Saturday, October 09, 2004

The economics of big dining

The FT has a fascinating piece (subscription) on a new style of restaurant in China serving up to 4000 people per night.

An owner of one of these restaurants is quoted: ...we've learnt a lot from McDonalds and the other western fast-food chains. In the past restaurant chefs were expected to master the full range of dishes on the menu. But we've reorganised our kitchens so that each team - a chef and his two assistants - is only expected to produce about six dishes...This kind of specialisation means we've been able to maintain a consistently high quality...

The author of the piece states: You might imagine that the kind of food in a restaurant on this kind of scale would be a slap-dash affair. In fact, it's excellent, and of a quality eclipsing almost any Chinese food you can find in a major Western city.
This quote is important because the writer is Fuchsia Dunlop, one of the most respected Western experts on Chinese food.

I wonder what the Slow Food activists would say about this? It seems you can have food on a grand scale that is of excellent quality. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone with a basic (and correct) understanding of economics. Specialisation is the key to big, efficient and high quality production. Why should professional cooking be any different?
For all the Slow Food talk of artisan, local and organic food products, the fact that they do not have a monopoly on gastronomic excellence ought to cause some rethinking in the Slow Food HQ.

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