They say fine-dining is on its way out. Why would that be? We surely have a better culinary awareness these days with wider ingredient variety in our stores, dedicated food magazines, cooking shows and food influencers on social media. Should better awareness not lead to better eating?
Well, that is if fine-dining does imply better eating. When Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens says that the world of fine-dining is on the way out (read more), he might refer more to the style of dining than the quality of the food. When it comes to Michelin star fine-dining experiences, the quality of the food should of course not be in contention, but I think his idea is that quality food is not necessarily contained to fine-dining restaurants.
Despite the trends for personalisation and premiumisation indicating exclusivity, other consumer tendencies are driven by better awareness about sustainability – whether it is financial or environmental – as well as the fact that being informed about food has taken away some of the mystery around cooking. We are more experimental in the kitchen and between the supermarket shelves. We might also question more. Where does the food come from? Should we really be spending so much on fine-dining, when other delicious food is served in less intimidating and more family-friendly environments?
An important part of our wine and food businesses have always been to keep an eye on trends and trying to find ways to better comply with consumer expectations. We have opened a Rotisserie-style restaurant about seven years ago, in what was then a mainly fine-dining culinary environment in the Franschhoek Valley. It proved quite visionary. Over the years the culinary capital of South Africa has also adapted to lifestyle trends and many more informal options are available today – without compromising on quality. While the focus is still on sophistication and culinary expertise, even our restaurant on La Motte Estate now has a less formal approach.
Perhaps personalisation has another meaning. Other than just premiumising, it can also imply personalising. Even though not all of us are foodies or cooks, most of us have personal food stories, family favourites and childhood memories of dishes brought to the table by our mothers and grandmothers and aunties. When food brings those memories, I get excited. Yes, much of it is nostalgia, but I also think it shows the way forward. Combine food memories with quality ingredients and sustainable practices and I don’t think it matters whether you enjoy your food at home, in a brasserie or in the fanciest of restaurants. Then, food is real and you can choose how you want to experience it.
In my opinion, there is a place for fine-dining and I think ratings and standards drive us to be better and to experiment and to evolve. I don’t, however, think it is all bad that culinary elitism is getting somewhat of a bloody nose. Don’t get me wrong – I love boutique-style food shops and finding interesting and rare ingredients. I also try my best to get to leading restaurants and be exposed to culinary interpretations of the highest standard. But what I do believe, is that food is much more than that. It is also not about what you can afford or your culinary skill. It is about making the best with what you have and presenting it with love. That is true for the home-cook and the fine-dining establishment.