The VinePair Podcast: Are Somms an Endangered Species?

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On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe ponder the uncertain future of the sommelier role in the ever-shifting fine dining space. Prompted by the recent announcement of Noma’s impending closure, the three question if this is a shift to a more fun, party-like atmosphere and style of dining that may further limit sommeliers who are still reeling from Covid and recovering from reputational damage following a series of scandals. Tune in for more.

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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.

Joanna Sciarrino: I’m Joanna Sciarrino.

Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.

A: This is the VinePair Podcast. How was the weekend, guys? How are we doing? It’s still the weekend for us. We’re recording before Monday and it’s MLK Day, so we’re off. What’s going on?

J: I have no sense of time anymore.

A: No sense. It’s all bleeding together. Why?

J: Well, I had my in-law’s in town recently. I had a baby shower recently.

A: You had a baby shower?

J: I had a baby shower recently because I’m pregnant.

A: Congratulations, Joanna.

J: Thank you very much.

Z: Joanna’s waiting until almost the last minute to drop the ball for the listeners.

A: For those of you who’ve been listening for the past few months, Joanna didn’t drink any of those cocktails she’d been saying she’s been drinking. She’s been smelling them, and maybe tasting them a little bit.

J: I have had sips. I have had sips, I can say.

A: Thanks, Evan, for doing the work for her as part of the podcast.

J: My darling husband had been drinking a lot for me in my stead. Yes, actually, related to that, we went to Manhattan when my in-laws were in town.

A: Cool.

J: As you do. I finally got to try the Look to the Cookie cocktail, which is there. I think it’s an Aquavit-based cocktail, and it’s meant to evoke a black-and-white cookie, and it has black sesame on top, and it’s made with a whole egg. I really shouldn’t have been trying this cocktail for so many different reasons.

A: So many reasons. You have to get emails.

J: Yes, but I think a whole egg cocktail is not for me.

A: Wasn’t your thing, huh?

J: It’s got that scent.

A: Yes, the egg scent.

J: Egg scent. I found it a little off. It tastes delicious — tastes like a milkshake, with the black sesame. It’s very nice. I don’t think I would ever have it again.

A: I don’t think I would ever have it again.

J: Obviously — always a lovely experience in Manhattan. The other thing that I had recently, and I’m jumping on the hop water train–

A: Why?

J: Because Josh says it’s good, and I believe Josh. I tried the Hoplark.

A: What’d you think?

J: Very good. This one was made with the Sabro hop, so it’s like a tropical take on it, but I think they’re going to be the next big thing.

A: Isn’t it funny, though, that I loved the meme that Dave Infante created?

J: So good.

A: It’s just like — it was like two bros sitting around at a brewery, being like, “Hey, man, I got a great idea. Let’s just put hops in water and charge the same price as craft beer.” “You’re a genius.” That’s basically what hop water is.

J: That’s exactly what it is.

A: People love it. It is good. It is good.

J: It tastes good.

A: It’s water with hops. Who knew?

J: Yes, fizzy water with hops. Yes.

Z: Hops are tasty.

A: It’s better than a lot of the non-alcoholic beers.

J: Yes, actually. I prefer it.

A: Yes, so does Josh. Josh has one when he gets lunch sometimes. I’m like, “Josh, are you drinking a beer in the office?” “No, man, it’s hop water.”

Z: Also, if there’s any office that I think shouldn’t look down upon someone for having a beer with their lunch, it would be the VinePair office.

J: That’s very true.

A: Yes, but I need him on his toes. Let’s go, man. No.

Z: Hey, some of us might work better after one beer. Let’s not assume anything.

A: Yes. What about you, Zach?

Z: If that were true, I’d say bad things about my work as of late, because obviously I’m not drinking in January; But I did take the plunge on an interesting NA beverage called the Pathfinder. I don’t know if you guys have seen this. I think they call it, essentially NA Amaro. It’s fermented from hemp and then distilled, and then has a bunch of your various herbs, roots, other crap infused in like Douglas fir tips, saffron, juniper, et cetera, et cetera. It was interesting. I got a bottle, actually, a couple of months ago. I figured, well, I’m going to save this for when I actually want to drink something that doesn’t just taste like fizzy water. I would say it’s pretty good viscosity-wise. This is often one of my concerns about NA spirits, that they just are thin. It definitely has a good viscosity now. It definitely has some sugar in it, so it’s not like, also no cal or something like that, which is fine. I don’t need it to be, but it has the right viscosity for amaro, similar aromas. It doesn’t have the intensity of flavor because in the end, alcohol is such a good solvent that it does a really good job of picking up flavors in a way that nothing else, I think, that we can safely consume does. It was pretty good. I had a little bit neat. I tried a little bit with an ice cube in it. Then, I actually made what was pretty tasty to me, which was some of the Pathfinder and just some ginger beer, which was kind of a nice, like — I don’t usually drink. The Dark ‘n Stormy, or whatever, isn’t a go-to drink for me, but it was a good — it’s also obviously not a rum, but it has similar aroma and flavor and vibe to a Dark ‘n Stormy, which given that it’s been dark and stormy here, in general, it was kind of a nice fit. Yes, it was tasty. Again, nothing quite fits the spot in my life that alcohol does. I won’t pretend that these things are, and that I don’t notice the difference at all, but I do appreciate it when I have something and I’m like, “Meh.” If I’m not scrutinizing it too closely, it does the trick.

J: Nice. I like the bottle. It looks like an old apothecary.

Z: Yes, definitely. That’s the vibe that they’re going for. I don’t know enough about who makes it to know if it could very well be some mega-corporation that just thought this was good branding, but the product was pretty good, so I appreciate that. How about you, Adam? What have you been drinking?

A: I do like my version of Dry January. I try to only drink two days a week, and only two or three drinks on any one day. Also, Naomi’s pregnant, so I really have fallen in love with — and I’m annoyed by the fact that there are not more half-bottles of wine out there. It’s like, why can’t we have better-quality half-bottles of wine? On Saturday night, I made the Zahav Hummus, and a whole hummus bowl with grains and stuff, and we’re eating healthy. Then, I had Vietti Barolo — this half-bottle that I had — and it was awesome. I had a little bit of it while I cooked. Then, I had the rest of it while we ate dinner and watched a movie. It’s amazing for — again, if we’re talking about Friday control — It’s a perfect proportion control. Like, “Oh, the half-bottle is gone. There I go. I’m done.” I think it’s so great and it’s so rare to find, especially for great wines.

J: For good wines.

A: It’s like, why is it only the cheap sh*t that’s in the half-bottles? I don’t understand. Why is it, like, the stuff that’s in the plastic half-bottle on the plane? It would be so awesome to have better half-bottles of wine. I want to buy a few more before Naomi is giving birth. I have three months to explore a little more. It was just this great experience. I feel like it also would be such a great way to get more people to drink wine more regularly because it feels like less of a commitment. You, again, finish the bottle. I feel like for people who live in apartments, they’re a lot easier to store. I know that I was talking to, actually, the people at Dalla Terra Winery Direct, who are the people that import Vietti, and they were saying to me that half-bottles are much more expensive.

J: Yes, I was going to say.

A: They’re more expensive to bottle it, et cetera; but, I feel like there’s got to be some way to figure this out where you see the demand is there, and then that expense is worth it because I would pay. I get what they’re saying. People only want to pay half-price for the half-bottle. I pay a little bit more than half-price for the convenience. Obviously, I’m not going to pay, if the bottle is $60, I’m not going to pay $60 for the half or $50 for the half. Like $35? That feels fair to me. So, I have a great bottle of wine that I don’t have to worry about wasting; or, if I don’t have someone to share it with, it’s just for me. I would be really into that. Let’s make that happen in 2023, half-bottles.

J: I feel like Astor has a lot.

A: They do. Astor has probably the largest selection I’ve seen in New York.

Z: I have a funny story about half-bottles, which is that we used to have them on the restaurant lists; and not infrequently, I would bring out a half-bottle that someone had ordered, and they would not believe me that it was a half-bottle of wine because they look-

J: It seems smaller.

Z: -so small to people. One table, I remember, I was like, “Here is the label. It says it’s 375 milliliters. If you don’t believe me, I’ll get some sort of measuring cup and I will measure it for you. I don’t think you want me to decant your wine that way, but I will do it if you want.” It’s amazing how those very simple, but very powerful snap judgments, can really determine how people think about it. Some people look at it and they’re just like, “That doesn’t look like enough wine.” Even if it’s a half of a bottle.

J: That doesn’t look like enough wine.

Z: They’re like, “No, it can’t be enough.” Of course, it’s, like, complicated by the fact that there are other small-format bottles that are different amounts. There are obviously, like, the 187 bottles — the splits for sparkly wine. There are 500-milliliter bottles that float around there as well. It is a little confusing if you don’t look at them closely and/or just work with them regularly. It’s always funny to me when people refuse to accept that sometimes big things come in small packages y’all. It’s okay.

A: Yes, totally. This week on the VinePair podcast, we’re discussing fine dining with the peg towards Noma’s closing. Obviously, if you’ve been paying attention to food and drink news of the last week, there’s been lots of articles written on the fact that Noma is closing in its current state. For those unfamiliar with Noma, it’s considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world, and it is going to potentially reopen as something else, whatever that means. Noma 3.0 is what René Redzepi is calling it, but who knows what that is. If that’s microwaveable meals a la David Chang, I don’t know that’s what that dude is doing. I don’t know exactly what it will be, but the thing that Noma is now, that it receives so many accolades for, will be no more. This was shocking to people, it feels like, but also not. It feels like there’s a lot of fine dining that is reimagining itself. You have Eleven Madison Park becoming fully vegan. You have other fine dining that’s closing. I saw a lot of hot takes.

J: Manresa.

A: The issue here is also that it feels like, at the same time that some of these places are closing — I personally feel, and I’ve talked to people in the industry, that there are a lot less somms on the floor, and I’ve always thought of somms as going hand in hand with fine dining. The larger question here is: Are we potentially entering a post-fine dining, post-somm world where — yes, there might be another era in the future where we go back to this — but is the current era we’re entering post-fine dining and post-somm? Before we have that conversation, I do want to say one thing to all the people who like to tweet. There were a lot of people, too, when Noma closed, that were like, “I couldn’t care less about Noma, but I don’t care — I don’t care that it’s closing.” You obviously do care because you’re tweeting about it. If you don’t care about something, you don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t have to say anything because you don’t care about it. It’s like, the most annoying thing about a certain group of people who feel the need to have the opinion that they don’t care about having an opinion. Just shut the f*ck up. Anyway–

Z: You’re criticizing Twitter users, and I do not fall into this category. I did not tweet about Noma, so I’m glad.

A: Good for you. Are we entering this post-somm, post-fine dining era?

Z: I think it’s really funny because I think we were weirdly positioned for something different pre-Covid. I think we had talked on pod years ago, before Covid hit, about how it seemed like, well, maybe we’re in the space where wine sales are moving upward. There’s this whole burgeoning class of aspiring sommeliers and wine professionals who would like to fill these roles, and maybe more restaurants should have a sommelier or rough equivalents on the floor. Combination of Covid and frankly, a lot of the scandals around the Court of Master Sommeliers, and just a lot of things have conspired to both remove some of the establishments that would employ sommeliers or force them to reconsider their business model. I think the halo attached to the profession has been tarnished pretty heavily. I think we are really entering this period where a sommelier is harder to justify for most restaurants, especially one who’s purely a person on the floor selling wine. They’re not a manager. They’re not doing other things in the restaurant. We are also seeing this change in what fine dining looks like. I think we’ll talk more about that. But from a somm perspective in particular, I think we definitely passed through this inflection point, and we are moving rapidly towards fewer somms, not more. Three or four years ago, it looked like it could have gone in either direction.

A: I think it’s worth remembering three or four years ago, we had places like — I can’t remember the name of this restaurant, but it got so much buzz, and I was just looking for it online. It’s closed, but it was one of these restaurants — it was in Brooklyn — that basically, the majority of the menu was Beaujolais, and they had two certified somms on the floor. It was a place where the vibe was terry cloth napkins and raw wood tables. It was not a restaurant that you would expect to find somms, and that was where we were going, where everybody had access. Like, “You get a somm, and you get a somm and you get a somm, and you get a somm.” That’s what they were. They were somms. They were not also servers, managers, et cetera. They were somms on the floor. I think we’re moving away from that. I think also because a lot of the restaurants now, who’ve clawed their way back from Covid if they survived, are like, “I can’t afford a person who is devoted, whose sole job is devoted to continuing to grow an inventory that I may not be able to sell, and I don’t want to be stuck with if this happens again,” because we saw that, too, exactly. Everyone sold off their collections and there were a lot of people who had these wine budgets because that was how you showed off that you were worth coming to. It was this measuring contest, like, “What’s your cellar look like?” “Well, no. What’s your seller look like.” You needed a professional who knew those wines and was able to grab you the allocations. Now, I think there’s less of a care for that. We want the wines that are good for us, but we don’t need to be competitive. I would be interested,  if you are a rep now,  if you feel like there’s actually, in a lot of restaurants, more trust of the rep, you tell us what is selling for other restaurants, and we’ll listen to you and what you think is good, because there’s less of a knowledge base on the floor than there was prior. Covid seems to have been that inflection point that really did change that a lot. A lot of somms also, like, went and opened great wine shops and other ventures across the country, or changed their profession, or became reps themselves. There’s a lot of former somms that are reps now — a lot. I think that is partly because fine dining is very much evolving, and there’s less of a desire amongst the consumer as well to speak to a somm on the floor.

J: I agree. I agree with this idea that we’re in a post-fine-dining and post-somm world. From the standpoint of — I think, for a lot of people, it’s still relevant and they care about it. They want to go to these restaurants, maybe more for the restaurant part of it and less for the somm part of it. But I think, ahead of the bell curve, that’s where we’re losing this trend. I think it’s happening for a number of different reasons, a few of which have already been mentioned. I think Covid was a huge part of this. I think at this point, this is a lot of money for people to spend on meals and these experiences that they perhaps just don’t have at this point. I know we’re more willing to spend on extravagances, but with what we’re facing now, that just might not be the case. I think in both fine dining and in the somm world, we’ve had a lot of bad actors, and these types of characters who were previously worshipped have fallen from grace. In fine dining, that happened a little bit earlier, like in the early 2010s: 2013 and 2015. That’s when Redzepi had his whole — his blog post or whatever about his bad behavior and stuff.

A: His anger issues and stuff.

J: His anger issues. Now at this point, we make jokes so that it’s a parody of the kitchen behavior. Like, with “The Bear” and “The Menu.” I haven’t watched “The Menu,” but I imagine that’s part of it, too. I think there’s some people just not willing to support what that means. Then, same thing for somms. With the whole scandal and the court, I think fewer, just regular people, know about that stuff; But I think from an industry and trade side, I think that’s definitely impacted the number of people who even want to pursue those types of credentials and that education. I think for those reasons, these things are just generally less appealing from an industry and trade side of things, or for people who are more tapped into fine dining and the wine world.

A: I’m going to say it. I think we are entering the era of Major Food Group.

J: It’s not quite fine dining.

A: It’s not fine dining, it’s clubby dining. It’s party dining. It’s still expensive, but there is something about fine dining, which is white tablecloth, very quiet, very stuffy-

J: Food is approachable.

A: -five people around you, making sure that this perfectly tweezed plate is dropped on the white — Instead, Major Food Group — “Spicy rigatoni, motherf*cker, but $45.” All of these places that have opened in New York, too, it’s like, all the places that are being lauded, besides the one restaurant that is the Omakase for $600-plus, are all clubby. They’re loud, they’re clubby, they’re extravagant, they’re expensive, but they’re not fine dining.

J: They’re not tweezer food.

A: They’re not tweezer food. Noma can say, all at once, that it was more approachable. It was very much tweezer food. It was an army of people producing these things.

J: Plating lichen. Give me a break.

A: Exactly, and instead — I was just looking, because I have to go to Miami next week, so you’ll get a report, but oh — it’s like Major Food Group dominates Miami. You have, then, the restaurants that are going down besides Major Food Group, and opening in Miami, like Pastis is opening down in Miami. You have Blue Ribbon Sushi. You have all these other big brands that are clubby, and the people want to see and be seen at, that are very different. I don’t think it’s that people are saying, “We don’t want to actually spend money out. It’s that we want to spend money in a different way. We want to go and have a party.” Zach mentioned this episodes and episodes and episodes ago. Remember, Zach, when you were talking about dining as entertainment?

Z: Yes.

A: I feel like it used to be, yes. The entertainment was just being able to see the plate and take the picture and be the foodie, but now it’s actually “I want to party” as the entertainment. I want awesome cocktails. I want the banging soundtrack, and I want it to feel like I’m at a club. That’s Major Food Group and they’re doing that everywhere, and everyone’s copying them.

J: That’s really interesting.

A: They’re the gods right now. They are. You can either like their food or not. They are the gods when it comes to restaurants right now.

J: How many restaurants? 46?

A: Yes. The goal is — if you read that profile, then, that was in The Times recently, it’s like they want to have a few hundred soon. They’re opening in Dubai and Paris. This is them, and it’s excess.

J: Yes, you’re right.

Z: I also think it’s important here to note — We have been tiptoeing around this a little bit, but one of the other reasons why this trend is definitely changing and taking hold, is it’s a fundamental function of the labor market. The Noma story is a story about — suddenly, it became not cool for them to have a bunch of unpaid interns working long hours for “experience.”

A: Making a beetle.

Z: Yes, exactly. Obviously, Noma and the other restaurants in that stratosphere have always attracted a certain kind of aspirant who says, “I’m going to study at the feet of the master.” I remember watching — I don’t know if either of you ever watched. There’s that movie that was made about El Bulli, the famous molecular gastronomy restaurant in Spain.

A: Yes, I saw that one. I saw that one.

Z: I think it’s called “Cooking in Motion,” or something like that. I can’t even remember what it’s called. “Cooking in Progress,” I’m sorry. It’s like striking even — it’s not commented on because it’s not really the point of the documentary, but some of the interns who have made incredible sacrifices to be here, their job is to f*cking rake the rocks in front of the restaurant, and you watch that.

A: I remember that.

Z: When I watched it the first time, you’re like, “Oh wow, cool. Yes, that’s amazing attention to detail on the part of Ferran Adria” Now you’re just like, “Man, how much does it suck for these people who’ve traveled from around the world, are not getting paid — in fact, they’re probably spending thousands of dollars of their own just to make this happen, and they’re not even getting to do anything in the f*cking kitchen? They’re raking rocks.” Okay, sure they can put on their resume that they did a stage at El Bulli, or whatever, but it — point is, at this upper stratosphere of these incredible temples of fine dining, as the broader societal sentiment turns against these unpaid internships and as people coming into the profession are less willing to just go do grunt work for no pay, it creates a problem where, like, the financial models under which those restaurants can succeed — they’re so labor intensive, it’s just not viable. They could dramatically raise prices. I also think it’s true that a thing that is a little bit talked about, but not directly in the Noma news, is also, like, almost every restaurant has a lifespan. The truth is that probably even Redzepi was getting tired of the Noma sh*t. You do it long enough and you’re like — again, this is in the documentary because it’s about the very end of El Bulli. You can tell that Ferran Adria is overwhelmed by the pressure of having to constantly be inventing new stuff. It’s not enough to just make great food or make visually stunning food. It’s like every year, you have to have new tricks, new things that no one’s ever seen before. Noma wasn’t molecular gastronomy, so it wasn’t quite as gimmicky. But, there was a lot of gimmickry, a lot of, like, “Oh I have to find an ingredient that no one’s ever used before and I have to present it.”

A: You have to forage for it. Not find it, forage.

J: That was the whole thing. Noma was popping up in different cities across the world anyway. That was his shtick, too, at the end.

A: Well, because that was the only way that he could forage for better sh*t.

Z: Forage somewhere else. He had foraged Denmark clean of anything interesting, or even edible.

A: Seriously.

Z: The point is, you have this sort of element that’s going on at the fine dining side, and especially on the kitchen side, but on the wine side, on the somm side — I think it’s also a little bit of the same thing — which is like, you’ve always had this tension of the floor positions like sommelier, which are arguably more prestigious but also less well paid than waiting tables, generally. Every restaurant has a different setup. Sometimes, somms make more money than servers, but often not. Certainly, in most of the places I’ve worked, that hasn’t been the case. Or at least, it’s rarely the case. Maybe some nights, if you sell a lot of really high-end wine, you make more money than the servers, but oftentimes it’s not the case. As we’ve been discussing, as we’ve seen throughout society, we are in this very long, very painful process of reassessing labor and how things are paid for in the restaurant industry, but also just societally at large. The truth is that for a lot of people who might have been interested in being a sommelier, setting aside the scandals, setting aside the changes that Covid has wrought, have looked at the job — I know this because I’m one of them. Other people I’m friends with, and colleagues who have looked at it, are just like, “Where am I going, exactly?” Not only was the fragility of the industry put on display by Covid, but also, just in general, they’re like, “What exactly am I hoping to achieve through this?” The work itself can be fun, but it’s not so incredibly rewarding either financially or experientially as to be worth doing just because you want to do it. For a lot of people, I think being a somm was, at one point — they saw it as some pathway to a career that was more fulfilling or more remunerative, or both. I think it’s harder to make that argument, even if you do have the job, because in the end, you’re not going to set the world on a blaze. You’re not going to change minds. You’re not going to be a revolutionary as a sommelier. You’re going to be the person opening bottles of wine, and the bottles of wine are probably going to be pretty similar from week to week and month to month and year to year. At some point, you go, like, “Why do I want to do this?” At the same time, you have restaurants saying, “Why do we want to pay someone to do this when we can have a different vibe that’s less labor intensive, or at least is putting the labor into places that people are going to appreciate more?” As you have pointed out with Major Food Group and others, we can actually still charge people a lot of money for a dining experience, and it can be a fun experience that they’re happy about, and it also doesn’t require ungodly amounts of labor to see through.

A: Yes, we can have a group beverage director who builds the list at every restaurant, and we basically just reorder all the stuff. I think that it also feels like, to me, there was this point in time — I was talking about this again, today, with an industry veteran at lunch, who was saying, “There was a point in time from 2010 in New York—” This is before my time of really paying attention for them when I came to VinePair — when we started VinePair, it kind of felt like it was coming to the end — where you might have gotten paid less, but there was this cool-kid cache and club of being a somm. Everyone was hanging out together. There were these ringleaders, and there were the bro somms, and there were the chill somms, and whatever. They were influencing each other and they were all working at these top restaurants. I think, also, when you work at a top restaurant like that, that is classic fine dining, there also is more of an opportunity for the somm to build very personal relationships with certain regulars. Because it’s a quiet service, it’s much more hands-on. There’s real interaction. At Major Food Group, it’s a f*cking party, so you’re going to the next table and that person may not really want to have a conversation with you about the wine. They’re there to have a really dope steak and a bottle of Burgundy and ball out with their friends. They’re not there to geek out about wine with you. Maybe there are some people there, but it’s not the vibe. At fine dining, that is actually encouraged: the geeking out over the wine, and having the conversation with the somm, and talking about the courses. That is why, I think, a lot of other people also went into the somm profession. There were a lot of connections that could be made. Those people, then, could become people that were benefactors to you throughout your career to help you launch other ventures, whether that be wine shops, or wine consulting, or things like that in the business. Or, you could help those people build their cellar collections, et cetera — all of that. There also seems to be, in our generation, less desire to build those cellar collections. We don’t really care anymore. We just want to go out and drink dope wine right now, or great cocktails, et cetera, and have a really good steak. That, I think, is why all of that is going away, and why then the people who still want to be in dining, because it is fun to be in dining, are like, “Why would I just not make more money being the server that does it all, and sells the wine anyways, and make the bigger tips?”

J: I think part of that is also the food at these places, like the senior places — I do have to say Dave Chang is very smart in this because he has the whole range. He has Ko, but then has Noodle Bar, which cleans up and attracts a different diner. I think with places like Major Food Groups or whatever, Carbone and stuff, the food is more approachable so it attracts a different type of diner. It’s younger people, perhaps, who don’t know or care as much about wine. Like you said, they don’t necessarily need to talk to a somm in the same way that maybe older diners don’t want those more boisterous — I’m thinking of my parents, who would probably rather go to a fine dining restaurant than a Major Food Group spot.

A: You’re never going to see wine pairings at Major Food Group.

J: Right, and they don’t need to. That’s definitely something to factor into this as well as we see more and more of these types of restaurants.

A: If you take one of the other greatest “canary in the coal mines” of Danny Meyer, and you look at what he’s opening, he’s not opening any more fine dining. Gramercy Tavern and I guess The Modern, really are his two pinnacles of fine dining. Everything else he’s opened in the last-

J: Pasta.

A: -It’s all f*cking pasta party, pasta parties. They’re all pasta parties. They are. That’s what he’s opening because that’s what people want. That’s what he’s doing, and good for him.

Z: People have realized that you can make a lot more money as a restauranteur selling $20 to $30 plates of food that are simple to make and don’t cost a lot in terms of raw ingredients, than you can selling $70 plates or $200 dinners that are super-labor and ingredient intensive. One last piece on this I want to say, which I really hadn’t totally made the connection to what you were just saying, Joanna, which is, some of this also just reflects the shifting dynamics of what the people who have money to spend on food want to spend it on. There was a period of time when, before any of us were alive, the people who had a lot of money who wanted to spend it on food, either wanted to spend it on fancy French food, or they wanted to spend it on steak. Then, there was a period of time where people wanted to spend it on ostentatious dining of a certain sort. Then, they got to be the one to spend a ton on tweezer food. Now, we’re shifting into another paradigm where people want a food party, whether it’s pasta or otherwise. Restaurants and industries need to be adaptable and evolve. Some of it is just recognizing that the tweezer food moment might be gone, or at least receding. It probably is not fully gone. There’s always going to be some kind of audience for that. We, at the same time, are contemporaneous to the period when “sommelier” went from a word that no one knew to a word that everyone knows. We also had the idea of this foraged, rustic dining experience, that somehow cost you $700 a person, that became, not ubiquitous, obviously, but — restaurants that were in the style of Noma, inspired by Noma, obvious rip-offs of Noma, whatever you want to call them, opened around the world to say — I think of what Joanna was saying before about Noma’s own ventures around the world. They’ve done the thing. That’s great, but trends end. They recede. They become a thing that people come back to 15 or 20 years later and go, “Oh, yes. Remember when this was what everyone wanted to do, or when eating lichen seemed like a good idea? Wow, wasn’t that weird?” I just think, there’s a lot of shedding of tears and rending of garments about what this news meant for fine dining. You can f*cking miss being with all that. Restaurants close all the time. It happens. Noma is not closing for another year and a half, y’all can chill. Also, they’re doing fine. As I said, this stuff evolves naturally. The restaurant industry as a whole, whether it’s in a city, in a country, or the world at large, has to be adaptive and evolve because what people want out of food will always be changing. As new generations reach peak purchasing power, they might want different things than previous generations. Just as life changes, people’s needs change. They’ve spent years not being out partying with their friends, and they want to do it, whether they’re 25 or 55. You just have to not be too precious about any one style of dining or service.

A: Trends come and go. It is what it is. Let us know if you care or don’t care about the Noma closure. Tweet about it, maybe, [email protected]. Really curious to chat more about this and where you see the trends going. Do you think that it is this Major Food Group trend? Is it something else? Maybe it’s just order at the counter and Taco Bell at home? I don’t know. We’ll see. I will talk to both of you on Friday.

Z: Sounds great.

Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair Podcast, the flagship podcast of the VinePair Podcast Network. If you love listening to this show or even if you don’t, but I really hope that you do, as much as we really do love making it, then please drop us a review or a rating wherever it is that you get your podcast. Whether that be iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere.

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