He gave me a lot of additional background on the costs of the dinner. As a result, I no longer think the dinner is a rip-off. Expensive, yes. But the margin the restaurants are making on it is very, very fair. No one will be buying a yacht with the profits, in other words.
So what does $1500 include?
The food, of course, which any moron could expect to include top-notch caviar and other expensive ingredients. It also includes wine pairings, many of which will be vintage champagnes and other library wines.
So far, many of you might have made reasonable guesses that those things would be included.
There is also the cost of the books, both over $100, the tax and tip.
What you might not know, and I certainly did not, was that, in the case of the Per Se and TFL dinners, Alinea will be flying eight chefs to the host city. Though I did not hear from the Keller camp, nor did I ask, presumably they are flying a similar number of folks to and fro. So the travel costs factor in.
All in, that takes the hard costs up to such a number that $1500 is a fair price.
Beyond that, Mr. Kokonas shared his thoughts on charity events. Many of them don't live up to the "charitable" idea they advertise but are merely excuses for wanton spending and exorbitant price tags, something he abhors. Can't disagree with him there -- adding a charity to the event might be good PR but a hollow gesture is a hollow gesture.
I'm glad that I am informed and can now make a judgment about this dinner with all the facts. (It's not worth it to me personally, but nor is it offensive any more.) I hereby rescind my personal ban on having dinner at a Keller or Achatz restaurant in the future (um, if they would have me -- I may make the reservation in another name, ahem).
More than that, I really appreciate that Mr. Kokonas emailed to share Alinea's side of the story. He could easily have dismissed me as another idiot blogger who doesn't know what she's talking about. (Um, which I was in this case, though that's not usually true and, in my own defense, I have never run a restaurant and I suck at business-y things so estimating these prices was, for me, not possible.)
I do worry that many people have had and will have a similar reaction as I did, and I wish there was some way Alinea and TFL could address that. This post may reach a few people, so that's a start.
As a side note, it's been interesting to hear different view points on the dinner. Some friends, like me, were shocked at the thought. Many will remain so, even with the explanation. I've heard from people who think, regardless of the hard costs, that it's a fair price for well-made food from the best artisanal sources. Others have said that, hey, if the customer values it, ditto.
Anyway, I wish everyone who can attend bon appetit.