John Curtas is …

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Atrocious Attire – A Modest Proposal

I heard reddit doesn't like cargo shorts

Summertime in Las Vegas is great for so many things: lounging by the pool, frying eggs on sidewalks, and watching local weathermen figure out different ways to say, “it’s hotter than hell outside.” But what summer is really good for in Vegas is seeing how badly people can dress – specifically how atrocious they look when they go out to eat. It’s no surprise that our tourists rank as some of the most poorly attired in the world (a distant second to Orlando, Florida, but still right up there), but what consistently shocks me is how shameless they are about walking into refined, elegant restaurants wearing nothing more than cargo shorts and an air of cluelessness.

I’m not talking about strolling into the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company or a buffet. No one gives a hoot how sloppy you look in those food factories. No, what appalls me are the t-shirts at Le Cirque, and lululemon at Michael Mina. This may come as a surprise to some of you but 1) no grown man looks good in shorts (no matter how good looking they are – see picture above), and 2) tank tops were invented for volleyball tournaments. And if I want to look at some dude’s mangled hairy, Hobbit hoof, displayed in open-toed shoes, I’ll go to the beach.

Some call it “comfort” and “informality,” I call it an excuse to look like hell and get away with it. Becoming a more casually dressed society has wreaked havoc on manners, good taste and regard for your fellow man. Not to get too philosophical about this, but it’s a short plunge from how informal we’ve become to how rude and crude our politics have gotten.

As much as people want to make this debate a class struggle, or, even worse, an argument over individualism, it’s really about respect, as in: respect for yourself, others around you, and the place you are dining. You are a guest in any restaurant you visit. It is neither your home nor your personal playground. As with any guest, you should consider your surroundings and think about something other than yourself. If you insist on eating out looking like an aging frat boy, there are Taco Bells and Denny’s aplenty just for your ilk.

Rather than arguing about who should wear what, my 92-year-old mother has the best solution: create a slob slum in every nice restaurant. No one but the staff has to know it exists, but simply reserve and segregate a few of the worst tables for the worst dressed customers. That way they can enjoy their meal while not offending anyone, as they revel in their shamelessness, their selfishness and their ugliness. Problem. Solved.

 

The Barbarians Are At The Gate

https://slideshow.starchefs.com/p.php?a=UGp3YmZ%2BYmVhVUhqdmJeRmN%2Bfm5sflVBb2d7dXB9aUpzfGVMWmpgcHhyXVBsZG1dQHlpVkxmY2N1Zm9dfWFKQHdyZ2t%2BYWVkf11UcXhUUWtgaHBUJ11LZ3peVHdgdGFNXl1cJiY8MjwseXRmJzA6ID8lMzoyKzA9NC4iKywiPjA%2FPzs%2FMTonMj80LT4uPyY%3D&m=1336664964

Nothing brings out the proles and trolls faster than criticizing the way someone is dressed.

Even if that person is dressed like a knuckle-dragging schlemiel  in one of the best restaurants in the world.

Such was the case last week when I tucked myself into my favorite table at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Caesars Palace to sample the culinary stylings of Julien Asseo — who’s been top toque there for over a year now.

About my third course in, I looked up to see a couple of women being led to the table beside me.

They were not young women, but they were not that old. If I had to guess, I’d say they were in their late 30s-early 40s. To put it another way, they were old enough to know better.

Both of them were wearing shorts and t-shirts and sneakers. Beat up ones, all three clothing items, on both women. The one closest to me was in jorts (jean shorts). More precisely, she was overflowing a pair of jorts that stuck to her fleshy, tattooed legs like sausage casings. They were not short shorts, but rather the type of almost-to-the-knee shorts one might wear to an outdoor picnic or to mow one’s lawn. The other lady’s hair was the sort of tangled mass you usually see after a day at the pool, pulled back by a scrunchy, sitting atop her head like a chlorinated shock of dirty wheat.

WTF? I thought to myself. I wasn’t so much offended by their appearance as I was stunned that they would wander into the joint in the first place. Keep in mind, to be seated at GS you must do the following things:

  1. Find it. (Not that easy. It’s up a big staircase and down a hushed hallway on the second floor of one of the towers. No one casually strolls by Restaurant Guy Savoy and decides to pop in. It is a destination restaurant in every sense of the word.)
  2. Walk past a display at the top of the stairs that you can’t miss. (There are several stands, plaques, awards, etc. among this large collection, most prominent of which are all the available menus with prices easy to read.)
  3. Ignore the sign that says: Appropriate Dress Required. No Shorts or Flip-Flops Please.”
  4. Pass through giant 15 foot doors that fairly scream, “THIS IS A REALLY EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT!”
  5. Approach the hostess stand — itself a rather formal and intimidating place. (see above)
  6. Observe (unless you have horse blinders on) the wine racks to your right and a sleek, ultra-modern lounge that not-so-modestly announces, “THIS IS A VERY SLEEK, ULTRA-MODERN, SOPHISTICATED, DRESSY LOUNGE ATTACHED TO ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST RESTAURANTS!”
  7. Engage with the host or hostess while doing numbers 4. and 5.
  8. Ask for a table. (You can even peruse the menu here if you’d like to, for as long as you want.)
  9. Walk to that table, observing a) the spiffy, tuxedo’d waiters, b) the world’s greatest bread cart, c) the 20 foot ceilings, d) the thick, double-padded, floor-length white tablecloths, e) the sleek/chic table settings, and f) the champagne cart, and g) diners enjoying themselves WHO AREN’T DRESSED LIKE THEY’RE CLEANING THEIR BATHROOMS OR PICKING WEEDS!
  10. Take a seat.

As so they did, and so they were handed menus where the appetizers start at $80 a pop.

https://www.guysavoy.com/cache/photo_big/uploads/53f738bcf10f1.jpg

“This ought to be interesting,” I thought to myself.

And then I snapped a surreptitious photo, intentionally blurry, solely to get my point across:

And then I tweeted:

Your right to look like a slob in restaurants ends where my appetite begins.

And from that point forward it was on.

People came out of their shoes.

Unhinged. Both pro and con.

Comments (in the hundreds, mostly on Facebook), ranged from the critical-but-thoughtful:

John I love you BUT taking a picture of someone without their knowledge/consent and then mocking their appearance is so distasteful. Can’t you make your very valid point without tearing down someone you don’t even know?

To the contemplative-literate-yet-contemptuous:

If I may ask another question: So, how WAS the food dressed at Guy Savoy? Since you were obviously there to critique attire.

Poor guy. Some lady wasn’t wearing a little black dress and sat in your oh-so-important line of sight. Ruining your ability to lay judgement on a glass of crushed fermented grapes and some bread. You know, the things people desperately need to be concerned about.

So, instead you were able to miraculously recover from this heinous, unscrupulous act of wardrobe warfare by taking evasive action and expertly reconfiguring your expertise to where it now needed it’s most attention: the assailant herself. To which you have now summoned the ire of your legions of infallible fashionistas to be brought down upon this wretched minimalist, for how dare she soil the lavishness of this establishment with her lack of pride and presentation, subjecting the likes of those otherwise there to enjoy the fringe benefits of an exquisite dining experience to a villainous mismanagement of apparel. Resulting in the vanquishing of appetite and the need to, without haste, exhort the masses of her inconsiderate and vile violations against humanity.

 

To the scolding:

Body shaming tourists is so … beneath you, Sir.

To the comical:

One of the fun little evolutionary advantages that allowed homo sapiens to climb to the top of the food chain lies in the species ability to simultaneously rotate the head while adjusting the focus of the eyes. maybe one day, you’ll catch up…

To the comically illiterate:

I hope she Sue his Old Ass.

To the downright nasty:

You are a shameless asshole piece of shit💩 Are you so perfect you can go and body shame others. Remember karma is a bitch sooner or later you too will be shamed on and loudly I hope. He doesn’t even know how spell shorts. WHO FUCKING CARES…LIVE AND LET LIVE! IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT THEN LEAVE. YOU ALL MUST LIVE BORING LONELY LIVES. GLAD I DON’T KNOW ANYONE SO SHITTY AND JUDGMENTAL AS ALL OF YOU ASSHOLES 💩GUESS WHAT YOUR SHIT STINKS AS MUCH AS ANYBODY. HOPE YOU ALL GET FAT N UGLY SO YOU CAN GET MORE N MORE MISERABLE. SHAME ON ALL OF YOU!

All culminating in perplexing, asshole-obsessed threats of anal violation:

I saw the story that you were bothered about the women who was not dressed to your standards and bitched about it. if the restaurant let her come in dressed that way, your bitch is with them not her. I would bet you didn”t not have the “balls’ to say anything to her. If you ever said anything to me I would have stuck the filet up your ass real quick, Asshole.

Some people defended me (and scolded the scolders):

Not body shaming, shaming the fact that she like other clueless Americans insist on going dressed like they are camping to a fine dining establishment and other events that anyone who has a clue would go dressed appropriately. You’re the idiot for not realizing this. I never said anything about what she looked like body wise just lack of fashion or decorum.

Some people invoked more civilized climes:

I’m in the Italian Riviera where even though the vibe is laid back Italian, there’s nothing laid back about how people dress here. While day time is cut off denim with midriff baring tops, the chic Italian summer style comes out at night for dining even at casual, seaside restaurants. I am not talking about ball gowns and tiaras but rather summer-y dresses, men in button downs, etc. It elevates the entire experience to one in which you are glad to participate vs one that causes controversy. I haven’t seen men in denim shorts or women in lululemon, and I couldn’t be more grateful!

And a lot of people weighed in with comments such as:

This isn’t about people/body shaming. It’s about dressing appropriately for the occasion. A T-shirt and shorts isn’t appropriate for Guy Savoy, whether you’re Giselle Buchen or Mabel from Milwaukee.

and:

When you’re going to a nice restaurant, dress for dinner like a civilized person. Otherwise there’s a Denny’s nearby. Clods who don’t do that do nothing for me. This has nothing to do with “shaming” someone for physical attributes that they can’t help. You choose to dress like a slob, as this woman did.

And finally, my friend and fellow critic John Mariani tried to put it into perspective:

There is no more tone anywhere anymore. All restaurateurs have caved in to the “my-ugly t-shirt and jeans are appropriate dress” demands of wholly clueless customers. Remember, they are “guests” in a restaurant and they should dress accordingly.

All of which led to a report from a local TV station.

Then to another report from the same TV station.

Those reports — seeking to gin-up controversy about me — in the end only furthered my cause and brought my slob-shaming to the fore. Yes, I am a snob, an elitist and an imperious, condescending parvenu. I’m especially those things in restaurants, and I’m really all about those things in fine restaurants — of which we have dozens in our humble burg. Who gives a shit how you look in Orlando or Branson, Missouri? You can look anyway you want at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company while you tuck into your Shrimp Shack Mac n Cheese.

Las Vegas is Midtown Manhattan next to those repositories of rednecks, and when you eat out here, in our world famous restaurants, you need to bring your A-game attire, not your beach wear. The cooking demands it, the setting demands it, and the entire experienced is enhanced by looking your best when you are eating at your best. Who in the hell disagrees with this point?

Then it hit me: This isn’t about body-shaming, or slob-shaming or style-shaming. This isn’t about how, when and why we judge our fellow man. This is about class, pure and simple. Not “class” in the sense that those hapless women next to me at GS didn’t have any, but class in the sense of the social classes — the demarcation of income and appearance that define us all.

This is an elemental discussion that goes to the very core of our beings: the right to look and act the way you want versus society’s right to impose standards of behavior on its participants. We are both fiercely individual beings and part of a collective, and when those two impulses clash, strong feelings arise.

Social classes — whether you live in trailer by a swamp or in a tony, high-rise — impose their own rules on members. The less fortunate do not have the luxury of worrying about how they look; the upper orders probably spend too much time on the subject. When they have to meet in public, sparks are sure to fly. And where they meet (and clash) these days is in restaurants. Not at concerts or malls, not at work or at the beach, but in places where we all eat.

This is elemental stuff: haves v. have nots, Republicans v. Democrats, management v. labor, and when the gloves come off, it’s not pretty.

The trouble I have with how people look in public relates directly to their class in society — not to put them down, but to shame them for dressing beneath themselves. Because, you see, we are not talking about the proletariat here.

A truly poor person can’t help the way they dress. But if you’re coming to Las Vegas for vacation, you are not a poor person. If you have the presence and the wherewithal to stroll into Michael Mina or Spago or Guy Savoy, I do not feel sorry for you. You are a person of means. You are not living by a swamp and struggling to survive. You have money and a job and some degree of function within society, yet you choose to look like a bum, a beachcomber, or a refugee from a rock concert.

You do this because 1) you think your comfort trumps all other considerations when you are in public, and 2) you have been conditioned by society and other like-minded slobs that informality, no matter how poorly you look, is acceptable in all circumstances. This would be true if you were an island, or if you’re consorting with a like-minded mob (think: Phish fans and sporting events), but when we break bread as strangers, it behooves us, as social beings, to put our best foot forward. The Native Americans realized this a thousand years ago, Marge and Mabel from Manitoba think it doesn’t matter anymore.

It matters. To you, the restaurant, your fellow diners and society as a whole. When you look better, you act better. When you act better, you feel better about yourself. When you feel better about yourself, you interact with society in a more positive way. Not to get too philosophical, but it’s a short plunge from how informal society has gotten to how rude and crude our politics have become.

As for Marge and Mabel, well, they looked at the menu for about five minutes and then snuck out. The barest amount of awareness would’ve saved them their ordeal, but when all you’re thinking about is yourself, awareness of anything else never enters the picture.

 

Enough Already – Chef Worship

Food & Wine: Noma Tulum

“He’s making his own rules,” is how a full-of-himself Yelper described Grant Achatz to me the other day. ” “[Alain Passard] is a culinary god, you know, most chefs are in awe of him,” is how another referred to the well-known French chef. ” L’Arpège is a temple; Noma is a “religious experience” that “changed everything,” according to Joshua David Stein (whoever he is). Osteria Francescana will “change your life with one bite.” Food is profound, and “beyond delicious.” Chefs are visionaries and the rest of us merely unworthy pilgrims begging to bask in the aura of their brilliance.

No, no, no, no, no, fuck no, and please just shut the fuck up.

We are talking about cooks here, ladies and gentlemen. People who take raw materials and apply heat (or not) to them to make them more palatable to eat. No one is curing cancer, creating masterpieces, or doing something heroic. Those being lionized have figured out a way to seduce an always-looking-for-the-next-big-thing food press so that they (the food press) can induce the more-money-than-brains crowd to slavishly worship at the alter of some friggin’ kitchen — a kitchen that excels in eliciting oohs and ahhs from gullible customers and separating rich show-offs from their cash.

It all started when Paul Bocuse became a celebrity in his own right. (This was back in the early 1970s.) “He got the chef out of the kitchen,” is how Pierre Troisgros put it to me when I interviewed him 18 years ago. (When he uttered the words, Troigros did so with a tone of both admiration and regret. He seemed in awe of Bocuse, but also wistful for a profession he knew was changing, and that he no longer understood.)

Chefs started to be a big deal in America in the 80s, but it wasn’t until Tom “Call Me Thomas” Keller hit big with the French Laundry in ’96-’97 that the cult of chef fetishization really took off over here. Concurrent with all the hyperventilating press Keller was getting, the rise of the Food Network in the late 90s gave restaurant cooking a cache previously reserved for musicians and bad boy actors.

By 2006, every working class kid in America suddenly had path to being idolized as a “bad ass,” or, even worse, a “misunderstood, passionate genius.” All the while, the media and the audience and the chefs themselves were losing sight of the big picture: restaurant cooking is a brutally hard, physically-taxing profession, that, at its core, is about as glamorous as window-washing.

The rise of the interwebs and social media over the past 10 years has turned what was once annoying into the sublimely ridiculous. Every chef now has to have a following, and every chef worshiper is hanging on whatever lavish food porn (e.g. the panting, hagiographic, hyper-absurd Chef’s Table) or Instagrammable dish or MAJOR AWARD has been handed out that week. (Cooking has thus become more about publicity and bragging rights than taste, and if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that you can’t taste publicity – or bragging rights.)

Who gives a flying fuck if Rene Redzepi is traveling the world with a pop-up restaurant reserved for the .00001% of the people able to actually eat there? Star-fucking doesn’t make anything taste any better, And as soon as a chef becomes a star, he pretty much quits cooking altogether….so what, exactly are we worshiping? I’m pleased for any chef who can parlay their skills into a brand or fame or some degree of celebrity, but when it comes to what I put in my mouth, the people I worship are the ones in the kitchen, sorting the vegetables, grilling the fish, and stirring the sauce. Mexicans, mostly.

 

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