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Ode to the future of restaurant food and aspiring chefs

Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 17:03 Hrs  [IST]

What I have learned over the last twenty years in the hotel and restaurant business is that simplicity works best, stick to your knitting. Be honest about food and food preparations, focus on quality, locally sourced ingredients and hire chefs who are passionate about food. Nothing really new about this yet we purchase produce that is not in season, we rather import expensive fruits and fancy vegetables grown in green houses that we think is fashionable - even though their nutritional value is next to zero.

My advice to chefs is don’t overcook or ‘over prepare’ food, keep it simple to preserve taste and texture and focus on innovative presentation. Sounds so simple and yet we don’t do it. Cool presentation (another word for innovation) is as important as taste.

Personally, I don’t see a future in molecular/ sensory food. It is mere hype without much substance, a fad that will disappear in less than two years. For those who can still remember Nouvelle Cuisine or the much lauded fusion cuisine, molecular cuisines will join the heaps of history as has been.

"Don’t overcook or ‘over prepare’ food, keep it simple to preserve taste and texture and focus on innovative presentation"
Stick to basics
If hotel restaurants want to survive, chefs need to go back to basics. Cooking good food is all about passion, safeguarding (ethnic) authenticity, originality and above all preserving taste.

Over the next decade we will see a rise in exotic or ethnic cuisines dominated by Middle Eastern food like Lebanese, Turkish (Sultan food), Moghul food (as opposed to mere Indian cuisines), Persian and Moroccan food. Chefs and F&B managers need to concentrate on food quality and service whilst interior designers and architects concentrate on ambience; there need to be a clear delineation of duties.

Customers are not that gullible anymore who get lured to restaurants because of design, the celebrity status of the owner or great media reviews and ambiance – customers of today want substance on their plates and value for money.

A classic example of a great chef is Joel Robuchon. Recognised as of the best chefs of all time, he has around 28 Michelin stars, many three stars, and his claim to fame is the simple potato mash, which is just sensational. He and many of his contemporaries became world class because of their honest and simple approach to cooking. We all tend to get carried away with the all fancy stuff and the showmanship (style over substance!) in the process we lose ourselves.

Fine dining – a misnomer
Fine dining in a conventional sense is dead; it is dead because of over-decorated table settings, waiters who are arrogant, stiff and dressed up in penguin suites like opera singers, lighting levels that are more suitable to the musical The Phantom of the Opera and terrible music that has not been heard since the death of Enrico Caruso. And that is the classical understanding of fine dining.

What cultured customers in this time and age expect is uncomplicatedness. What is wrong with an attractively set up table with simple white table cloths and linen napkins and perhaps a small flower arrangement where waiters schooled in the art of restaurant hospitality serve authentic and honest food with pride and professionalism? It doesn’t have to be expensive, another contradiction that is often heard in conjunction with fine dining, but honest and sincere. The times of eight course dinner menus that stretch on for hours are over, emphasis will be on fast and efficient service.

Cooking simple, yet delicious meals becomes thus an art in itself. All the froths and mousse cannot replace good wholesome foods. I refer to this “eureka moment” as a critical juncture where we experience a culinary renaissance of what we have known for a long time, i.e. the restaurant environment will become spectacular and will add to the sensory experience.

Time is the new wealth; we all became slaves of technology, glued to our smart phones and tablets 24/7. Experience will be the new status symbol”, and all the glitter and glory will be out. Substance and not shallowness triumphs over panem et circenses.

It looks like back to basics will be more complicated than we think.

(With his career spanning over 38 years, DietmarKielnhofer has handled hospitality management operations for hotels across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Dietmar’s journey with Legacy Starwood began in 1999 as Resident Manager with Le Meridien, Jakarta in Indonesia and was later appointed as the General Manager of Le Meridien Makadi Bay, Hurghada in Egypt in 2000. Before taking charge of The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace and Sheraton Hyderabad Hotel, Dietmar held the position of the General Manager at The Westin Tokyo, Japan)

The views expressed within this column are the opinion of the author, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication.

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