Great Chefs Cook Vegan cookbook giveawayI’ll be giving away this wonderful cookbook starting on Friday and testing the recipes has helped me understand and appreciate the costs involved in putting meals out at fine dining restaurants. If you’ve ever thought, “Why are fancy restaurants so damn expensive?” this should answer your questions.

Beet Salad Beet Reduction Walnut Chutney

Beet Salad with Beet Reduction, Walnut Chutney, Chive Oil, baby arugula, and MIA toasted croutons

I’m going to use one of the recipes I tested as an example. There are six components to the finished dish—six individual recipes making up one plate, with 18 individual ingredients.

#1) Beet salad called for boiling the yellow and red beets separately to avoid staining, then cooling, peeling, and cutting them into 3/4″ cubes. As hard as I tried, I don’t think I got a single perfect cube.

#2) The beet reduction called for one pound of red beets, juiced, then cooked down into a reduction. I cooked it on low for nearly an hour and it still wasn’t syrupy, so then I raised the heat and eventually nearly burned it.

#3) The walnut chutney was pretty straightforward, except I had to buy sherry vinegar, a more expensive ingredient.

#4) I made the croutons from frozen gluten-free bread, doing my best to cut the slices as thinly as I could. You bake the thin slices between sheets of oiled parchment paper coated lightly with salt and pepper, sandwiched between two baking sheets to keep the croutons from curling. They came out great, but I completely forgot they were sitting on the side counter and took the shot, cleaned everything up, and then found them. Doh!

#5) The chive oil was easy to make, but something I would never do simply to add color and another layer of flavor to a plate.

#6) As I hate turnips and horseradish, I skipped those parts of the suggested garnish, substituting Trader Joe’s baby arugula for the much more expensive micro arugula in their photo.

How does this translate to a fine dining experience? You are paying for…

  • Staff: highly trained people who can finesse these ingredients, do quality control, and make plates look like this. A fine dining restaurant also has quite a few more staff members than a regular restaurant: sous chefs, dishwashers, additional waiters, sommeliers, etc.
  • Interior: high-quality menus, linen service, decor, a more expensive buildout designed by an interior designer or an architect. All of these items eventually get built into the cost of the food.
  • Ingredients: highest quality, items that might not be in season, the number of them per plate, the variety of them they must keep on hand, and the amount they use per recipe.
  • Preparation time: Some dishes might have prep that begins two days before you dine there, and if most dishes have multiple components, they are far more complex than anything I order at regular restaurants.

I tend to look at fine dining as paying for entertainment. Just like you’d have a far more memorable experience at a Broadway show than a local community theater production, fine dining restaurants provide something special. Now that I know just what goes into the “show,” I’ll try to budget for it once or twice a year. Here are some tips for eating at fine dining restaurants if you’re on a special diet or have allergies.

Today’s post is part of our mission to help you rebuild your health through food and lifestyle choices. Look for posts on Mondays featuring gluten-free, sugar-free recipes made with healthy plant-based ingredients, Wednesday essays, and Friday giveaways (when available.)

Here is the book if you want to check it out before Friday: