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Why so many restaurants? February 6, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If, like me, you love cooking and cookbooks, and follow the world of cooking, you’re bound to be aware of the celebrity chefs who dominate cooking in our media-driven times. They have famous (and famously expensive, exclusive) restaurants. They have bestselling cookbooks that people buy so they can drool over the recipes and photos of dishes that they could never hope to make at home. They have television shows to broaden their exposure, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, their own lines of cookware, you name it. As if creating a unique idea for a restaurant and cooking there wasn’t enough hard work, they work the media like any music, TV or film celebrity.

I’ve always wondered why. Maybe that’s because I’ve always wondered why any wealthy person, be it an actor or chef, would continue to prostitute themselves to the media when they already had plenty of money and to spare. If I had enough money to support myself in comfort, I’d give the finger to anyone who dared approach me to shill for a product like a perfume or a canned or frozen food based on one of my signature dishes or a TV show, no matter how “authentic” it was to my style. Why would great chefs sell their souls this way?

I’va also never understood why name-brand chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, and endless others would open restaurant after restaurant, knowing they would never be able to cook at all these restaurants themselves. Was this the McDonalds franchise brought to haute cuisine?

I finally found the answer in a book I’ve just read, The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: America’s Culinary Revolution (Patric Kuh, Viking, 2001). The author pointed out that these high-end restaurants can “turn” only so many tables at a time (which is to say, get the current customers out the door and seat new customers at the same table). And therefore, in order to increase revenue, rather than speeding the turnover of tables at their existing restaurants (which of course would harm those restaurants’ upper-crust reputation), the celeb chefs need to open new restaurants to bring in more income.

This was a huge eye-opener for me. But I have to say, I still wonder if it could possibly be worth it.

‘Til next time,