At a roundtable discussion at the Star Chefs International Chefs Congress yesterday, Anthony Bourdain and Marco Pierre White bashed elaborate tasting menus. (Moderator Michael Ruhlman mostly stayed out of the debate, but seemed to be a quiet cheerleader). "I want two courses, not 18," White asserted, recounting a horrible experience when the chef kept sending out plates. Three and a half hours later, he had no idea what he was eating—and he wanted it to stop. "I was a fool to go with the tasting menu. All I wanted was my bill, and they said no. 'You haven't had your pudding yet, sir.' I didn't want the pudding."
Pudding is hard to turn down, but sometimes the stomach just has no real estate left. This is why multi-course tasting menus can suck. You don't know what you're eating, or you're too full to pay attention to it. By the fifteenth course, you get nervous about a delicious pastry denouement, which you'll probably have to skip because you're so full.
"It's cooking by the numbers. I get painting by the numbers, but not cooking," White said.
White made it very clear he doesn't want a waiter to tell him how to eat. "One plate came with three pieces of lamb. The waiter told me what to eat first. I don't need him to, and trust me, they all tasted the same."
Other topics on tap:
Chef vs. Chef CEO
Bourdain: A chef has to be part CEO in this era. Especially guys like Saint Thomas (Keller) of Napa, who must balance his kitchen presence with his overall brand. Traveling around, promoting what he worked hard for, and thanking those people who helped him get there—that should be allowed. But I also understand people who pay that kind of money to trek out to French Laundry, expect to see him by the stove.
White: Do I want to eat at an Alain Ducasse restaurant? No. He's never there. It's just another restaurant. I'd rather go to the husband-and-wife-run one where they treat the restaurant like their actual home. A chef's physical presence is key to the operation. Joel Robuchon had three Michelin stars, but he never left his kitchen. It's like talking about the best football team in the world, Manchester United. If they didn't have Cristiano Ronaldo on the field, what would they be? His presence is felt, and it's enormous.
Chefs Aspiring to be Television Stars
Bourdain: Is it a worthy goal for a chef? No. You're f---ed if you're going into the business for that reason.
Bourdain: She struck the ideal balance between chef and chef personality, plus her recipes still work today. She could have been the Martha Stewart of her day with a huge multimedia enterprise.
Emeril, Mario, Gordon, Jamie, and Sandra
Bourdain: I think life post-Emeril is better than pre-Emeril. I think life post-Jamie Oliver is better than pre-Jamie. Do I think life is better after Sandra Lee? No. It's worse. Life after Mario Batali? Better. He gave us the smartest stand-and-stir show on television and never opened a cookie-cutter place. If you're a young chef, and you really can't get it out of your head that you want to be on TV, Mario is the guy you want to be. He's good for the world.
Pierre White: The last thing you want to do as a chef is belittle people in your kitchen (referring to Gordon Ramsay and his attitude). You're there to inspire, not belittle.
Ruhlman: But you were famous for bringing people to tears..?
White: Gordon brought himself to tears.
Advice for Young Cooks
Bourdain: Show up on time everyday. It says so much about your character. On time and ready to cook.
Marco Pierre White's Life Post-Chefdom
Ruhlman: Who are you now, Marco?
White: I'm just Marco. (Pauses) I am myself. It's a 24-hour job.