William Baude asks:
Is there any way to predict which celebrity-chef-branded restaurants will be better than others? Obviously one rarely expects such restaurants to be excellent, but there are times (airports, Las Vegas) when a celebrity-chef-branded restaurant may well be the best one around. Is the best chef likely to endorse the best restaurants? Or should one look for profligate branders like Wolfgang Puck and Emeril? Or something else?
When it is “branded” or when simply the genius chef owns and runs a few places (e.g., Thomas Keller) is a tricky distinction. That said, the Wolfgang Puck pizza outlet at O’Hare airport counts as branded, as do many of the fancy places in Las Vegas. Overall I find these restaurants to be a good bet, conditional on the fact that you are somewhere which encourages the proliferation of branded restaurants. I haven’t eaten everywhere in O’Hare but odds are if you are by the Puck outlet you should stop and eat there, relative to what you are likely to find and have time for. The branded outlets in Las Vegas may not be the very best places but again they are fairly wise choices, knowing that just about everywhere is frequented by tourists. Joel Robuchon’s restaurant in Las Vegas isn’t exactly hated.
Branded restaurants tend to be poor choices when they are offered as a protection against an ethnic food subculture, which maybe is considered inferior by many subgroups but actually is superior. Yes, Jean-Georges does have a place in Shanghai and probably it is quite good. Yet you should be out in the street looking for noodles and dumplings, waving your arms in desperation if need be.
My next book — An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies — is out this coming April.