Forget clean eating, beware the rise of goutrageous food

Franck Ribery’s £1,000 gold-leafed steak is the latest development in the Dubai-ification of dinner – and it’s getting worryingly out of hand

A gold-leafed cupcake creation (R13,851)
A gold-leafed cupcake creation (R13,851)

As a food writer, I am usually found in my kitchen, rattling pans, tapping on my butter-smeared laptop and minding my own business. From time to time, this is interrupted by the rude intrusion of press releases from bars and restaurants puffing £2,000 (R35,350) cocktails (some version or other of a subtle blend of Marie-Antoinette’s tears and emerald dust, muddled with live seahorse) or a £5,000 (R88,402) burger, which may contain a surprise blood diamond or Porsche.

This marketing frou-frou inevitably comes from the sort of high-concept places where they have been so distracted by their five-million quid refit, they forgot to hire a proper chef. It is a tough, unforgiving and easily bored world out there, in the sphere of conspicuous overconsumption. Live by the porn star martini, die by the porn star martini.

Such places value novelty over skill; Instagrammable gimmicks oversatisfied customers. In this Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter’s dinner party world, cost is an indicator of value, rather than the other way round. We have entered the era of “super-rich eating”. This is the Dubai-ification of dinner.

So I wasn’t surprised to see that during a recent visit to actual Dubai, German football club Bayern Munich’s midfielder, Franck Ribery, caused a stir when he tucked into a £1,000 (R17,686) steak, entirely encased in gold leaf.

A report stated the Frenchman was going to be fined by his team “for decadence” – which sounded rather thrilling. In reality, it was for the prosaic crime of Ribery being a Planck on social media.

The Westin Hotel Bagel (R13,852) is the idea of the hotel's executive chef Frank Tujague. It consists of white truffle cream cheese and goji berry-infused Riesling jelly with golden leaves . The steep price tag is attributed to the very expensive white truffle
The Westin Hotel Bagel (R13,852) is the idea of the hotel's executive chef Frank Tujague. It consists of white truffle cream cheese and goji berry-infused Riesling jelly with golden leaves . The steep price tag is attributed to the very expensive white truffle

On Instagram, he defended himself for devouring his blingy tomahawk steak, with this poetry: “I owe you nothing, I owe my success above all to God, myself and my loved ones who believed in me. As for the others, you are nothing but pebbles in my socks!”

Thank you, Franck. I think I liked it better when expressive footballers stuck to seagulls following trawlers, à la Eric Cantona.

Ribery’s ode to excess began in the Dubai steakhouse, Nusr-Et, owned by Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, better known as “Salt Bae”.

This mover and shaker, this dramatic Caravaggio of condiments, became famous in 2017, when images of him – silent, muscled, serious, sunglasses indoors – went viral, essentially because he seasoned a steak by rolling the salt from his hand, down his perfectly defined forearm on to the slab of meat. His restaurants across the world are high on tableside drama – think blowtorches and liquid nitrogen – and eye-wateringly expensive.

Rumour has it that the food does not always hit the same dizzy heights, but who cares? Get with the programme, Grandma. That’s not what it’s all about.

Domenico Crolla's Pizza Royale (R58,166) is named after the chef who is famous for making a special creation of his pizza by adorning it with a portrait. It consists of lobsters marinated in cognac, caviar, tomato sauce, Scottish smoked salmon, prosciutto and vinegar. But the actual surprise is his final touch of 24-carat gold flakes sprinkled on the pizza
Domenico Crolla's Pizza Royale (R58,166) is named after the chef who is famous for making a special creation of his pizza by adorning it with a portrait. It consists of lobsters marinated in cognac, caviar, tomato sauce, Scottish smoked salmon, prosciutto and vinegar. But the actual surprise is his final touch of 24-carat gold flakes sprinkled on the pizza

I suppose this rush to gastronomic excess is understandable. These hymns to decadence represent a predictable backlash to an era of clean eating – a non-organic raspberry in the face of those who believe they can achieve immortality via a strict regime of juiced celery, biodynamic chakra cleansing and Ayurvedic lipstick.

In its guide to how to be upper class in 2019, Tatler magazine included gout in its list of decidedly “U” indicators. Yes, the disease, that in the fifth century BC Hippocrates recognised as, “the arthritis of the rich” (as opposed to rheumatism, which was “the arthritis of the poor“), is now a sign of elevated social class.

Gout has always been associated with indulgence. If racing is the sport of kings, then gout is their disease. And let’s not forget queens. In The Favourite, Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne hobbles along aristocratically, displaying a magnificently regal gouty gait.

It can only be a matter of time before aspirant toffs take on this posh walk.No need for decades of silver-domed rich dinners, simply shove your feet into shoes a couple of sizes too small and off you go. Not too fast. Easy now.

Can it be long before the first gout day spas open? The first gout health retreats? Social climbers will boast about their trips to the gout therapist, in an attempt to show off a totally goutrageous lifestyle. Once seen as the preserve of the fat and boozy, doctors are reporting an increase in gout among the seemingly healthy.

The fashionability of high-fat, high-protein keto and paleo diets has led to an increase in undercover gout sufferers. Diets high in meat cause elevated levels of uric acid in the joints, which can cause gout’s acutely painful inflammation.

I suppose in seeking health, happiness and a path through life, once again, Oscar Wilde was right: “Everything in moderation, including moderation”. Except when it comes to gold-leaf covered steak, presumably. – The Telegraph

X