Environmental effects of fine dining

One of the world’s top chefs has warned that environmental degradation and an explosion in fine dining worldwide is set to have a drastic effect on the food trade.

Habitats are being destroyed, killing off wild fish stocks and making some vegetables and fruits so scarce that a number of dishes will have to be dropped and restaurants will be forced to close, warns Pierre Gagnaire, one of the pioneers of experimental modern cooking.

He also predicts that as the number of restaurants soars, demand for produce will rise, forcing up the price of dwindling stocks of quality food and sending menu prices sky-high.

For those eateries that do survive, Gagnaire says chefs will have to adapt their cooking techniques as only farmed or genetically altered food will be available.

“It’s a terrible worry, but it’s reality—the food we eat will drastically change,” said Gagnaire during a recent visit to his Pierre restaurant in Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel. “For instance, in the next five to 10 years there will be no wild fish, only farmed fish. That will have a huge impact on not only cooking techniques, but also flavours and the dishes we cook.”

Recent reports by conservationists paint a gloomy picture for the future of many wildlife species whose very existence is under threat from hunting and habitat destruction.

The WWF has warned that unless oceanic and reef fishing is reined in, most major culinary fish species will be wiped out within 50 years.
Among the most at risk, it warned, are the bluefin tuna, which experts believe will be extinct within three years, and the South African abalone.

Many species of shark, including the mighty oceanic white-tip, have also been added to the endangered list due to overfishing for their fins, a delicacy in China, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Gagnaire’s near-apocalyptic vision of the not-so-distant future comes as booming economies worldwide have sparked a surge in lucrative fine-dining restaurants.

The Frenchman is among an army of Michelin-starred chefs who have lent their names to restaurants around the world, including in Asia, as demand for top-notch food has exploded.

“It seems an odd thing to say, but there are too many good restaurants—suppliers just cannot cope,” said Gagnaire. “My suppliers are used to working for maybe three or four restaurants, but now they are getting calls all the time from new restaurants opening up.”

Gagnaire is considered among the world’s greatest—and most daring—chefs, helping to pioneer a style of cooking that relies as much on science as it does kitchen technique. While the style has been made famous by Spain’s Ferran Adria at El Bulli, it is Gagnaire who is credited with first applying scientific methods to creating menus.

His three Michelin-starred Balzac in Paris was named third-best restaurant in the world in the prestigious 2006 San Pellegrino rankings after El Bulli and the Fat Duck, near London.

Like famous TV chef Jamie Oliver, Gagnaire has taken a public stand against junk food, attacking the food industry for promoting low-quality fare and bemoaning the advertising industry for making bad food products appear trendy.

“The everyday food that people eat these days is worrying,” he said. “It’s a problem that affects the whole world. You shouldn’t have to go to a three-star restaurant to get good food. There are some alarm bells going off.”—AFP

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