An incisively written and elegantly designed volume that presents a corrective, or at least a counterargument, to the ascent of the celebrity chef.
As a former restaurateur and now as the well-respected dining critic for Britain’s Financial Times, Lander is uniquely qualified to illuminate the business of running a world-class restaurant. He offers a perspective on the relationship between successful restaurateurs and the chefs they employ that challenges the supremacy of the latter. In what he calls “a golden era for restaurants,” he maintains that chefs “have been elevated to an overly lofty position” and that “while chefs may use plates for their art, restaurateurs’ imaginations work on much bigger canvases.” Yet the relationship is symbiotic, even with occasional creative tension, and the book doesn’t devalue the former so much as elevate the latter. Where the chef rules the kitchen, the owner must attend to every last detail of the experience, from the location, setting and design to the atmosphere, hospitality and staff morale, to the dealings with suppliers and landlords, and, ultimately, the bottom line. Lander includes 20 profiles of leading restaurateurs around the globe, including Danny Meyer, “New York’s—and possibly the world’s—most respected restaurateur," and they read more like inspirational vignettes than bios or how-to pieces. Each is accompanied by a sidebar, a shorter piece illuminating some facet of the restaurant life. Most readers won’t have eaten in most of these restaurants, or perhaps even heard of many, but the writing reinforces the restorative value of the fine dining experience as being more than a meal. As for the occasionally prickly relationship between the owners and chefs they employ, one of the former describes his role as mentoring, while another explains, “If we do our job well, when a chef comes along and says…it’s time to move on, then we’re delighted. It means that there’ll be another good place to have lunch in.”
The line-drawn illustrations complement the prose in a book that will help diners appreciate the whole restaurant experience.