There was a time, not too long ago, when it was very possible to go to a fine dining restaurant where the “old rules” regarding preparation, service and diner decorum still held sway. But while high-end food can still be found in any number of white-tablecloth establishments, the classical “French-style” restaurant is definitely an endangered species.
If you need proof of this, just try to get a reservation at the Escoffier Restaurant at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. It's impossible, because the restaurant closed its doors last week after 38 years of training young chefs in the fine art of formal French cuisine and service. The space, according to an article in The New York Times, is currently undergoing a $3 million transformation into a contemporary French eatery to be named after French chef Paul Bocuse.
The new restaurant will echo, in the words of CIA president Tim Ryan, "the dining revolution in America." Fine French cuisine will continue to be emphasized, as at Escoffier, but so too will such concepts as creativity, cooperation and collaboration, sustainability and new technology. The restaurant, according to the artist's renderings of the space, will have a sleek, modern look and feel to it, giving chefs a truer sense of the environments in which they will be working once they graduate.
I'd dined at Escoffier only once, and it was an unforgettable experience. And I am someone who laments the shift toward a more casual approach to appearance and decorum on the part of diners in even the most conservative fine-dining restaurants. Still, I have to applaud the CIA for making a move that I'm sure some chefs believe is long overdue. Changing with the times is necessary if an institution is to remain relevant—even if it means parting with such an esteemed piece of the dining past.