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Could the show be over for fine dining?

In the UK, the world of gastronomy is reeling. In the British press, the renowned chef Michel Roux Jr has called for an end to the term "fine dining"

Published: Jul 6, 2023 05:37:14 PM IST
Updated: Jul 6, 2023 11:10:16 PM IST

Could the show be over for fine dining?Should high-end gastronomy revamp its stuffy, out-of-reach image? Image: Shutterstock

Is it a revolt or a revolution? In the UK, the renowned chef Michel Roux Jr has called for an end to the term "fine dining." It's a questionable stance to take at a time when the codes of this type of cuisine, long considered stuffy and inaccessible, are increasingly being blurred, if not eliminated.

In the UK, the world of gastronomy is reeling. In the British press, the renowned chef Michel Roux Jr has called for an end to the term "fine dining." The expression is used to reference high-end gastronomy, and therefore the kinds of restaurants recognized in the highest echelons of the culinary world, and often helmed by award-winning chefs. "I'm not too enamored with the fine-dining moniker, to be honest. It conjures up images of soulless dining rooms where everybody speaks in hushed voices, and you're supposed to look at food with reverence," the Franco-British chef told the Daily Mail, before calling for an end to the use of this term. The chef adds that "fine-dining places are not a pleasure to eat at," and that "you can enjoy luxury, five-star dining without all the pomp and seriousness" often associated with these kinds of restaurants.

Who is Michel Roux Jr?

These words might have gone unnoticed, had they not been spoken by this particular chef. In the UK, Michel Roux Jr is the double Michelin-starred chef at Le Gavroche restaurant in London. An institution in the British capital, it was the very first restaurant in the country to be awarded three stars, in 1982. This landmark of French haute cuisine was opened in 1967 by brothers Michel and Albert Roux. Over the last few decades, the restaurant has established itself as a pioneer of high-end gastronomy in a country where the late monarch Elizabeth II's affinity for French culture was no secret.

Michel Roux Jr, Albert Roux's son, took over the kitchen in 1993, bringing a modern touch to the menu. In the UK, the Roux family is all the more renowned and respected for having been widely publicized in the media, through the publication of leading cookbooks and numerous television appearances. Michel Roux Sr. was a major television figure. In the 1980s, the Roux brothers frequently appeared on the BBC cooking show "At Home with the Roux Brothers." For his part, Michel Roux Jr took part in the MasterChef cooking competition as a jury member, and recently appeared on the British chef Gordon Ramsay's famous show "Hell's Kitchen." The death of Michel Roux Sr. in 2020 made headlines in the UK, as did the death of his brother Albert a year later. Now, Michel Roux Jr is all the more influential as he is the remaining representative of the Roux family's culinary empire.

An image refresh

These statements are not insignificant, as they come against a backdrop where, in France, high-end gastronomy seems to be turning a new page in its history by shedding the codes that have nonetheless helped it serve up memorable experiences that set it apart from other kinds of restaurants. In 2018, the chef Sébastien Bras took to Facebook to announce his intention to give back his three Michelin stars. Michel Bras's son, who had taken over the helm at Le Suquet in Laguiole, had asked the Michelin guide to stop featuring it in its food bible, due to the pressure.

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In recent years, the pace has quickened with the appointment of unexpected chefs to head up luxury restaurants. The latest surprise was Norbert Tarayre's appointment at the five-star Prince de Galles hotel in Paris. The former "Top Chef" contestant, known for his outspokenness, has built his reputation on a popular persona, appealing to everyone and delivering accessible, easygoing cuisine. The image he has carved out is the very opposite of the traditional reputation of a five-star establishment like this Luxury Collection restaurant. The arrival of fellow chef Jean Imbert at the end of 2021 in the kitchens of the Plaza Athénée, succeeding the great chef Alain Ducasse, also raised eyebrows, some describing this decision as a marketing ploy to attract stars—including the chef's celebrity friends—rather than foodies with a taste for fine dining.

Except that, in reality, these new appointments are not all that surprising. They are part of a wider drive by Parisian palaces to open up to a wider audience. In recent years, these grand hotels, which can intimidate with their revolving doors, glitz and glamour, have opened patisseries, counters, and other outlets and services, making their food offers more accessible to the budgets of a greater number of consumers. Examples abound, from the outlet at the Ritz run by the pastry chef François Perret, to Maxime Frédéric's sweet-toothed pop-ups at the Four Seasons Georges V and Cheval Blanc Paris, to Quentin Lechat's afternoon tea at the Royal Monceau. These culinary experiences are more expensive than a trip to a local bakery, but they require a financial outlay that doesn't compare with the budget required to dine at one of the restaurants in these sumptuous establishments.

More broadly, (French) gastronomy is increasingly abandoning the stuffy image it has long been associated with, by offering more and more opportunities to sample its specialities, such as the Taste of Paris festival or the €49 lunch served at Hélène Darroze's double Michelin-starred restaurant (Marsan), in collaboration with The Fork booking platform.

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