ELV note: One of our regs — NPC — weighs in with this weighty analysis of the possible reasons for Bon Appetit magazine’s shameless pandering to the cool-at-all-costs crowd. Although we take issue with some of his reasoning (and we see the Bon App list as a desperation move made to change the ‘zines image, not one motivated by actual good taste), there’s no doubt that NPC’s argument may have some credence. As far as we’re concerned, the initials NPC stand for “Notably Perceptive Connoisseur,” and we at ELV are always happy to hear from him.
Dear Eating Las Vegas,
I largely agree with what ELV has said here, but I disagree with some issues you raise, and I think a big chunk of your disgruntlement is misdirected.
We all have our preferences when it comes to restaurants, but the bottom line is that while some few chefs are willing to scratch out a subsistence living as long as they get to execute the culinary visions that haunt their dreams, most chefs, and certainly their investors, want to make money. They’re going to go where they think the money is. If they think it’s catering to the hipsters, then they’d be fools to not do that. One can make an argument that they’re wrong, that the market for this isn’t as big as folks seem to think, but that’s not what you’re saying here. Since I don’t know what’s really making money in the restaurant biz, I won’t criticize those who are putting their money where their mouth is. This is only indirectly related to your main argument, but it’s an important foundation.
Second, although I’ll grant the notion that fewer exciting things are happening in Las Vegas as compared to five or so years ago, but it’s still an amazing time to be a discriminating eater. You can still eat at Daniel, French Laundry, or Robuchon, and there’s still a strong market for it.
At the same time, there are better communications channels so that word can get out about those who are doing their things in a less fussy setting a little better than their competition at the same price point. I’d argue that it’s tautological rather than informative that “You can’t dine well at a food truck”, but I can get damn good food at some, often at reasonable price points, in a way I couldn’t a generation ago. Further, we can both dine at places we like without having to rub a lot of elbows with the Macaroni Grill crowd, or the hipsters who are willing to shell out $40 for an entree where they’re served $10 worth of food on their plate, but the “music” and “lighting” are super cool.
Your polemic is ostensibly about a shift in the editorial direction of Bon Appetit, but your rage seems split between the magazine and their customers. Who is at fault? Again, as much as I can fault the food at the “fashionable” new establishments that are opening, the restaurant biz is about return on investment, and only peripherally about making me happy.
As noted above, if a restaurant is making a good business decision about catering to those who value fine lighting over quality food, then I can’t fault them. And, if this is true for the restaurants, should we not also wonder if we should look at the food press the same way? We know that print media is in trouble. We know that demographics are shifting. We know that advertisers value young audiences to old ones for valid reasons. While neither of us likes the new direction, does this mean that BA shouldn’t make a shift to cater to it? While this means that you may decide to cancel your subscription, isn’t this the food equivalent of saying, “That band was really cool until they sold out and became really popular?”
We can certainly heap scorn at the unwashed masses who line up at warehouse cum bodegas to get their organic gluten-free kale pizza slices, but while this particular generation is looking for different silly things in their dining experiences, is it really any different than any previous generation? Are the percentages of youngsters who end up discovering Le Bernardin now much different than how many discovered it in the 70s? If not, then why are we so worried about this generation, except to note that their silliness is different than ours was/is?
Okay, so BA’s restaurant ratings may no longer be any more useful to either of us than those in NASCAR Illustrated. We may find that a little sad, and we may bemoan that more people don’t agree with what we like about restaurants, and we may choose to try to educate others that “good lighting” doesn’t make a mediocre $22 pasta dish a better deal than a high quality $15 pasta dish lit by a guy with a flashlight, but that’s not BA’s fault, and criticism of a generation’s tastes is different from criticism of the direction of the food industry which is different than criticism of BA’s editorial direction. Without knowing a lot more about BA’s P&L statement, and what their market analysis is telling them, I can’t criticize them for making this change.
3 thoughts on “Letter of the Week #2: Give Bon Appetit A Break”
I dunno, John, seems to me that apathy has the upper hand these days, no matter where you look. For example, I used to enjoy the wonderful cooking shows like the Great Chefs series and World Class Cuisine on PBS, and then Food Network came on board and now we have way more Paula Deans and Sandra (Semi Homemade) Lees or screaming chefs/consultants and utterly idiotic owners/managers than we do the likes of Julia Child or Jacques Pepin to emulate. If I’m going out to dine right, that’s the kind of educated and exacting caliber of cooking and atmosphere I expect. Not a double down of dumbed-down food with a hefty price tag. Just because you add an extra coupla zeroes to a menu doesn’t make it better — it just makes me a lemming suckah. Editorial viewpoints are always changing — and not necessarily for the better or for the right reasons (can you say ADVERTISERS?!) — raise the bar and the rest will follow. Or go to Wendy’s. They have a decent dollar menu.
I think this list has been somewhat unfairly bemoaned in that many of the restaurants are actually quite well regarded by persons traveling in ‘fine dining’ circles, but it is the fact that BA actually listed their ridiculous criteria that makes it so polarizing. Lighting? Really?? Perhaps had they said “we assign x% to lighting, y% to service, z% to what is on the plate” people would not have been so offended.
All told I think there is certainly a ‘place’ for hipster eateries provided they are executing right – one would be foolish to overlook Alma or Red Medicine in Los Angeles due to its clientele just as a young hipster would be ignorant to think Per Se wasn’t for him because he prefers a lively soundtrack and Christmas lights. Values change and this industry clearly evolves to cater to those things, as NPC states, but it seems as though the low end is expanding far faster these days than the top tier…then again, so is America in general.
They could serve Robuchon-style cuisine in a place that looked and sounded like the Double Down Saloon and I wouldn’t care. Just give me the damn food!
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