A FRENCH STYLE ‘FINE SWAGGER’ IN FINE DINING 

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We were seniors in high school.

As per the style of the era, we were existentialists. We wore black turtleneck sweaters, watched the meaningless discussions of Sartre and his friends and joined in as best as we knew. Years later, one of them would admit to what they understood from existentialism- or didn’t understand anything-and that everyone had a different approach to the subject.

But we were seniors. We were rebellious. We rebelled against everything.

We knew what was best.

We were the best at everything we did.

But we were seniors. We were rebellious.

One day, we rebelled against the food at our boarding school. In fact, they served quite good menus. But like I said, we were rebellious. We had to object to stuff. We began protesting the dishes they served. I took a couple of my friends who knew everything, did everything great (!) and “off we went.

He asked…

I answered…

He got up. Our principal very much resembled King Edward of England. He also was aware of this; his demeanor and attire resembled the king. He pushed his hand inside his jacket like the Prince de Galles:

“-Okay, he said. If you don’t like the food, you’ll be in charge of the menus from now on. He stopped and then added: “ Bu I hope you won’t ask us to serve you sole meuniere” !

We were baffled…We agreed unwillingly…We set out to work…

When we got into it, we found out that this wasn’t so easy. It wasn’t just about creating the menu. There were other important issues such as the calorie and cost of the menu. When we tried to create a menu that catered to the calorie needs of students within the budget all the while making more attractive menus, things got worse than before. Students started complaining. We got tired. In the end, we returned the duty to our beloved, democrat principle !

This taught us that an empty mutiny was destined to fizzle.

While we bragged that we knew everything and were the best at everything, we realized that this wasn’t the case at all.

I wish some restaurants were mature enough to realize this; don’t look down on their customers and brag that ‘they know best’!

I witnessed this negative approach at Jean Georges- a restaurant in New York that has many macaroons.

The condescending look of the waiter who was at our side as soon as we sat down virtually translated into ‘This is the first time I see you here so you can only receive economy class service here.’   He handed us the wine list even before the sommelier arrived. We hadn’t decided what to eat yet. So the opportunity to pair wine with food went out the window right off the bat. We didn’t say anything. ‘So this is how it’s done here; let’s have food with just any wine and leave’, we said.  We picked not the cheapest wine but one of the mid-priced one and ordered. As our waiter was leaving the table, he gestured to his colleague as if to say ‘look at the wine they selected’.  If I was my usual self, I would tell him that I’d chosen the wine not from a liquor store but his own menu in heavy French he would never understand but I wasn’t in the mood so I kept quiet. I settled with deciding not to step foot Jean Georges never again- a place that upset us from the start with this fine swagger mentality.

With the Nouvelle Cuisine they created, the French opened up to world markets with the pioneering of Paul Bocuse; many entrepreneur chef opened restaurants in different cities, starting with New York and became bosses. Some of them improved greatly at their jobs. Some tried to act like they were more worthy by putting on airs, from their chef to their waiters. Blogs, magazines and TVs helped them sell this swagger. It’s the name of the game: Not only those who deserve rise to the top! Those who know how to take advantage of various factors do. It is possible to make it to the top by putting on airs and using the media well. But there is another rule in the game and that is there are people who are not afraid to say ‘the king is naked’. Just like us in high school who found out that we didn’t know everything and didn’t do everything perfectly, some people got weary of the game that the restaurants played. Voices of people who said the king was naked despite partisan medium and blogs started to be heard- albeit not too much. The airs of French restaurants along with Nouvelle Cuisine began to fizzle. 

They finally understood that no one would be fine with receiving economy class service after paying for business class.

 At least that’s what I believe or hope.

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