Eating Out as Eating In: The Intimate Call of the Contemporary Restaurant Scene
Anthropology, sociology, and more recently philosophy have produced a number of accounts of food and eating based on the idea that food is essentially, and fundamentally, a cognitive and experiential activity. Mindful of the body and the mind, while aware of social and economic environments, these accounts range from the emotional experience of food, to the many and multifaceted contrasts intrinsic to the nature of food (life and death, raw and cooked, exotic and familiar), and can also incorporate the social and economic dichotomies associated with the selection and consumption of food. This paper stems from the same analytical tradition, but aims at a target that, at least in the academia, is still not sufficiently explored: the experience of fine dining. Specifically, I am interested in the attention that renowned chefs and exclusive restaurant environments are paying to the cognitive, perceptual, and social features of food and eating that are traditionally associated with more modest, familiar, and affordable eating practices. I begin with an analysis of the practical, but also emotional and experiential differences between “eating in” and “eating out.” I then consider three concepts: Terroir, Home, and Kitchen and how they have been appropriated and shaped by the contemporary restaurant scene. It is largely incorrect, I conclude, to regard fine restaurants and cuisine as exclusive, exceptional, or eccentric experiences. One of the current and leading goals of high scale dining is to recall the intimate and familiar dimensions of food and its consumption. Furthermore, I maintain that in addition to recalling the experience of intimacy and familiarity, fine dining is able to “re-invent” it.
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