present, active, and vital to the operations of his business. That’s why the original Katsu-Ya is great. There’s a reason why The French Laundy and Per Se are both great. There’s also a reason why the Bouchons and Katsuya+Starck restaurants are not great.
I’ll be curious to see how this adventure bears out. Their opening chef does sound pretty awesome.