Email not displaying correctly? [1]View it in your browser.

February 2, 2011

Mises Daily

Like Raw Capitalism in the Restaurant World on Facebook

[2]Economic Schadenfreude
_by Christopher Westley_

[3]Does Gandhi Deserve a Place in the Libertarian Tradition?
_by Jeff Riggenbach_

[4]Raw Capitalism in the Restaurant World
_by Doug French_ on February 2, 2011

[_Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who
Cook_ • By Tony Bourdain • HarperCollins, 2010 • 281 pages]

If you thought the popping of the financial bubble laid waste to
over-the-top, high-end dining, think again: the stock market's bounce has
created curiosities like the FluerBurger 5000 offered up at the Fleur de Lys
in Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas. The Kobe burger, containing
foie gras and a special truffle sauce does come with some extras besides
being served on a brioche truffle bun.

Chef Hubert Keller's creation includes a bottle of Chateau Petrus 1990
poured in Ichendorf Brunello stemware (that you keep) imported from Italy,
and a certificate of authenticity will be mailed to your home so you can
brag to your friends about how you spent five grand in Vegas on Keller's
version of a Happy Meal.

Anyone ordering the FluerBurger 5000 would likely fall in the category of
"the cream of big-city douchedom," that Tony Bourdain describes in [5]Medium
Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. The
whole Kobe-burger phenomenon is just one of the dozens of concepts and
people in the world of foodies that Bourdain rails about in his follow-up to
[6]Kitchen Confidential, a bestseller and life changer for the acerbic chef
and adventurer.

Bourdain has his doubts that these burgers advertised as Kobe are the
product of Wagyu cattle in the first place, and if they are, the beef came
only from distant cousins of the cows being fattened and pampered in Japan.
And if actual Kobe beef is being used, its "an utterly pointless, supremely
wasteful, and even unpleasant exercise."

For anyone who has seen Bourdain on the Travel Channel or Food Network, he
writes like he talks, except the writing is peppered with the F-word and
similar technical terms presumably used in commercial kitchens. The pages
flow in a stream-of-consciousness way that gives one the impression that the
author is almost forced to purge these thoughts from his head to the page so
he can manically move on to more adventure, which is what he seems to make a
living doing on the Travel Channel.

By the way, plenty of big-name chefs are doing bang-up business in high-end
burgers, and Bourdain figures it's the perfect concept for these troubled
economic times: "the desire for comforting, reassuring food," and a backlash
against boom-time food snobbery.

The beauty of the kitchen is that credentials or degrees don't matter.
"There is no lying in the kitchen," as the author says, it is "the last
meritocracy." A cook can either do or not do what he or she claims. And
while cranking out eggs and hash browns at the local Waffle House may not
qualify as art, the food Bourdain writes about is certainly created by
artists, and they look to be, as a group, just as eccentric and tortured.
"The best cooks are like the pretty girl in high school. Gifted. Born to
cook," young phenom David Chang tells Bourdain. "They never had to develop
other skills."

Chang has built an empire on his Momofuku concept with a like-titled
cookbook and all the glories of celebrity chefdom. But Chang, no longer just
a cooking savant, suffers from attacks of unexplained deafness,
psychosomatic paralysis and mystery headaches, brought on by the pressures
of running multiple businesses and feeling responsible to an ever-growing
staff he cares about. "I mean … Larry Bird was a _terrible_ coach," Chang
points out, claiming he'd just like to go back to getting drunk with his
cooks, convinced he'll die before he reaches fifty.

It's exhilarating to read about working people who do their job better than
anyone in the world. These people will never be wealthy or famous, but every
day they do a job faster and better than anyone. Bourdain introduces readers
to one of these gifted and productive people, in the kitchen at New York
City's premier fish restaurant, Le Bernardin.
"If there is such a thing as dog-eat-dog capitalism, this must be it — with
customers holding the leash."

Before the chefs at Le Bernardin work their magic, Justo Thomas
singlehandedly cuts seven hundred pounds of fish to the exacting standards
required at a restaurant that has earned 3 stars from the Michelin Guide, 4
stars from the _New York Times_, and was Zagat's top pick in 2007.

The delivery people call him Primo and it takes three people to do his job
as fast (four to five hours) when he goes on vacation. Working in a cramped
hallway, Thomas, like fictional serial killer Dexter, first covers the walls
in plastic clear wrap. And then Justo's magic begins. Bourdain gives us a
cut-by-cut, fish-by-fish description of how "phenomenally, amazingly and
supernaturally … _good_" Thomas is at his job.

Chefs everywhere struggle with those tricky little rib bones in salmon that
must be removed individually. Those of us at home are left to extract them
from our mouths while carefully chewing each bite.

Justo moves his hand up the fillet in a literal flurry of movement; with
each bone that comes out, he taps the pliers on the cutting board to
release it, then, never stopping, in one continuous motion, repeats
repeats repeats. It sounds like a quick, double-time snare drum beat, a
staccato _tap tap tap tap tap tap_, and then … done.

Bourdain hasn't seen anything like it in his thirty years in the restaurant

Careful readers will come to understand why restaurants have the highest
mortality rate of any business type. Margins are razor thin and the public
is exacting and fickle. And when the Fed has its foot on the monetary gas,
plenty of liquidity comes gushing into high-end restaurants, starting an
expansion boom that can only lead to disaster.

Bourdain's chapter 7, "The Fear," captures the cycle perfectly. It wasn't
just the price of stocks and mortgage-backed paper goulash that fell with a
resounding thud. Sales at New York's finest eateries fell 30 percent
overnight. But as the author explains, chefs can't admit these things
publically, that would be "bad ju-ju."

What went away instantly in the fall of '08 were the "thousands of loud,
over-testosteroned men flush with cash and eager to play [you'll have to
read the book] — the secret-sharers, the hidden backbone of the fine-dining
business — vaporized into an oily cloud, possibly/probably never to return."

But it wasn't the food sales that floated these restaurants' boats, it was
the booze. That's where the margins are. Hundreds were spent on food in the
good times but it was the thousands spent on liquor and wine that keep the
doors open and helped the "chef be a little more generous with the
truffles." Wall Streeters were spending Monopoly money on big-party,
limited-menu booze-fests tucked away in back rooms, and plenty of
restaurants couldn't survive without it. Suddenly, that business stopped,
and half-price specials and à la carte options appeared.

For every restaurant that closes, there always seems to be another chef or
cook who believes he or she can strike gold serving food, drink, and
cuisine. The business, as Bourdain explains, lives and breathes dreams,
delusions, and superstitions.

[7]$10 $8
"And when the Fed has its foot on the monetary gas, plenty of liquidity
comes gushing into high-end restaurants starting a expansion boom that can
only lead to disaster."

Unlike office work, there is pressure in the restaurant business for
everyone to perform at their best, from the bus boys to the bartenders to
the chefs, each and every shift. One unhappy customer will tell ten friends
of their spoiled experience, and those ten will each tell another ten, and
soon the doors are locked. If there is such a thing as dog-eat-dog
capitalism, this must be it — with customers holding the leash.

This pressure forces employees to depend upon each other and builds intense
camaraderie; their livelihoods depend upon it. Bourdain says he doesn't miss
working the kitchen and believes it to be a profession for the young and
limber — of mind, body, and emotion.

He only misses sharing that sense of satisfaction with his staff for a job
well done, long after the big spenders have all gone home. And he doesn't
have to worry about getting up and doing it all over again the next day.

Douglas French is president of the Mises Institute and author of [8]Early
Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply and [9]Walk Away: The
Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth. He received his masters degree in
economics from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, under Murray Rothbard
with Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe serving on his thesis committee. French
teaches in the [10]Mises Academy. See his [11]tribute to Murray Rothbard.
Send him [12]mail. See Doug French's [13]article archives.

[14]Comment on the blog.

You can subscribe to future articles by Doug French via this [15]RSS feed.
* [16]Economics in One Lesson: High-School Seminar in Tennessee (Sponsored
by Tennessee Liberty Alliance)
* [17]Mises Circle in Florida (Sponsored by Anonymous Donor, Avery Knapp,
and Stephen & Monica Hillis)
* [18]Austrian Scholars Conference 2011
* [19]Why Austrian Economics Matters: High-School Seminar in Chicago
(Sponsored by Jeremy Davis)
* [20]Mises Circle in Chicago (Sponsored by Dr. Don Stacy)

* [21]Libertarian Science Fiction
* [22]A Soviet Foreign Policy: A Revisionist Perspective
* [23]'Objective' Value and Cost of Production
* [24]Why the Definition of Probability Matters
* [25]Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948)

* [26]The Theory of Idle Resources
* [27]The American Mercury November 1936
* [28]The American Mercury October 1937
* [29]The American Mercury August 1939
* [30]The American Mercury June 1939

* [31]Rollback
* [32]Dollar Meltdown
* [33]Clash of Group Interests
* [34]Socialism, Economic Calculation and Entrepreneurship
* [35]LvMI Hugger

* [36]Why Anarchy Fails
* [37]MMT redux
* [38]Three Cheers for the Destruction and Theft of Private Property in
* [39]Moneyless Societies examples
* [40]WikiLeaks Has Been Nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

Ludwig von Mises Institute
518 West Magnolia Ave.
Auburn, AL 36832

Sent to *|EMAIL|*: [41]unsubscribe | [42]update profile | [43]forward to a