This article was inspired by the episode “Food Is Art. So Why Do People Treat It Differently?” from The Dave Chang Show.
In this episode, Dave loudly wonders why people are paying thousands of dollars for paintings, limited edition sneakers, and concert tickets… but no one is willing to pay for expensive dishes. Again, he said dishes and not meals. According to this article, the current most expensive restaurant in the world is Sublimotion in Ibiza, Spain. It costs USD $2,380 for a 20-course tasting menu. So on average, each dish would cost around $119.
He goes on to give examples of painters, such as David Choe, whose paintings have ranged from USD $199 to USD $32,760. They recall Choe as saying his paintings deserve to be more expensive. Unsurprisingly, his paintings sold faster when he made them more expensive. Aside from that, according to this list, the world’s most expensive sneakers cost $2M. Taylor Swift concert tickets, which very quickly sold out, cost from $49 to $449; But ended up going for as much as $2,200 due to resellers.
Paraphrasing what Dave said, I think we can all agree that paintings, apparel, music, and food are considered art. Granted that not all food is art, as most exists to provide sustenance and comfort, while a small portion takes food to the level of art. If this is the case, why is it that the media and journalists celebrate the extravagant prices of these luxuries, yet they bitch about restaurants with high prices?
It’s mentioned in the episode that these voices will scream elitism. I get that highly expensive food is also a luxury. But why treat it differently from other luxuries? It’s not like the celebration of more expensive dishes in restaurants for the elite will cause the global increase of food prices. Do these media voices not see the difference between food for sustenance and food for art? Or will they just take any opportunity to make noise for their own agenda?
Dave is not saying we should increase the prices of food for everyone. He’s just saying that food should be more expensive at the most elite restaurants. If most of their customers can afford thousands of dollars worth of concert tickets, sneakers, and paintings, they should be able to afford dishes in the same price range. Yet, no restaurant exists with dishes as expensive as this, because restaurateurs know the type of criticism they well get for doing so, thus showing that society devalues food. Not that we need it, but if this doesn’t change, no one will be able to raise food to a new level.
But Dave forgot to mention that there are dishes priced at thousands of dollars. One example would be a couple of Salt Bae’s restaurants. Just look at the prices of Salt Bae’s new restaurant at Las Vegas’ The Strip and his London steakhouse. Golden wagyu striploin that can cost from $650 to $2700 and Golden Giant Tomahawk steak for £1,450 & Golden Giant Striploin for £1,350 respectively.
With this being Malt, alcohol has to be weaved in. So, another thing Dave forgot to mention is that people are also willing to spend a lot on alcohol. This is not a knock on him or alcohol. I’m well aware that alcohol sales contribute to a huge chunk of a restaurant’s profits. Also, based on the shows he’s been in (such as Ugly Delicious and Mind of a Chef) he’s never struck me as someone who is savvy with alcohol. Still, as a restaurateur who is friends with chefs from Michelin restaurants, I hoped that he would have pointed out how the elite don’t mind buying bottles of wine and whisky that go for thousands of dollars. Just check this 10 most expensive wines list, which mentions prices ranging from $12,824 to $41,368. Then check this list of 25 most expensive whiskies. The lowest ranked cost $47,136 while the highest ranked cost $927,706.
The examples above of food seemingly being devalued might be to the extremes. But keep in mind that Dave’s examples are for the elite. For the most part, I agree with Dave that food is seemingly constantly being devalued. Stepping away from his views, I see his point elsewhere. If you want more proof, just look at how farmers – the people responsible for growing our food – are constantly being devalued.
I also see this in every class of society. Locally, I’d see people in the streets settle for the cheapest food as long as they can drink their favorite brand of beer or spirit. Among the middle and upper class, I’m aware of local groups of whisky drinkers who would rather meet up and eat at decently priced restaurants while drinking their expensive bottles of wine or whisky. These don’t apply to everyone, but this is my way of agreeing with Dave.
This makes me wonder if this devaluing of food is something hard-wired into our genes, or is it more of a deep-rooted issue in society. With all this extravagance being shared in social media, is the need for validation and attention that much stronger than the urge to eat good food?
I’ve heard of cases wherein new whisky collectors would be irresponsible with their money. They’d buy an expensive bottle they can’t afford so they wouldn’t be able to pay for all of their necessities. Influencers will pretend or even think that a well-plated dish or a premium bottle of whisky is really good just because it’s presentable, and they’re possibly getting paid to promote it. It seems like being illogical is a huge part of being human, thus making it obvious to me that this issue has been around for a long time but has only been made more obvious by social media.
What brand of whisky represents the elite (of absurdity) and lack of logic better than Macallan? The ridiculousness of the demand for their contemporarily mediocre at best – yet stupidly priced – products is something I cannot truly fathom.
Just look at this Macallan Aera. This NAS expression, aged in seasoned “sherry” casks, was originally released for the Taiwan market in 2018. I also heard this was made for the clubs there. Thankfully it seems like the Taiwanese kept their wits about them and didn’t go gaga for this, because a lot of bottles became available outside of Taiwan (I was given a bottle as a gift). A lot of bottles are also still available today. I guess this brings a new meaning to them being the strongest single malt market in Asia.
Macallan Aera – Review
40% ABV. USD $180 locally. €331.91 on Master of Malt.
On the nose: The first whiff I get reminds me of the Glendronach 12. Then I get mild aromas of sulfur mixed with mild and soft aromas of apricot jam, fresh peaches, and Fuji apples. There are light aromas of honey, toffee, honeydew melons and cereals. After about five minutes, the sulfur notes end up dominating the dram.
In the mouth: A mixed mess of sulfur and an unrecognizable assortment of fruits with a peppery texture. There might be some dried apricots, kiwi, sapodilla and honey in there. Despite the ABV, it ends up being hot. Because I nosed this for 5 minutes before I took a sip, I wondered if I could taste this better if I poured a new glass. Also, after five minutes of nosing, the sulfur aromas intensified.
There’s less sulfur. But everything seems muted. I get light and short tastes of dried apricots, peaches, sapodilla, toffee, nuts, and honey. There’s a tinge of honeydew melon at the end.
As our scoring bands state, this is flawed. At its current state, I’d have given it a 4 if it were cheaper. But if this didn’t have the aggressive sulfur notes and if it were cheaper, I’d give this a 5.
There is just nothing exciting about this expression, unless buying this for someone at a club could get them excited and let you score. I guess I’m just immune to the “charms” of Macallan.
If I imagined this without the sulfur notes and stupid price, this would be a perfectly good entry level single malt. But with the price and sulfur, it’s just a mess of a light profile single malt. The flavors don’t last long. It’s hot for the 40% ABV.
Comparing something like a painting–which is not consumed and can be enjoyed for an unlimited time and resold–to a dish of food does not make any sense to me. The comparison to other experiences that are fleeting like concerts makes much more sense.
As it turns out, the person whom David Chang seems to most idolize, René Redzepi, was only able to keep his restaurants afloat by exploiting his workers according to a recent article in the New York Times. (At least, in the Netflix series that I watched, Chang kept returning to Redzepi even when discussing topics like Mexican food and barbeque, which seemed bizarre.) If Redzepi cannot charge enough to make his enterprise sustainable without using the free labor of multiple interns, maybe the whole food-as-art institution should question its purpose. I wonder if David Chang has asked the question you pose above based on the closing of NOMA. I am much more interested in food as it relates to specific cultures–at least those other than international elites.
In any case, have you watched the movie with Ralph Fiennes called “The Menu”?
Hi Zenatello, I wasn’t aware of Rene exploiting his workers. Though it’ s no secret that Dave admired Rene. I don’t recall any mention of NOMA in the podcast episode.
I haven’t seen The Menu yet but it’s on my list of movies to watch.
I think the enjoying a painting can be similar to enjoying a meal. You just take a picture of the dishes and relish in the memory of it. I’ve never owned a painting, but I assume you most enjoy it the most when they 1st get it. Then enjoy it less the longer they have it. Kinda like just having had a meal then recalling that meal from time to time.
I have quite a few paintings and prints, and the good ones keep rewarding contemplation, even after decades. Some give me much more pleasure now than they did when I first bought them. Of course, there are also some that I regret buying!
Ha! Thanks for sharing!
Hi John, before I start I want to you to know that I enjoyed the review and my response is tribute to that.
At the end of the day the filthy rich can spend their money however they like. If they want to pay £300 for a smear with a biscuit and flower petal on top that’s up to them. If the vast majority think that’s a bit of a waste of money it doesn’t mean they devalue food. The chef might call it art, why not? Everything’s ‘Art’ ever since Duchamp referred to his urinal as such. Manzoni’s 1961 work ‘Merda d’Artista’ (Artist’s Shit), a sealed can of of his own delectable stuff is art. Anything goes. The cans sold for $37 in 1961 but time has matured our artistic intelligence and they now fetch $275,000. It’s such an original idea that quite a number of artists have plagiarised Manzoni without any reference to his genius. It’s a far cry from Plato’s ideas.
I work for an international charity that focuses on poverty and poverty reduction. To most people on the planet the idea of that smear/biscuit/flower is obscene and immoral. 28 million people are starving in East Africa today. People are selling their children and kidneys in Afghanistan to buy food. How anybody can say food is devalued is beyond me. I don’t care what some tv celebrity has to say about food. It’s completely banal on a good day. He claims it’s art but so is a can of shit.
Talking of shit and the elephant in the room – MACALLAN. How shit is this bottle? Dumped on the ‘Asian Market’ because ‘they’re so obsessed with aspiration’ they’ll buy any crap with a label. This bottle sucks in so many ways even before we touch on the contents. 40% crap and a bottle. Some might say it’s borderline racist.
Thanks for the response. I’ll have to look up Duchump and Manzoni.
I understand where you’re coming from. A lot of unfortunate people are unable to afford food. But that’s surely why Dave emphasized his opinion is only for the elite. It’s also why I emphasized it was directed the elite too. But I can also see that the elite can do more to help the unfortunate.
I’m not one to defend Macallan. But to be fair, the Taiwan market gets their fair share of special releases or their special treatment. The easiest examples I can think of they get Glenfarclas 105 with age statements while most of the world gets NAS. When Diageo discontinued the original Green Label, they kept it going for Taiwan. So I think this was Macallan doing a special release for Taiwan for just half – assed it. But this is only speculation as we don’t know the inner dealings between Macallan and whoever handles Macallan in Taiwan.
Thanks for the reply John. I enjoyed penning my comment. Hmm, the elite devalue food because they spend a fortune on it? Is that what he was saying? Their appreciation will increase as we put up the prices? There’s truth in that. It’s about bragging rights of course but let’s not refer to food, on the basis of high prices, as art. That is utter pretentiousness.
As a matter of fact we kind of come full circle with Manzoni and Macallan. The whisky might taste lousy but it was never meant to be opened. It’s investment material and that’s all. A few years ago I read that someone couldn’t resist the temptation and opened one of Manzoni’s cans only to discover some desiccated, neutrally odoured, crumbs. A $275,000 mistake and, in the insane world we live in, an act of art vandalism .
Macallan distillery makes some whisky for drinking but the other stuff is for bragging ownership rights or investment. What’s in the bottle doesn’t matter. It’s such a mind-fuck that the contents of a bottle of whisky are the last thing considered. A glass bottle and label are the actual value. If you pop the cork on a $100,000 bottle your left with the Manzoni conundrum. A bit of a disappointment.
It’s such a shame because Macallan were once a great distillery and made great whisky to be drunk and enjoyed by whisky enthusiasts. I have fond memories of Macallan 10 in the late 80’s. That’s when you could count the single malt enthusiasts you knew on one hand.
The ‘Asian Market’ is such a soft touch for whisky companies. Lot’s of money and if they love Johnnie Walker Blue we can sell anything. Why on earth does anybody think this stuff is sold exclusively to that market unless it’s a guaranteed earner?
Hi WT, the main issue of food being devalued is that the media will shame any restaurant that tries to come up with more expensive food. Which he doesnt get because it’s for the elite which don’t really care how much they spend.
Yup. I agree that what matters with Macallan is the label and the bottle. It’s crazy. But I guess it’s the same as Yamazaki and Hibiki at this point? Macallan is just more sensationalized.
I’ve had old Macallans and they were great. But this was a while ago when I still preferred wood-forward stuff. Not sure how I’d like them now. I’m still on a hunt for a bar that has them so I can compare.
“Why on earth does anybody think this stuff is sold exclusively to that market unless it’s a guaranteed earner?”
It may be somewhat of “let’s throw them a bone and see how they like it”. Macallan knows they won’t lose the market that easily.