Often controversial GQ critic Alan Richman has invented a new phrase to define what he sees as the country's "latest gastronomic trend": "Egotarian Cuisine." He writes: "The food is ingenious. It's occasionally brilliant. Too often, it's awful ... This is the first food development in America that exists not because customers are eager for it but because chefs insist on doing it." Richman drops the hammer, saying that with egotarian cuisine: "The job of the customer is to eat what's placed before him, and then applaud."
The nature of the cuisine Richman is trying to define can be hard to pin down, but here are some of the markers: "The chef explains that his cooking has 'a story to tell,' and it's a romantic novel of self-love," "a restaurant that serves small-plate dishes that express the inspirations of the chef, and if what appears before you are compilations of ingredients never previously compiled" and chefs who "test culinary boundaries, push themselves to the edge of the cliff and sometimes drop off." Richman classifies much of New Nordic cuisine in America as egotarian.
So who, exactly is serving this egotarian cuisine? According to Richman, this is the work of men, and men alone: "Not once have I seen a female chef prepare such food ... I don't recall ever encountering such gender-specific cooking." This isn't exactly the same as writer Josh Ozersky's so-called "dude food," but a sort of relative of it. "Sometimes it seems like a called play, a power sweep of culinary he-men overwhelming the culture's defense," Ozersky writes, referring to "dude food" icons like Anthony Bourdain and Guy Fieri, "They're not gay! They don't mince vegetables!" Richman sees this new, sophisticated version dude food as the result of unchecked ego: "Nobody is telling them what they might be doing wrong." And he finds examples all over the country: New York City's Luksus and Aska ("I had no idea what I'd be eating. It's almost always this way"), LA's Trois Mec and Alma, Austin's Odd Duck, Brookline, MA's Ribelle, and Hudson, NY's Fish & Game.
Richman calls this style of cuisine a "misinterpretation" of the work done by "godfathers of modern cuisine": Ferran Adrià, David Chang, and René Redzpi. Richman is not the first to fret over whether Adrià's pioneering work has had a negative impact on a younger generation of chefs, joining the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Alton Brown in saying that perhaps Adrià's techniques and philosophies are now in the wrong hands. Richman also calls out the chef festival circuit as an influence, describing the events as places where chefs "gather to celebrate themselves and their personal worlds of food."
Of course, Richman isn't the first critic to balk at "chef-driven" tasting menus and whether they end up putting the chef's desires of those of the paying customers. Back in 2013, there was a critical backlash agains the "tyranny" of the tasting menu, with everyone from Pete Wells to Corby Kummer, who described tasting menus as a 'totalitarian' dining experience.