Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thoughts on celebrity chefs

In the past few days I've gotten involved in the Chef2Chef forum. Partly because I ran across it while looking for the menu for Monday's Vagabond dinner. While there I posted my thoughts to a culinary student writing a paper on celeb chefs for a hospitality class. Thought I'd capture those here, since I appear to have an opinion (and when don't I?). I think that there are two levels of celebrity chefs (maybe 3): local, national, and maybe international. All have different effects on food trends and consumer behaviors. In our area, we have a few local celebrity chefs who seem to be happy being local, and of course others who aspire, with varying degrees of success, to share the national or international stage. One thing that seems to distinguish many of the aspirants is a "publish or perish" attitude. You're nobody unless somebody has published your cookbook. The local aspirants can be good for the culinary community as long as they don't forget where they came from. We have a few around here who are doing an excellent job of self-promotion while stepping on every toe they can. I mean, really, is it that hard to be polite instead of a prima donna? Some times it sure seems to be. Time will tell if they get out of the local celebrity and get to the next level. Another thing to look at, btw, are "foodies" looking to be celebrities. Do a google on Michael Hebberoy to see the rise and decline of someone who aspired to change things. Some things he did (and is doing) are very good, but he took his eye off the ball and instead of running the very good and very high profile business he had, decided to write a book, develop a line of gin, ... Now he's going through a divorce and two of the three restaurants in his business have closed. I met him the other day, and he reminds me of those young turks in the dot com craziness who were sure they were going to get rich if only everyone would listen. I think there is a trap there also for celebrity chefs who try too soon to expand their "brand" and lose sight of their foundation. And then there is dear old David Rosengarten, who seems to be trying to expand into selling all his favorite foods at outrageous prices to other foodies who want to be like him. I used to like his newsletter, but now half of it is trying to sell yet another food club of the month...

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