Restaurateurs assess ‘fine fast’ food trend at Aspen food and wine event

Restaurateurs assess ‘fine fast’ food trend at Aspen food and wine event

ASPEN COLO. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

“Fine fast,” was the term suggested by New York-based chef and television host Tom Colicchio for the new genre, which he predicted would follow the fast-casual format and feature excellent ingredients. Colicchio spoke during the Aspen event’s Restaurant Trade Program, sponsored by American Express. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Colicchio, who operates the fine-dining restaurant Craft [3], a second unit of which is slated to open in Los Angeles in July, as well as the more casual concepts Craftsteak [4], Craftbar [5] and ’wichcraft [6], discussed the future of fine dining with fellow restaurateurs Steve Ells of Chipotle [7], multiconcept operator Drew Nieporent of the New York-based Myriad Restaurant Group [8], and Thomas Keller, who runs the fine-dining restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se [9] and the more casual concepts Bouchon [10] and Bouchon Bakery [11]. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Colicchio, who also is host of the Bravo TV show “Top Chef,” said that, although he believed fine dining was alive and well, “once you get over the glamour you realize that you can’t replicate it.” To expand as an operator, you need a more pared-down, streamlined format such as fast casual, he said. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

“You take the best of fine dining and marry it with fast-casual qualities,” he said. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Keller agreed, saying the key was not style of service—casual or formal—but the maintenance of rigorous standards. He pointed out that some of the chefs on recent “Ten Best New Chefs” lists published by Food & Wine magazine, whose editor-in-chief Dana Cowin moderated the panel, did not work in fine-dining restaurants. For instance, past lists have included New York chefs David Chang of Momofuku and April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Nieporent pointed out that during his experience working in traditional French fine-dining establishments, “a lot of it was a façade.” The decor was beautiful, but the food “hid” behind the pomp and circumstance and was not necessarily that good. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

He gave Los Angeles-based chef Wolfgang Puck credit for redefining the way Americans approached high-end food, allowing other restaurateurs to do away with expensive accoutrements. He said that each of his Nobu [12] restaurants saves $100,000 per year by not having tablecloths. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Ells, whose Chipotle Mexican Grill [7] concept was a harbinger of the fast-casual movement, opened his first burrito shop to raise money for a fine-dining restaurant he intended to develop, but the more casual venture distracted him and appealed to his egalitarian side. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

“Not many people are privileged enough to eat at the restaurants of my fellow panelists,” he told the packed room of foodservice professionals in the Jerome Hotel. That’s not true of Chipotle, which now has more than 500 units, he noted. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

He said good food boiled down to treating the ingredients and the customers with respect. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

The panel on fine dining was one of six educational sessions held specifically for restaurant operators during the four-day event, which caters mostly to high-end consumers. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

“At American Express we’ve been involved in the industry for a long, long time, and this is a way that we give back,” said Curtis Wilson, its vice president for customer service for restaurants. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Other topics discussed in the seminars included how to adjust the economics of a restaurant based on its size, how to make the most of national media coverage, and—in a panel titled “Deal or no Deal”—what factors to consider when teaming up with others. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Other panelists were Washington, D.C.-based chef-restaurateur José Andrés; Mario Batali of New York; chef Suzanne Goin, owner of Lucques [13] and AOC [14] in Los Angeles; and Lachlan MacKinnon Patterson, chef-owner of Frasca [15] Food and Wine in Boulder, Colo. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Restaurateurs Danny Meyer and Michelle Bernstein shared the stage with journalists Matt Lee of Travel + Leisure, Jerry Shriver of USA Today and Bruce Seidel of the Food Network [16] to discuss how to get and use national press. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Meyer said restaurants could have symbiotic relationships with the media, “but they’re not your friend” and don’t share your restaurant’s agenda. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

“I think it’s about listening even more than you pitch,” he said. Rather than trying to push your restaurant’s agenda, listen to what the journalists want to write about and find a way to fit in. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

Agreeing with a comment from Bernstein, he said, “If you want to go national, think local” by participating in local events and getting to know local journalists. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.

The Food & Wine Classic, which took place in mid-June, also featured a discussion among chefs and senior executives about how to deal with bumps in the road when partnering with others. Such dealings must include planning for an exit strategy, said Niki Leondakis of the San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group [17]. Also participating in the panel were Boston-based chef Todd English, New York chef-owner Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit [18] and Riingo [19], and Manny Valdes of Frontera Grill [20] and Topolobampo [21] in Chicago. —The future of fine food in America lies in more casual, user-friendly formats than what is offered in traditional fine-dining restaurants, according to restaurateurs and chef participants in this year’s Food & Wine Classic event here.