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Pathways of the restaurant business

Di Antonio Caneva, 10 Giugno 2005

It is recent news that – while last year French chef Bernard Loiseau commited suicide because he had been demoted by the Michelin Guide – the well-known Alain Senderens, of the Paris restaurant Lucas Carlton, has renounced the three Michelin stars he had held for twenty-five years. The need to maintain a staff of 65, as is necessary for that type of restaurant service, caused him to decline the prestigious recognition.
The introduction of the euro has prompted many restaurant owners to -sometimes drastically – raise their prices, which in the current period of economic stagnation has led to customers thinning out. Even the most reputed restaurants have had to take measures, by proposing second-line offers, like, for example, Sadler and the vegetarian restaurant Joia in Milan.
Cuisine, on the other hand, turns into a mass business, with Marchesi, Ducasse and their imitators, so that going to their restaurants is like going to a luxury Mc Donald’s: just a brandname, while everything is left up to the local manager.
It is also the fault of those (many) customers who go with fads; often, the more a “trendy” and high-priced restaurant is incapable and arrogant, the more it attracts people, as customers do not appreciate what they truly experience, but rather their own projected expectations.
Restaurants are responding incoherently to an evolution in customer demand; people are restlessly in search of new proposals, which often satisfy the imagination more than the palate. After the correct and successful promotion of the culture of good wine (followed by a relative and sometimes unjustified explosion of prices), now we are hunting for other foods, first among all olive oil. It has become frequent, by now, to be faced with complex lists of oils as well as mineral waters.
Ethnic cooking has exploded, with all its qualities and contradictions. In Milan, for example, there are many Japanese and Chinese restaurants; it is known by definition that the former are expensive and the latter are economical. So what about those posting themselves as Japanese-Chinese? Who knows.
New experiences for Italy are brunch, the happy hour, which has by now turned into a full dinner, but fortunately simple things that tickle the palate, too. Last Saturday I was in Bellagio, at a wine bar elegantly located in a two-century-old cellar, where together with my wife, and assisted by the kind and caring owner, we drank an excellent glass of red wine, savoured a tray of delicious and fragrant salamis and fresh and seasoned cheeses, with maple honey and grape jam, ate some exquisite cookies with Sardinian raisin wine – all of it for 27 euros, for the two of us. You see… This, too, is what you find in our country. Sadly… the place was half empty!

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