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Kitchen Gods

They start beh ind the counter and end up in the spotlight. How the phenomenon of the celebrity chef has tran sformed the restaurant industry and even changed the way we eat BY LI SA A BEND


seat on a recent flight to Melbourne when searing pain jolted him awake: a flight attendant had accidenta!ly spilled boiling water on his arm. That the worst scald ing of the Manhattan megachef's

life occurred in business class rather than in a busy kitchen was perhaps surprising. But thaI was nothing compared with what awaited him on the ground. Soon after he landed, news of the accident made the Australian papers and then, thanks to the global hum of diligent foodies at their keyboards. quickly appeared on websites around the world. The shocking headline: "Chef Burned." It's been a few decades since we started turning cooks into stars, and still the phenomenon continues to grow. These days, the Emerils, Marios and Gordons of the world scarcely need the qualifier chef-they are celebrities, plain and sim· pie. But between the television shows, the food festivals, the Vegas outposts, the spaghett i·sauce labels bearing their names and the fans rabidly tracking everything from new dishes to failed love affairs and, yes, accidental airline injuries, it's easy to overlook the impact that fame has had on the once disparaged profession of cooking. In the Food Network era, the

Men in white From left, cheft

Dallid Chang ofNew York City's Momofllku; Jamie Oliver, a.k.a . Britain's Naked Chef; and Ferran Adria ofSpain's EI Bulli

phenomenon of the celebrity chef has ut· terly transformed the restaurant indus· try and, in the process, changed the very nature of how we eat. There's a reason restaurant food sales in the U.S. have jumped from $42.8 billion in 1970 to a projected $520 billion in 2010, and it's not just that more women have en· tered the work force. As best·selling food author Michael Pollan recently noted, the age of the TV chef has coincided with a dramatic decline in home cooking. Pol· lan, who was named by Tn,IE as one of this year's 100 most influential people in the world- as was Ch ang- argued that by making food a spectacle, shows like Ph ot ograph by Finlay M acKay l or TI ME

Iron Chefand The F Word have reinforced the message that cooking is best left to the professionals. By turning chefs into entertainers- whether performing on· screen or via the impeccable platings in their restaurants- we have widened the breach between ourselves and the once ordinary task of cooking. And yet our alienation from food and its preparation is matched only by our obsession with it. Huge partsofthe popu· lation now seek out artisana l cheeses at their local fa rmers' markets, and run·of· the·mill restaurants attempt to cater to their newly refined tastes, serving salads made of fancy lettuce. Lots of ordinary folk now aspire to have their own $1,100 Thermomix food processor and blog about every course of every restaurant meal they eat. (The camera·happy move· ment has gotten so bad that Grant Achatz, the famously avant·garde chef of Chica· go's Alinea, recently chastised diners who take photos- and video- of the food he serves.) These trends are fed by chefs' new· found prominence but also prod them to attain ever greater influence. In a world in which what and how we eat have become fetishized, celebrity chefs are findin g new ways to harness their star power- and not just to make money. 6l


Bam! How culinary culture became a pop phenomenon 'ron Chef launches

in Japan. eventually becoming a cult hit in the U.S .. in part because of hilarious dubbing



Bad·boy chef Marco Pierre White earns his third Michelin star al age 33. At online discussion board, launches, giving foodies a place to talk over (and later share photos of) restaurant meals

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Wolfgang Puck opens Los Angeles eatery Spa go. which serves as a springboard to the frozen ·food aisle


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Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef debuts in the U.K.

I chef contest

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Anthony Bourdaln's best·selling Kitchen Confidential offers a knives· out. behind· the·scenes view of life in the culinary fast lane

Food Network kicks off the broadcast era of American food fetishism

The Start of the Rock-Star Chef T ilE TERM FOQV I E W AS CO INED I N TH E

early 1980s, at about the same time Wolfgang Puck began serving gourmet pizzas ilt his buzzy Spago restaurant in Los Angeles. But it took another decade before Puck really kicked off the celebrity phenomenon by turnin g his attention to the culinary desert that was Las Vegas. At the time, everyone thought he was crazy. Crazy, too, the cable channel (today's Food Network) that launched a few months later in 1993, in the remarkable belief that audiences would watch rou nd-the-clock food programming. The same adjective would also apply across the ocean, to Britain's en fant terrible Marco Pierre White, who by 1995 had not on ly become the you ngest chef to earn three Michelin sta rs but also had a reputation for ejectin g customers who were crit icaI ofh is food . "Those stories yo u heard about him, about how he would be shagging someone's wife upstairs wh ile her husband was eating in the dining room downstairs; says Jay Rayner, restaurant critic for the British newspaper t he 0bsD-m; "that was the start of the rock·star chef." It's not that t he re we ren't famou s cooks before then. As fa r back as the 19th centu ry, Eu rope's a ristocracy was agog about Marie-Antoi ne Ca reme's elaborate dishes. And with in more recent memory, Julia Child used television to help turn America's housewives on to the glories of the French table and to turn herself into a star. But none of that comes close to the 64

renown of today's celebrity chefs, which can be attributed not only to the multiple restaurants and bad·boy perso nas but also to Food Network. Today the channel averages a m illion viewers a day and is so popular that in late May it launched a culinary spin·off called Cook ing Channel , whose programm ing will include new shows with Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Culinary programs are also populating major networks like Fox, wh ich this month began airing its seventh season of Hell's Kitchen. In that show, Gordon Ramsay, the five ·continent chef whose offscreen empire includes restauran ts in Dubai and Cape Town , berates low·skill contes· tants into becoming better cooks. Ramsay and Bravo's popular Top Cht/se ries have prompted NBC and CBS to prep their own reality-kitchen shows. The Internet has also played an important role: on websites like Grub Street (1 million page views per da y) and Eater (2 million), chef groupies can breathlessly track every charity event and openingsometimes before the chef has gone pub· lic with the news. A whole subindustr y of agents and publicists has sprung up to manage everything from a chers media ap pearances to his hairstyle. And, yes, the chefs are mostly hes: alt hough women are entering the profession in ever greater numbers, the vast majority of celebrity chefs are male. All the fawning has prope lled a profe ssion once considered little better than

servitude to the ranks of the glamorous and profitable. "I hate the word, but it's all about establishing a brand," says Mario Batali. whose endeavors include 15 restaurants, countless awards, a television show that had h im tooling around Spain with Gwyneth Paltrow and a full line of cookware products. "Because once you have that, all these other opport unities open ~ up. and you have this giant soapbox."

Food Revolutions PERIl A r s NO ONE KNOW S THAT BETTER


than Jamie Oli ver. In 1999 the lowly line cook began taping Tht Naked Cht/ (he was n't dressed down- his rec ipes were), which turned the 24-year-old into a national star in Bri tain. "I would make focaccia with semolina on the show, and semolina would sell out across the coun· try," he says. ~ You quickly learn that you have a responsibility." In between making gobs of moneydoing endorsements for a supermarket chain, launching a dating website for food lovers, etc.- Ol iver has worked hard to im· prove people's eating habits. He collected more than 270,000 signatures in favor of improving school meals and delivered the petition to 10 Downing Stree t; eventually the Brit ish governmen t pledged £650 million ($940 million) to the task. This spring he launc hed the TV show Food Revolution, which tracks his dietary-reform efforts in Hu ntington, W.Va., one of the most overweight cities in the U.S. He has also set

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Jamie Oliver collects signatures to push Britain to improve its school meals 2006


GOfdon Ramsay opens VeTTe, his tirst Testaurant outside

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Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City

With the launch of Bravo's Top Chef, judge·chef Tom Colicchio and host Padma l akshml become household names





Croc·shod chef Marlo Balali becomes spokesman for the ubiquitous resin footwear



Using his signature catchphrase, Emerll Lagasse appears in ads for new navors of Crest toothpaste

For the first time, more than :1. mlTllon people try to get a table at EI Bulli, Ferran Adria's SO·seat restaurant in Spain, which is open a year

up educational k itc hens in Hu nti ngton as well as in Bri tain and Australia, to give fam ilies cooking lessons on how to p re· pare simple, healthy meals. In other words, Ol iver has become a cul inary activist. ~At heart, I'm probably no more politica l than anyone else," he says. UBut because of what I do, people listen to me. And right now there's a mas· sive need fo r information." Oliver is h ard ly alone in trying to educate consumers and shape public pol· icy. In recent yea rs, the pioneering Alice Waters has seen her Edible Schoolyard project, w h ich uses garden ing to teach children about where thei r food comes from, spread from Berkeley, Calif., to New Orleans; Greensboro, N.C.; and Brook lyn, N.Y. Dan Barbe r, a New York chef lead· ing the effort to ma ke agricu lture more sustainable, has become so infl uen tia l thai he has spoken at Davos. This month,

'Thirty years ago, most people who worked in restaurant kitchens had either just gotten out of the Army or were on their way to jail.' -




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The French laundry's Thomas Keller consults for Disney's Ralalouille. about a rat with chef dreams

Michelle Obama got m o re than 500 chefs- inclu ding Rachael Ra y- to join her initiative against ch ildhood obesity. And everywhere, lesser·know n cooks arc teac h ing locals about the val ue of eat ing well·ra ised food . If there are green ma r· ke ts popping up a ll over the U.S. and di n ers scanning menus fo r the na me of th e farm that grew th e carrots they're about to eat, we have chefs to th ank. Celebrity has had salutary effects on the profession of cooking as well. ~Thirty years ago, most people who worked in resta urant kitchens had either ju st gotten out of the Army or were on their way to jail," says Bata· Ii. "Now you get all these people who went to college, then fou nd their passion in cooki ng. The level is sudden ly much higher because the people cook ing are a lot smarter.~ Most major cu lina ry schools arc going through an u nprecedented grow th spu rt. For example, applicat ions 10 the Cu lina ry Institute of Am erica, the prem iercooking school in the U.S., have jumped 50% in the past six years. That may have somethi ng to do wit h the economy. At the venerable Cordon Bleu in Paris, communications di· rector Sandra Messier notes, "we've seen a lot of students using their severance pack· ages from their old jobs to pay tuit ion."

Cheering as if He Were Mick Jagger FOR EV ER Y POT EN T IAl. COOK Wl/O I'U T S

h erself through an expensive cu li nary program or grinding apprent icesh i p, there are many more who seek to bypass al l the

Rocco DiSpirilo appears on Dancing with the Stars and The Biggest Loser 2010

Blue Hili chef Dan Barber speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos 2010

Food Network spins off Cooking Channel, featuring Emmy,winning chef Rac hae. Ray

yea rs of d rudgery and enter the profes· sion throug h a new channel: reality T V. This year thousands of people applied for 17 slots on the seventh season of Top Chef (wh ich pre m ieres Ju ne 16). Some of the appJica nts are well·t rain ed risingsta rs with James Beard awa rds u nder their toques. But most are nobodies rolling the dice. Jodie Thom pson , 30, a British t ravel agent , managed to beat some 20,000 ot h· er applicant s to become on e of the lucky 500 w ho got to audit ion this spring for MasterChrJ, the Brit ish coun te rpart to Top Chef In a London conference room, she un packed a Tup perwa re conta iner from her bag and carefully plated the rosema r y·scen ted roas ted duck breast she had prepa red earlier. She w aited n cr· vo usly as, ca meras roll in g, a produ ce r took a bite a nd asked why she had chosen t his route to launch her culi na ry career. "My bro ther went to catering school fo r twoye a rs,~ Tho m pso n replied. "I thought th is wo u ld be m ore d irect." And she's right. These shows have a history of tu rning contestants into celeb· rity chefs. James Nathan is one of them. In 2008 he was working as a mechanic in Glastonbu ry, in the south of England, when, on a whim, hesent in an application to MastcrChif. Aft er wooing the producers at his audi t ion wit h a n on ion·and·goat· cheese ta rt, he went on to w in the com· petition. The attention was intoxicatin g. "Cabdrivers wou ld lean out their windows and say, 'Well done, James,'" he recalls. Best



and maintain your authenticity as a cook?" It's a question that keeps Chang up at night. If chefs are today's rock stars, few of them more closely fi t the model than the 32·year-old behind the extraordinarily popular Momofuku restaurants in New - IOSIIUA GAMSON, SOCIO LO GIST, York City. His style of intensely flavorful, UNIV ER SITY OF SAN ~'RANC[SCO technically proficient cooking, served in restaurants stripped of haute cu isine's pretenses, has coincided perfectly with a cu linary think tank to train new gen· the dining zeitgeist a nd catapulted him erations of cooks to approach food with to fame. (His outsize temper, colorful Ian· maximum creativity. guage and penchant for late-night drinkYet Adria is still in his kitchen every ing may also have played a role.) In the six night during the six months of the year years since opening his first restaurant, that EI Bulli is open. If both Batali and Top Chang has been accosted by autograph CheJiudge Tom Colicchio have recently seekers while working out at the gym, had made news for getting back into the kitch· his underwear preferences publicized in en, it's because most celebrity chefs spend Vanity Fair and read reports (all untrue) of far more time these days doing med ia ap- restaurants he is supposedly opening in pearances and traveling from restaurant 10 Seoul, Tokyo and London. restaurant than cooking. ~You can't blame But now, in the wake of his fifth open· them,~ says Rayner, who has become a bit ing in New York,as he fends off investment of a celebrity himself, thanks to his role as offers from around the world and grapples judge on Top ChefMasters. ~ Before.cheffing with the ever present question of whether was a bloody hard job and poorly paid at to do his own television show, Chang says that. They've founda way to make it work." his health is suffering from the stress and that he hardly ever cooks anymore. He still cares about making delicious food, Cook It Raw but these days he sees his primary respon· STill, T H ERE'S A FINE LINE BETWEEN MAKing it work and selling out. Not many chefs sibil ity as taking care of the people who have crossed it- Rocco DiSpirito prob- work fo r him, including helping them set ably should have skipped Dtlllcin9 with the up their own restau ran ts so that, with any Stays- but the threat is always there. "The luck, they can become famous too. one thing that will turn back the tide of In January, Chang stopped to catch his celebrity is being seen as inauthentic at breath and joined 12 other acclaimed chefs the thing that made you fa mous in the atagatheringin ItalycalledCook It Raw.The first place," says Joshua Gamsan, a sociolo· event- it hopes to become a movementgist at the University of San Francisco."So prompts participants to think about the the question is, Can you be a celebrity chef future of gastronomy by encouraging them to ex plore the connect ion between environmental consciousness and creativity. The Calling all chefs On June 4, Michelle Ohama invited 500 chefs-including afew celebrities, likt chefs fished from local lagoons, mel with Raclmei Rayand Tom Colicchio- to the Whife HOllse tojoin her initiative against childhood obesity the region's winemakers and farmers and even attended a pigslaughter. On the fi nal night, they cooked a dinner together, one cou rse per chef. In keeping with the environmental theme, the redpes were supposed to use as little energy as possible. Aseach dish came up, the chefs would gather round and marvel at their colleague's technique. "To see each guy's creativity, to watch his perfectionism. was amazing,~ says Chang, who contributed a kimchi made from local radicchio. "It waS so great to be actually cooking with them. You forget that's what it's all about." The 50 or so guests who dined that night in the candlelit cellar of an Italian castle were similarly dazzled. But even those who were not at the dinner can experience it. like everything else in a world that has turned food into fetish and cooking into spectacle, the highlights are available on You1\Jbe. _

of all, he got the job of his dreams. Despite the fact that he had no experience outside the show, his newfound fame helped him la nd a position as juniorsous-cheffor twoMichelin-starred Michael Caines. ~We've created a symbiotic relationship between the television chef and the serious restaurant chef, where each fu rthers the efforts of the other," says Ferran Adria, perhaps the world's most famous chef. Each year more than 1 million people try to get reservations at EI Bull i, a small, 50-seat restaurant in northeastern Spain he started running i.n 1984. When the dean of molecular gastronomy speaks at chefs' conferences, people rise to their feet and cheer as if he were Mick Jagger. When Adria announced in January that in 20 12 he would be closing his restaurant for t wo years, every major media outlet in the world covered the news. Adria, 48, has achieved all of this with· out ever starring in a television show or opening another restaurant. His reputa, tion stems almost enti rely from his wildly innovative cook ing, which by playing with diners' expectat ions- se rv ing, for example, a cocktail that manages to be simultaneously hot and cold- forces people to re-examine their ideas about food. Bul he knows his prominence owes at least a small debt to the audience for great food that Jamie and Mario and all the others have helped create. Be, in turn, is pushing the boundaries of the chef even further. In March, Ad ria was named the new face of a majorSpanish tourism campaign. In the fall , he will co·teach a course in science and gastrono· my at Harvard.A ndin 2014 hewill launch

'The question is, Can you be a celebrity chef and maintain your authenticity as a cook?'

TI ME June 21, lOIO

Kitchen Gods  

Article about top chefs, including CRC Press Author Ferran Adrià. Adria wrote Modern Gastronomy: A to Z (