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There are plenty of things that $75 can buy. A good seat at a Yankees game. A few dozen songs on iTunes. Even dinner for two at a restaurant that’s a couple of notches above the “You want fries with that?” level. But at chef Eric Ripert’s famed Le Bernardin in New York, all $75 might buy is a single appetizer – and a rather smallish one at that. Think a “triple decker” composed of steak tartare (made with specially sourced beef, of course), raw shellfish (or, more specifically, raw langoustines) and osetra caviar. The side dish? A gourmet variation on potato chips.
“Who can pay $75 for an appetizer???!!!” said the chorus of naysayers, like the commentator on Gawker who opined that “there are only three people who can afford to eat at a place like Le Bernardin: Rich a–holes, food critics, and other chefs who run other restaurants that only serve rich a–holes, food critics, and other chefs.”
Consider: This summer, Burger King is rolling out a new bacon sundae – a “cool collision of salty & sweet,” as the fast-food giant touts. But here’s the thing: the whole bacon-as-dessert idea is one that emerged years ago in the world of high-end food. Specifically, Dr. Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary Institute of America, credits the daring British chef Heston Blumenthal with introducing the concept with his bacon-and-eggs ice cream. “It’s a trickle-down effect,” says Dr. Ryan of what followed. Or perhaps you’ve recently found yourself munching on Wendy’s natural-cut fries, sprinkled with sea salt. Again, you can thank your foodie-friendly chefs for that sprinkle: Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame, for example, has built entire dishes around a particular sea salt – or a sampling of them.
In a sense, the argument that it all begins at the top of the food chain – in this case, literally — is nothing new. After all, it’s the idea that has long defined the fashion world. Remember that scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” where Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly chides Anne Hathaway’s Andy Sachs for thinking she’s somehow above the fashion world by her choice of a “lumpy blue sweater” as outfit of the day? As Priestly explains, that sweater may hardly seem a fashion statement, but it began life – in a much more grandiloquent fashion – on the catwalk.
Loose translation: You can snicker about all you want about a $75 appetizer, but you’ll be eating it soon enough – in one form or another.