When Democracy Rises from the Kitchen
by André Gayot Traveling in Germany recently, I was impressed when at the Porsche plant in Leipzig, along with 600 American guests, I was served a high quality dinner. The duck was cooked just right, the plates were warm, the service was precise to the millimeter and the meal unwound in no time. The only lengthy part was due to the speeches of my fellow diners. For this gastronomical tour de force I credit the much heralded German engineering that also produces those sturdy vacuum cleaners and dishwashers, as well as prestigious limousines and coupés. Expensive, but they last a lifetime. The hip-hop generation may not be sensitive to hardware longevity, considering that progress moves faster than life. Anyway, after — courageously, I can brag — confronting last week on foot the “global” masses that stream along Broadway on Saturday nights, I safely reached the tidy, warm haven of Aureole‘s gastro-parlor where I savored one of the best meals I’ve had recently. That was good for the privileged few who can access this chic room of Aureole. As a good democrat aware of equality, I was beginning to feel guilty to be a part of this limited crowd when chef Christophe Bellanca candidly revealed that at this late time of the day he had served 450 meals plus. What? How is this possible? Yesterday, a meal that required so much attention and precision could be served only to a fistful of guests. Organization, technology, and a new breed of chefs trained to that effect have made quality mass production possible. UPDATE 4/29/11: Chef Christophe Bellanca has left Aureole. Whether it’s the call for democracy or the pulse of business that made it happen, the fact is that quality in food is being offered to a larger audience. In the particular case of Aureole, would the dishes served in the large brasserie or in the smaller room in the back be exactly the same? Probably not. Less truffles, less sea urchin, less foie gras here than there. But the simplification does not adulterate the concept of the preparation nor the will of the chef to seduce and conquer a large clientele with his ideas and talent while it allows the restaurant to lower the prices and make the “operation quality” possible. This trend is not entirely new; wise chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and others are on the same page offering their talent and the discovery of gastronomy to larger audiences. Eating and drinking well in all the senses of the word are part of our culture and civilization, and not a minute one. Let’s not dream; access to the high levels of this education that aims to better our world is not yet available for all. But that more can approach it is a sign of an upwardly mobile society. We must be grateful to these chefs and entrepreneurs, who though maybe they would not think it, bring from their ovens a stone for the construction of a nicer nation. You can click on each photo to enlarge to see dishes from Aureole restaurant menu.