Downturn or Crisis?

Validity period of an article published in 2005

It is obvious that, there has been a significant decline in restaurant consumption—owners and suppliers alike have commented on it with some alarm. It affects various European countries; among those grumbling are Spaniards, French, Italians, etc., and some more than others. It afflicts the restaurant industry in general, and especially the most luxurious establishments and those of haute cuisine; in short, the costliest tables.

The current economic and social situation is causing this stall in sales, and there is some speculation as to whether it is the consequence of a lull or whether this is the beginning of a crisis. This remains to be seen, and only time will tell; what we do know from experience is that luxury restaurants are the first to feel the effects of spending cuts by individuals and companies.

Those who have opted for excessive heights, for the stars… for being a restaurant with three Michelin stars, in which pomp is more valued that what is on the plate, are finding themselves with a difficult, complicated, very reduced market… one that makes businesses unviable.

To replace what they do not make in the day to day with their menus, chefs have become consultants of large companies, managers of various types of establishments, spokespeople… The result, save for a few exceptions, is that they spend less and less time in the restaurant; and when they are there, they stay away from the burners. Such external productivity is keeping them from thinking, reflecting, inventing… and so we are arriving at a real crisis in creativity. And, of course, we are losing the artisanal character of our work.

Chefs, made into artists by the press, who spread an idolizing and chauvinistic message without the slightest hint of ethics and knowledge, accept this farce and, as in “Hay Tomate”, “Salsa Rosa” (two popular Spanish television programs), etc., are convinced that it is important to be seen and to look good… to become known by the masses. However, as these will never pay a visit to their table, nor do they have the knowledge to be critical, they will be content simply to name drop. And, believing in their privileged talent and the need to be in the spotlight, these chefs have become doctors of physics and nuclear chemistry, creating gastronomy for snobs hoping to catch a glimpse of flying dishes. And, of course, chefs have neither the culture, knowledge, possibility or imagination to take on other professions in the kitchen.

Believing in their divine power, believing that technique can do it all, believing that there is no future in raw materials, believing that clients are gluttons… chefs have become so conceited that ingredients and freshness have lost out; they are being dismissed. And they are performing magic with side elements so as to keep charging more.

Such vainglory has resulted in the client being considered and treated like a pagan who kneels before the owner and lord of the restaurant.

We should perhaps ask ourselves if we are not the ones creating the conditions that turn an economic downturn into a real restaurant and culinary crisis.