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May 17, 2012 04:01 AM

Keller and Aduriz's Controversial Comments

An interesting read based on a recent interview with the two famous chefs. Fundamentally, they are comfortable with abdicating any roles as advocates or activists on many of the issues currently at the forefront of food culture so long as they get to make, and I assume eat, the best food possible.

A bit of the piece:

>“What restaurant isn’t farm to table?” Mr. Keller asked. “I think about quality, not geography."

When it comes to supporting communities, he said, he chooses to support Stonington, Me., by buying exquisite oysters from a seafood dealer there. There are oysters on Long Island, of course, but Mr. Keller believes that his priority has to be taste, above all other considerations like sustainability, seasonality and food miles.

“Is global food policy truly our responsibility, or in our control?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”

“I agree completely, and it is a brave answer,” came immediately from Mr. Aduriz, who also draws on a global palette of ingredients to amplify the northern Spanish ingredients that surround him. “Of course I buy as many things as I can nearby,” he said. “But to align yourself entirely with the idea of sustainability makes chefs complacent and limited.”<

Contrast it with Bitman's Op-Ed the same day, in which he argues that actions on the individual level can have a global impact.

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  1. Keller, like his well-heeled clientele, couldn't give a large rat's hindquarters about these issues. After all, doesn't this reveal him to be a mendacious plonker, especially after the smarmy, baby radish-fondling American Express spot?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Kagemusha

      First off, "mendacious plonker" is a brilliant turn of phrase - hat's off! Moreover, I think your point is probably correct. The interview was conducted as promotion for the book and the comments have certainly brought a great deal of attention (though very little here for some reason).

      I do see a bit of irony in the basic idea of denying the role of the individual and resigning to governmental solutions. First off, it's contradictory to basic premises of contemporary conservatism. Further, it seems to lack an understanding of the fundamental tenet that governments, as we presently know them in most of the world, are to be a manifestation of the people. Finally, on a lighter note, it seems to really miss the fact that the Spanish government has show the inability to do much at all lately.

      If the point was really just playing dumb, in other words, "we're just lowly chefs whadda we know" then why pontificate at such length? Just confess that you don't give a shit what happens to anyone else so long as you get what you want. It may not be a "pretty" admission, but at least it would be honest.

      1. re: MGZ

        I think he's right. If you think, for example, that factory farms are a problem, you won't go very far trying to sway individuals one by one to eat less of the meat raised there. It would be easier and more effective to legislate them out of existence, or at least to make it harder for them to exist.

        The scale of global warming is just too huge and systemic to be dealt with on a individual level. It has to be handed on a large-scale government level in the same way that the military has to be a national thing and not just a bunch of individuals with guns answering a call to arms.

    2. I don't understand the outrage. Keller wants the best ingredients possible and he's willing to ship them in from far, far away if he thinks they're worth it.

      Reminds me of quote from Anthony Bourdain from years ago (maybe from one of his books) on organic/sustainable/farm to table/etc eating. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "I don't care if it's an organic, local, fresh picked tomato or one grown in a laboratory, I just want the best tasting tomato I can get"

      3 Replies
      1. re: Bart Hound

        There are consequences to desires and it seems clear that Keller is aware of this fact. He just seems to not want to have anything to do with any of them.

        Edit - On a lighter note, it smacks of "let them eat cake."

        1. re: Bart Hound

          I also believe that Bourdain has moved away from that thinking, right about the time that he had a child.

          1. re: Bart Hound

            I see no problem with that thinking. You don't compromise on taste, but you accept good rules that may limit what you can get.

          2. I'm not sure why you perceive a conflict between these articles. Keller and Aduriz are addressing the impact of food sourcing issues on fine dining restaurants, while Bittman (two "t's") is addressing animal protein issues at many levels. These topics are NOT incompatible, and are valid for me.

            I'm not that familiar with Aduriz's practices, but I do know that Thomas Keller has his own organic gardens right on the grounds of The French Laundry, in Yountville, so that he can have the freshest, best tasting, organic produce to use in his kitchen. Keller is very much an "environmentalis," but with a vested perspective.

            The problem in the world today is that mankind never knows when to back off from meddling with nature, and mankind does such a very poor job at it. We have an unmanageable population base and no PROVEN-SAFE method of increasing our food supply globally to keep up with that demand. These articles don't even begin to address the height or depth of the REAL food-related problems in the world today, Come back in a hundred years, and you just may be able to read debates on whether cloned "Soylent Green" is a healthier diet than cloned "Soilent Green"! You heard it here first.

            17 Replies
            1. re: Caroline1

              The basic contrast I see is that Bittman believes each of us can act to permit a change, the others say "it's not our problem."

              1. re: MGZ

                The better approach is to say that it is indeed our problem but the way to address it is socially -- acting together to achieve systemic change to how our food is produced, legislated, and sold. Individualism or consumer-based politics allows only a certain subset of our population (those with the knowledge, money, and access to certain foods) to participate, and is an indirect, bourgeois, private, and slow means to achieve real change.

                Take plastic as an issue. I can personally spend time to reduce the amount of plastic food wrappers I buy (by buying bulk, etc) but alone I cannot change what is available in the marketplace. By advocating en masse, we can pressure industry/government to do something about the issue. What one person can do in their kitchen, many can do for society at large.

                1. re: fame da lupo

                  I agree with you. I think that is basically the point. Individual action, whether it is purely as consumer or in conjunction with others in an organized fashion, will be necessary to affect change.

                  That is similarly displayed in the contrast noted. Bittman is continuously trying to use his position and notoriety to advocate. Keller and Aduriz abdicate this responsibility, shrugging their shoulders and noting that global food policy is not up to them. To me, this means they are complacent and see no role to play in the conversation. Yet, by taking that stance, given their positions and influence, they are either condoning ignorance or implying they don't want change.

                  You note "[w]hat one person can do in their kitchen, many can do for society." It seems to me that when your kitchen has the eyes of the world on it, the equation changes. You are, in effect, simultaneously doing both.

                2. re: MGZ

                  Maybe I missed something, but I did not read in a "not our problem" attitude from Keller and Aduriz as much as I took them to be addressing the specific aspects of how to source "the very best" for the world's very best restaurants. I don't think either of them were advocating ANYTHING for cooks or chefs in any niche other than the exclusive niche in which they function.

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    I suppose the question rests on whether or not someone who has accepted celebrity, or in fact capitalized upon it, has a responsibility to use it to help permit necessary changes.

                    1. re: MGZ

                      Write your congressman! That will have a LOT more impact than either of these gentlemen using only and exclusively "locally sourced" products in their kitchens.

                      I just re-read the NYT article interviewing Keller and Aduriz. I still see no conflict in what they say. According to Restaurant magazine's compilation of tippety top most elite chefs in the entire world, these two guys rank number 3 and number six, respectively. NEITHER of them says that they don't believe something should be done about global warming and/or the other problems associated with food consumed by humans in today's world. They simply said that they don't believe such a campaign is appropriate to their function as extremely elite once in a lifetime restaurant owner chefs. I don't have a problem with that, nor do I find it in conflict with what Mark Bittman is saying.

                      So let me pose another question: If the NYT did an interview with the CEOs of Bugatti and Ferarri, and they said they aren't in the business of developing economy cars that get 100 miles to the gallon, would anyone here be upset? I wouldn't because my chances of ever buying a 2.6 million dollar Bugatti Veyron Sport, or a two-plus million dollar Ferrari 599XX are not good. Not good at all. And the same holds true for me dining at Per Se or Mugaritz. Which does not mean I don't appreciate both and understand their place in the overall scheme of things i just don't expect a homogenized world where apples and oranges look and taste the same. No, thanks! '-)

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Honestly, I'm just glad that a thread of this type generated some thoughtful dialogue, I respect you and where your coming from and appreciate your view of the articles and the "players." I see the analogy your drawing, but to my mind the situations are distinguishable due to the disparity in notoriety.

                        From a personal point of view, I am way too jaded to believe in the effectiveness of traditional political participation. Sadly, I think economic power has too tight a control over political power, given the current state of our government. Thus, no letters quite yet.

                        1. re: MGZ

                          I agree except that there ARE circles in this country and the rest of the world where the CEOs of Bugatti and Ferrari are a LOT more familiar than Keller and Aduriz. I just doubt that any of those people are participants in Chowhound. '-)

                  2. re: MGZ

                    that's not my read. I think what Keller is saying is that it's the responsibility of a restaurateur to provide the best food possible, not to lecture his customers about how righteous they are. Others (hello ms. waters) may disagree.

                    1. re: FED

                      That is how see what he's saying, and I tend to agree. They feel their job is to put out the best food they can, and if that means the oysters have to travel, then so be it. The customer can show their choice with their feet.

                      1. re: FED

                        I get what you're saying and even defended Keller in a post above, but the more I think about it, it's a bit of a cop out on his part. He's one of the most famous chefs in America and the world so it strikes me as a bit of BS for him to take the line of "poor little old me, I can't make a difference in the big bad world".

                        Sure he's most concerned about providing the best food for his patrons, but he also has a huge amount of influence and probably quite capable of starting a trend that would ripple through the entire community over time and could effect some real change on a global level.

                        1. re: Bart Hound

                          I understand what you're saying. but I also think that the issues that so often seem simple and black-and-white are really much more complex the more you study them. and if you don't have the time or the inclination to really do the homework, you're dong more of a public service by being quiet rather than fogging the argument with more possible misinformation. i understand this may be a foreign concept on the internet ;)

                          1. re: FED

                            There is a theme in various philosophical writings: "With great ability comes great resposibility." (Apparently, it even appeared in 'Spiderman'.). I submit that, for many, that is the issue.

                            I'm not sure what kind of misinformation you think is in play here. If, in support of a book, an author makes statements for publication, are not the veracity and implications of such statements relevant subject for discussion? Are they not more so when the author is a public figure in additional contexts? If you are aware of other sources of information on the subject, please, submit them for the edification of the rest of us.

                            1. re: MGZ

                              I'm talking about the underlying issues. it's very easy to say "yay small farmers!", "yay clean food!, "yay sustainability!". It's when you drill down into the actual details of what those things mean and what it would take to get there that the going gets really tricky. I would offer as evidence the now-largely forgotten silliness about food miles and carbon footprint. And, to an extent, organics. Complicated issues don't make good bumper stickers.

                              1. re: FED

                                Are you really asserting that issues related to the amount of energy required to produce food and bring it to market are either silly or forgotten? They seem to me to be some of the basic problems that we are confronting. In fact, it's a fundamental part of the entire Bittman piece referenced above and discussed throughout this thread.

                                At bottom, those of us who are willing to devote time to considering issues related to the food supply system, as well as contribute to the conversation about the problems inherent therein, are predominately trying to focus on the underlying issues. Raising awareness is an essential step towards generating the momentum necessary for development - and the dialogue required to facilitate the correct changes. That is why many were so disappointed by Keller's comments; his platform is one many advocates clearly covet.

                                1. re: MGZ

                                  i'm not saying the issue is silly or forgotten, i'm saying the way people discussed it was silly and superficial. Seems to me the whole thing kind of went away after the paper demonstrating that sheep imported into britain from new zealand actually had a lower carbon footprint than homegrown (efficiency of feed). And i'm saying that unless one is really willing to take the time to understand the subjects, one is prone to put one's foot in one's mouth when making public statements about things that are only half-understood. Most chefs I know are far too busy running restaurants to do the homework necessary -- even if they had the background to understand them.

                                  1. re: FED

                                    "Seems to me the whole thing kind of went away after the paper demonstrating that sheep imported into britain from new zealand actually had a lower carbon footprint than homegrown (efficiency of feed)."

                                    In a sense, that makes the point - so long as the diaglogue continues, it is possible to learn the truth and adjust our behavior accordingly.

                    1. Interesting. I read another article recently that took in a few more points of view on the whole farm-to-table concept than usual:

                      For reference, the restaurant that is most talked about in there (Woodberry Kitchen) is the most heavily hyped restaurant in Baltimore. If you read the Bmore forum here it gets recommended over and over again as if it invented food. It's good, but not the be-all-end-all the way you'd think. The article goes into a lot of detail over its philosophy and what some other chefs think about it (and, as a side note, the fact that WB is powerful enough locally that other chefs remain anonymous while discussing their thoughts on it is pretty telling about a smaller dining market.) A good read from a smaller pub.

                      20 Replies
                      1. re: kukubura

                        Thanks for posting that. (I lived in Baltimore during part of the 90s and still have some "home" feelings for the town.) The piece certainly contributes to the conversation, particularly by highlighting the complexity of the issue. Using local ingredients may not be a guarantee of a terrific meal, but a place like Woodberry does show that it can be a responsible starting point for great food that benefits not only the proprietors, but those they purchase from as well. As I've maintained throughout the instant discussion, individual decisions and actions matter.

                        1. re: MGZ

                          Yeah, I like the perspective that sustainability is important, but also remembering that it's not the ONLY factor in eating. Ideally something should be sustainable AND good/interesting/offering a point of view. But that there can be different proportions at play in that equation. Some people are didactic to the point that they lose perspective on the other sides of the equation (this applies to both sides of the argument)

                          1. re: kukubura

                            I do appreciate your passion on the subject, but for me there is a reality I have to face. Your voice and mine can and will be heard by some others, but will they be heard by people/entities that are powerful enough to initiate change? I don't think so. IMO, the ONLY thing that will change how food in America is cultivated, harvested, and transported to market is the corporate bottom line. Talk to those people! Surprisingly (or not), Walmart is one of the most aware-of-consumer-wants companies in the country. After years of abominable beef, they are now offering USDA Choice. They won't count me as a customer until it's USDA Choice grass fed, but until then, I'm sure they will do just fine without me.

                            I find the irritation with Thomas Keller perplexing. Or maybe it's a case of people liking to take a poke at the giants. Fact of the matter is that while Keller may not talk the talk as much as some would like him to, he damned sure walks the walk, and then some! Wherever humanly possibly, he grows his own produce just outside the kitchen door of his restaurants. It's not at all unusual for diners in his restaurants to eat food that was attached firmly to a plant with roots in the ground hours before they put it in their mouths. When he need items that are not available locally, he researches the best before "planting a carbon footprint" to bring in less than the best possible. He strives to do it right the first time, He leads by EXAMPLE. What could be better than that? I'll take one Thomas Keller over a dozen Alice Waters. But that's me. I'm sure there are some who disagree.

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              "[T]he ONLY thing that will change how food in America is cultivated, harvested, and transported to market is the corporate bottom line."

                              I agree. That's why I think every conversation on the subject is relevant as it has the potential to lead to ever more action - if only one thoughtful purchase at a time. Perhaps, it is enough to wait until Wal-Mart carries better beef, or avoiding McDonalds and Chilis and their ilk. Perhaps, taking the further step of simply only consuming beef two or three times a month, instead of a week, is the next step.

                              Maybe, this is all really getting back to my own underlying belief in thoughtful consumption. There is something to be said for at least acknowledging the consequences of our actions - whether it's the source of our food or our clothing or our information, etc. Conspicuous and unfettered consumption certainly hasn't been beneficial to our society.

                              1. re: MGZ


                                You see Keller's and Aduriz's lack of public advocacy on food issues as indifference?

                                And because Keller and Aduriz don't use their positions as acclaimed chefs to draw attention to food policies, make speeches on food policies and spearhead policy initiatives, they are "complacent, see no role to play in the conversation, and are either condoning ignorance or implying they don't want change."

                                Really? That's your assessment?

                                The NYT article says that Keller and Aduriz feel "their responsibility as chefs is primarily to create breathtakingly delicious and beautiful food." They're rated as among the top ten chefs in the world.

                                You don't get to be the best in the world without focus: single-minded, all-consuming focus, at the exclusion of other pursuits.

                                Have you ever thought Keller and Aduriz don't have the time to create new food policy?

                                Or that establishing a public policy presence would cut into the time needed to produce
                                their level of food?

                                Or that Keller and Aduriz don't see a public policy role as a good use of their talents?
                                That others with knowledge of re-writing regulations and initiating legislation might be more effective at enacting policy change?

                                Besides, does activism have to be the type you say? The Mark Bittman, public media, sound-byte type?

                                What about activism "inside the industry," on the front lines?

                                I can't speak for Aduriz, but you could never say that Keller is not an activist. Caroline1 has been insightful in all her comments on this thread, but particularly so when she says Keller "damned sure walks the walk."

                                Keller's fierce; he's had a huge impact inside his industry. He's a passionate advocate of flavorful food, grown well; and its producers. His purchasing decisions for all his restaurants have an economic impact: they keep a coterie of farmers and artisan producers in business. He's not only trained a legion of chefs but changed the way chefs all over the world source raw ingredients and foodstuffs. That's an even wider economic impact. He's had a role in changing the way Americans shop for food. The idea of seeking out the freshest and most flavorful ingredients is not Keller's alone, but the concept has garnered an enormous amount of media attention, partly because of Keller, the net result being a gradual shift in the way Americans shop for food. Visiting farmers markets, and supporting local purveyors and artisan producers are all part of the national conversation now.

                                Your assessment of Keller, and possibly Aduriz, is off. You fault Keller for not taking on your particular brand of public policy activism but ignore the massive amount of advocacy and change he's made inside in his own industry and across America.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  The simple truth is that Keller and Aduriz have taken on public roles. They are out promoting the book with interviews for publication. When Keller asks: "With the relatively small number of people I feed, is it really my responsibility to worry about carbon footprint?" is he not ignoring the fact that, by embracing the benefits of celebrity, his actions and statements are weightier than those of others? As noted in the Paula Crossfield piece I cited:

                                  "While the [World's Top Restaurant] list is not at the heart of discussions around food, the chefs that appear there do wield an influence far beyond the people they feed day in and day out at their restaurants. As the article in the Times points out, 'While their restaurants may be accessible only to the world's 0.1 percent, chefs at top restaurants influence the entire global food community with the way they think, write, tweet, and talk about food -- not just the way they cook it.'"

                                  As to the positive influence inside the industry, I don't know how much Keller has exerted. I realize the success he has had and that he therefore has the notoriety consequential to it. (In fact, that is the foundation for what I have been saying all along.) He may have played a part in the shift in the conversation you note, but his own comments suggest that any impact was purely accidental. At bottom, I am not sure if "walking the walk" is sufficient if you are not willing to talk a bit too.

                                  1. re: MGZ

                                    Suffice it to say they've grasped the greatest truth behind celebrity--there's no such thing as bad publicity=all buzz is good buzz. Hypocrisy and self-justification always shack up.

                                    1. re: MGZ

                                      MGZ, I would probably take your remarks more seriously if it was less obvious that you've made up your mind and not about to give serious thought to other views. That said, I have a problem with your use of the word "notoriety" in regard to Thomas Keller. That word has a negative connotation where I come from, that I don't think applies here. In case you're unaware of this, gives these synonyms for "notoriety": Synonyms 1. disrepute, ill-repute, shame, infamy. In my book, none of those apply to Keller. It's a language thing!

                                      1. re: MGZ

                                        You're asking too much of these very busy people.

                                        1. re: MGZ

                                          I agree, MGZ. It reminds me of Charles Barkley's infamous quote (while he was playing): "I'm no role model". I remember thinking at the time -- you sh**head, you already are a role model, it's your choice what kind of one you want to be. ML's elaborate defense of Keller proves the former. Keller's dismissal shows what kind he wants to be.

                                          1. re: carbonaraboy

                                            Keller is a huge, positive role model inside the industry. That counts for a lot, but is not being given due credit here. I'm also pointing out how unrealistic the expectation is that he take on another big project in addition to his already enormous work load.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              I have found this whole thread skewed from the beginning. I've read the NYT article about Keller and Aduriz three or four times, and damned if I can find anything in it that seems the least bit controversial to me, but there it is in the title of this thread. Then MGZ threw in the totally unrelated article by Mark Bittman to muddy the waters even more. As I said to MGZ earlier, I don't think anyone would be at all upset if the CEOs of Bugatti and Ferrari made statements to the effect that developing fuel efficient "green" cars is not their focus, which is very close to what Keller and Aduriz said about their work, yet some people have their noses all out of joint. I don't understand that. To paraphrase an old saying, you can please some of the people all of the time, and you can please all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time. I suspect some of this Keller bashing is simply the old sport of swatting at giants from a safe distance. '-)

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                Initially, I will agree with you that the common use of the term "notoriety" has bestowed it with negative connotations. I merely employed it as a synonym for celebrity. As I am sure you are aware, the word fundamentally just means "well known."

                                                I do not, however, think anyone is "swatting at giants." Honestly, I don't really think that Keller is a giant at all. As I have noted, I have never really been exposed to anything suggesting he has done much besides succeed with a pair of restaurants. I have made my thoughts very clear throughout this thread, so I won't insult you by repeating myself. I merely submit that I find the positions of someone who has chosen to act as a public figure to be wrong. I would gladly say as much to the man should I ever be in a position to engage him. I have, in fact, done so with much more significant people.

                                                1. re: MGZ

                                                  "Done much besides succeed with a couple of restaurants." ummm... You seem like a pretty bright and thoughtful guy, so let me help you update your knowledge of Thomas Keller with a link to his restaurant group and his brief Wiki biography. I hope you"ll check them out. He really is a pretty remarkable human being.


                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                    Sugar Plum, "notoriety" has ALWAYS carried a negative connotation, as its root word is "notorious." It has NEVER "fundamentally" meant "well known." Own it! '-)

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      Thank you for the links. As I said, I don't know much about the man and I have now learned that he is not only a celebrity chef, he's also a chef and a celebrity.

                                                      On another note, I am afraid that while I was still in my lowercase years, the old nuns couldn't break my questioning spirit, but they did manage to teach me a bit of the Pope's language. My recollection is that "notorius" translated into English from Latin as "well know." Hence the comment above.

                                                      At bottom, I'm just glad that there's a thread on this forum that actually has people thinking about more than the Food Network's latest reality foray.

                                                      1. re: MGZ

                                                        Double amen to that last comment!

                                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                                  "Keller is a huge, positive role model inside the industry."

                                                  As I mentioned above, I don't know if that is true or not. Frankly, I have never really read anything that suggests its veracity. I would be more than happy to learn more about his influence, particularly in light of how many people in the industry appear to have been quite bothered by the same comments that we are discussing here.

                                                3. re: carbonaraboy

                                                  I think that you have drawn a very apt parallel. It seems to me that, in time, the "Round Mound" did come to realize the immaturity of his comments and has learned to be aware of his influence.

                                            2. re: MGZ

                                              It seems that consumer spending choices are having an impact on what restaurants are offering and therefore what supply is being generated: