Celeb-chefs’ silly sanctimony
- Last Updated: 12:06 AM, May 25, 2012
- Posted: 11:00 PM, May 24, 2012
Two of the world’s greatest chefs — Thomas Keller of New York’s Per Se and Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, near San Sebastian, Spain — have upended the culinary scene’s sustainable-obsessed apple cart.
In a recent interview, they boldly asserted their priorities:
“Is global food policy truly our responsibility or in our control? I don’t think so,” Keller told The New York Times’ Julia Moskin.
“I agree completely, and it is a brave answer,” Aduriz concurred.
And an overdue one. Rare is the leading chef who will say: Sustain this — my job is to excel in the kitchen, and “saving the planet” is a task better left to government and scientists.
Too often in celebrity chefdom, sanctimony about “sustainability,” support for local farmers and “humane” treatment of doomed creatures matter more than how their food tastes.
Rock-star chefs and their fellow media travelers who promote “sustainability” aren’t necessarily hypocrites. Several great talents, among them LeBernardin chef Eric Ripert and owner Maguy LeCoze, donate generously to charity and wear their green credentials lightly.
But the way certain restaurateurs talk about it makes you want to throw up. For sure, the depletion of endangered species and the perils of factory-farmed foods are legitimate issues. But the rhetoric of social, environmental and nutritional rectitude is largely inapposite to fine dining — an industry and an art form based on excess and exploitation.
At an obnoxious Tribeca place called Harbour, customers were given pamphlets on endangered fishes and lectured by waiters. It lasted barely a year, but its irksome spirit lives on.
Depriving the handful of customers who can afford $30 Chilean bass won’t much alter the composition of the oceans. And temporary reductions in the stocks of certain species, which may occur due to natural causes as well as overfishing, isn’t identical with the 19th-century whale slaughter.
“Sustainable,” “organic,” “humane” and “locavore” obsessions can lead to overreaching consequences.
As of July 1, it will be illegal to serve foie gras in California restaurants — a ban prompted by advocates for ducks and geese upset that the creatures are force-fed to enlarge their livers, a practice dating to ancient times.
Yet cruelty is inherent in bringing any animal matter to the table. What suffering species will the zealots next seek to delegitimize as acceptable human fare?
The hypocrisy infects eateries high- and low-end. At protein-gobbling Mario Batali’s restaurants, on “Meatless Mondays” — brace yourself — two vegetarian dishes are added to the menu.
Most every fast-food chain now advertises presumably health-benefiting “organic” meat and produce — even as they industriously peddle 880-calorie milkshakes.
Then there’s the annoying boast by the owner of preening new Williamsburg eatery Reynard’s: “We have relationships with everyone, from our sheep farmers to our coffee roasters.” Well, where does everyone else buy their goods — Craigslist?
Mind you, Reynard’s “healthier” and “ethical” agendas are bankrolled partly by public largesse; it’s in a hotel whose landlord received $15 million in tax-free city bonds to open it at a former factory site.
Meanwhile, fame- and fortune-hungry chefs jet around the globe (oh, the greenhouse gases!) to open restaurants; they hype products sold in their names as well as “source” ingredients they buy at discounts when they plug their purveyors on their menu. They fell countless trees to produce fat, ego-stoking “memoirs” that are read by no one except reviewers, who skim them and sell them to the Strand.
And there are the festivals — often promoted under one charitable guise or another, but typically excuses for chefs and their entourages to binge (and usually not on “sustainable” greens).
Those who tout “humanely” raised cattle, fowl and pigs might be worthier of respect if they had a humane way of dealing with customers whom they force to wait hours — and with employees.
Restaurant after restaurant, including some of the city’s most famous, have paid out multimillion-dollar settlements to staff members who had accused them of illegally misappropriating tips for the owners or managers. The Mario Batali-Joe Bastianich empire recently settled for an unprecedented $5.25 million.
Enough about saving the earth, boys — see to your own backyards first.Follow @NYPostOpinion