QUESTIONS IN VINO ANSWERED
Katy Fentress discovers she doesn’t really know much about fine dining, so polls her friends and colleagues to figure out what, in their opinions, this type of eating out actually is.
Putting together a single theme monthly food magazine is a rollercoaster of emotions. I find there are always clear phases of the journey. These can be best described at the inception and brainstorming phase - to which I often come feeling confident I know much about what there is to know on the subject. The research and fieldwork phase - the more I find out, the less I realise I knew all along. The production and exposition phase - the point at which I have to put all these findings together and then squeeze my brain for something relevant and mildly intelligent to say. And finally the rejection phase - whatever the theme, be it meat, sweets, booze or fine dining, by the time I am beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, I experience a total rejection of the topic in question. As a result, at the end of the grilling issue I swore to become vegetarian, at the end of the booze issue I swore never to drink again, as the sweets issue drew to a close I vowed to avoid sugars forever and ever and now for the fine dining issue, I am determined I will only eat burgers, chips and pizzas until the end of my days. Inevitably, my resolutions don’t really last more than a week but it does leave me wondering how on earth people who work on one project for months and years on end can stand
to be in contact with the object of their research for such long periods of time. The big question of the month has been what is fine dining? To answer this I polled friends and colleagues trying to see if there was a consensus. Generally, the people seemed to all concur that fine dining was primarily about cutlery, ambiance, dress code and etiquette. To a lesser extent, people indicated small portions, high expense and special dishes as also being important. Two answers I feel really bear mentioning. The first, by Yummy contributor Amal Mohamed, had me and Pete (our photographer and my dining companion for most of this month’s gourmet culinary journey) in stitches of laughter throughout. Fine dining is, according to her: S*#t I can’t make myself, S*#t I can’t pronounce, in an ambiance I wouldn’t know how to replicate at home. On a more intellectual note, my learned friend Moritz Kasper did such a good job of describing what fine dining is today, that I feel no need to add anything onto his definition myself. Fine dining, according to Kasper, always comes with a certain level of exclusivity. While it varies according to the local context, this exclusivity is primarily created by financial factors and other more social constraints. Fine dining, he goes on to
explain, creates a special experience, a spectacle so to speak, that elevates the dining as a happening above the everydays of the consumer and her/his regular means of food consumption. In sum, fine dining creates a level of excellence that justifies the expenses that will inevitably be incurred. Another question I asked my international networks was about how the concept of fine dining translated to other languages and cultures. Here too the answers were quite revealing. The Germans have a term which roughly translates as “elevated eating”, the Italians and Israelis don’t really have a precise label and are content with terms like “a meal fit for kings” or simply an “expensive, classy or gourmet meal” while the Japanese have a term which instead covers the whole experience from the ambiance, the foods, the quality and the service. Fine dining then, as most people understand it, is the direct product of the French and subsequent Anglo traditions, something I discuss in more detail in my feature “Nairobi Finesse” on page 39. Elsewhere in our fine dining special, Susan Wong appreciates the easy charm of Sikia fine dining restaurant [p30], Ivy Nyayieka discovers there is more than one way to eat fatty goose liver [p35], Winnie Wangui interviews the member of a veritable society of
fine dining [p29] and the team put together a tongue in cheek list of the do’s and don’ts of fine dining in the 20th century [p33]. For our “Culinary Escape” section, radio presenter Wanjira Longauer longs to be back at her recent wine tasting in Stellenbosch South Africa [p27] while for our Cocktail Hour segment [p46], Leroy Buliro pokes fun at us women in the office, with his hilarious article on a cognac tasting we were treated to earlier in the month. There really is so much to say and so little space to say it in. I think the question of what is fine dining really does come at a good time when Nairobi is grappling with questions related to its own culinary identity and our burgeoning restaurant scene. Hopefully, we will come back to all of this at a later point (but not before I’ve stuffed my face with decidedly un-fine junk food for a while)!
You don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy a good glass of wine, argues Katy Fentress, who is happy to have passed the responsibility of curating this month’s wine section to someone unarguably more qualified than her.
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