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Jonathan Day

Chefs 'going commercial'

41 posts in this topic

I should have been clearer - I was taking Julia Child as a given; of course she is the doyenne of celebrity chef. I was trying to deal with the current generation of Mario/Emeril counterpart potentials.

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The lack of a real "celebrity" lady chef has mystified me as well.  Call me naive, but I thought the concept of "well, some women can cook, but few are chefs" went out the window with Alice Waters, Lidia Bastianich and some others.

The best example of a female chef with national stature, and not just a niche appeal, is Julia Child. Almost everyone knows who she is, as opposed to Alice Waters, who is known to foodies but I'm guessing not to a wider audience. Of the list you made, only Martha Stewart achieves Julia's name recognition.

Julia is not a chef....

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Julia is not a chef....

Ok - I'll bite, after all her achievements in the culinary field, who does she have to blow to get the title? Most people who call themselves chefs are just cooks anyway.

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In several memoirs and a recent interview with Larry King, Julia Child emphasised that she was a cookery teacher and writer, not a chef. That doesn't take anything away from her enormous achievement, it just means that she didn't work in a restaurant. Apparently the PBS station in Boston chose the title "The French Chef" because it was short and would therefore appear in full in TV Guide and in the newspaper listings.

But I want to use this reference to Julia Child to bring us back to the start of this thread. Julia Child's massive publication record (books, articles, videos, etc.) shows how a cooking authority can take her or his knowledge and "disembody" it, so that it is delivered to millions rather than hundreds of people. Of course Julia gave up most of the economic benefit of her work by doing it through public broadcasting (and I think that some of the proceeds from her books and videos went to non-profit causes, but I am not sure). Nonetheless, a lot of money changed hands.

I have a strong hypothesis on restaurant economics: at "normal" scale (a few hundred covers, let's say), restaurants are a terrible way to money. This is an industry plagued by bad competitors (who often don't know that they are going under, let alone why), high fixed and high variable costs, fads and fashions, and a tough regulatory environment. This is a topic we might debate on a separate thread, so I won't elaborate on it here. But the empirical evidence is all around us.

Even if a chef-owner's goal is not to get rich but just to make a comfortable living, a restaurant is a bad place to start from. Hence the pressure to find media outlets and other vehicles that are less subject to the difficult economic environment of the restaurant business. For some chefs, the TV gig or cookbook may be a matter of survival rather than "going commercial".


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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So true Jonathan. Not only often unreasonable financially, its HARD work. Those chefs who can parlay a modicum of real restaurant success into book, tv and teaching deals well deserve any bit of fiscal/social success they can get from it imho.

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She's not a chef per se but, with all the years she's spent trying to educate people I'd be willing to gift her the title. I love Julia. I grew up (4years old watching The French Chef with my mom) with Julia. If anything Julia transcends definition---she's a culinary missionary perhaps...By saying she's not a chef is not to disparage her just stating that, like J.Day said, she hasn't worked full time in a restaurant managing a crew of cooks. But I bet she'd be great at the task.....Long live butter and over-sized meat cleavers, long live The French Chef........

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I just caught up on this thread and it's been quite interesting. I don't know the professional status of everyone who has posted, but I'd like to add my two cents as a decided non-profession in the food industry. I'm a 21 year old college student and I began cooking as a necessity. My options were either horribly crappy dining hall food, or pricey good food at the many wonderful Philly Restaurants. My mother is a great home cook, and I was always exposed to good food - either at home, restaurants, or abroad. So cooking came pretty easily. I've made some good advancements in the past couple years and am weaning myself off of recipes, although they still serve as a needed guide.

Many of the cooking shows on Food TV are quite good and a lot of help to a budding cook. As has been said before, Sara Moulton is a fanstatic chef. Mario, Ming Tsai, are as well. (i'm sure I'm missing some others)

The shows I hate are - all the "unwrapped"/"best of" fake shows, as well as Gale Gand, Ina Garten, and Paula Deen (she scares me)

Emeril Live is an autrocity which I can barely watch, but regardless of his personality, he is quite a good chef and during his other show - "Essence..." is quite informative - I think they medicate him for that one.

Finally, Bobby Flay is decent, and Rachel Ray - although her personality often makes me want to shoot myself - has given me great ideas for things to cook in between my never ending amounts of school work.

So there you have it - for what it's worth,

-Eric

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Today's Sunday Times features a story about Gordon Ramsay, in the front section. Apparently the self-styled "superchef" is in negotiation to follow Jamie Oliver into an "exclusive deal" to promote some supermarket's products -- the speculation is that the company involved is Marks and Spencer. "I have had a very exciting approach from one of them [supermarkets] recentrly and I am considering it," said Ramsay.

He said that supermarkets had "improved tenfold compared with a decade ago. They never had in-house bakeries or sold vine tomatoes. You could never find red mullet or sea bass. People don't want to traipse around markets and buy potatoes with mud on them."

He also commended Jamie Oliver: "Jamie has been clever and I don't believe he has sold out. You only have to look at the bottom line and the amount of money he puts onto it for Sainsbury's compared with the £500,000 a year he gets for doing it. Personally, I don't think he is getting enough."

I cite this not as a criticism of Ramsay or an accusation that he is "selling out" but simply as an example of the enormous temptation that a chef must be faced with to take years of hard-won expertise and reputation and turn it into money -- and the difficulty of doing so simply by running a restaurant.


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Jonathan, it is illuminating to re-read the Bible's account of the three temptations of Christ. Having yielded profitably to the first, it is difficult to resist the other two.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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the question i don't see people asking is, is there a way to increase culinary knowledge, the availability of rare and/or exotic ingredients, and the overall quality and diversity of food-related products at hand without chefs selling-out? is it possible to attain these things without such a trade-off? i think the answer is pretty evident.

iml

ballast/regime


"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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Ballast you seem to want to intellectualize everything--which is all fine and dandy but I think you're coming from deep left field with that last inquiry. It appears to me that you're trying to delve into a netherworld of thought that doesn't exist. Broad culinary learning and availability of new and interesting food stuffs and the genesis of the movement to increase awareness can't be directly correlated to a principal "selling out" that's so vague and unmeasureable. We could speculate on the seed count of a valencia orange, whether or not the ones grown in Florida are more abundant with seeds than ones grown in California but in effect we'd be contemplating our navels--it's really a mute point.

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I have seen more than a hint of sexism in the vitriol directed at Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, etc.  I wonder how that figures in to the equation?

The lack of a real "celebrity" lady chef has mystified me as well. Call me naive, but I thought the concept of "well, some women can cook, but few are chefs" went out the window with Alice Waters, Lidia Bastianich and some others. If that is indeed the case, then the fault must lie with the marketers.

Think about it for a sec:

Nigella Lawson - has all the right stuff in as far as looks and charisma, but questionable culinary skill.

Gale Gand - is arguably a fair baker, but has a hard time with the camera and is not particularly engaging.

Rachel Ray - is great in the personality department, but has been ascribed an image that annoys many - I like her.

Ina Garten - don't get me started, there are more than a few lady e-gulleteers who I am sure are better cooks than she is and probably could handle a cookbook and tv show more elegantly.

Sara Moulton - who I adore, suffers an image that belies the high professional level of her attainments and relegates her to the aforementioned "housewife" category.

Fenniger and Miliken - I loved those gals, and I think FTV really dropped the ball with their shows. They certainly had a better than fair balance of personality and culinary ability.

Martha Stewart - the only one who is of "real" celebrity is of course self marketed, but I think many men find her aloof perfection off putting. In addition, she's got so many other things going for her besides cooking.

Martha not withstanding (I am a shameless Martha fan), I am reminded of the tune "Ya gotta get a gimmick"; there's no real marketing tool here to propel these ladies to the status of a Mario or a Bobby Flay (emeril status might be unattainable for anyone - regardless of gender :wink: ).

This is of course not a complete analysis, but a fair cross section of those who might be able to be "molded" into celebrity status. I wonder if that "sexism" of which you speak affects the marketers as well.

Needless to say - none of the "Three Sopranos" efforts has been as successful as the boys either - but I think that's a different issue. I'm sorry if this veres too far off topic.

HEY WHAT ABOUT THE FAT LADIES. GOTTA GIVE SOME FAT GIRLS PROPS. THEY RULE...

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HEY WHAT ABOUT THE FAT LADIES.  GOTTA GIVE SOME FAT GIRLS PROPS.  THEY RULE...

True enough. C/W Spence.

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you seem to want to intellectualize everything--which is all fine and dandy but I think you're coming from deep left field with that last inquiry. It appears to me that you're trying to delve into a netherworld of thought that doesn't exist.

i'm not sure what this means, so i have nothing specific to say on it.

Broad culinary learning and availability of new and interesting food stuffs and the genesis of the movement to increase awareness can't be directly correlated to a principal "selling out" that's so vague and unmeasureable.

i'm not the one who believes there's a link between chefs who sell out and the increased availability of food knowledge and products; i assumed it was a general assumption others have made throughout the course of this particular topic.

iml


"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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This is my first post on e-gullett. I picked up interest over at Chowhounds. This thread has been particularly interesting as I was recently having a similar conversation with a friend in the industry. While I am not in the industry myself, I am passionate about food and wine. My favorite experiences are when a great meal is augmented by personal attention from the chef and/or owner of the restaurant (particularly the chef).

IMO to the extent that a chef is able to balance commercial success and culinary creativity, power to him/her. I'm sure that it must be very difficult and those that do, do so because for some reason they are able to get and keep outstanding help.

It is certainly much easier than ever to find great quality and variety of food in the U.S. than ever before. I would bet that a lot of that is due to the high profile achieved by the so-called "sellouts" even if their own products have suffered as a result.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Many of the cooking shows on Food TV are quite good and a lot of help to a budding cook.  As has been said before, Sara Moulton is a fanstatic chef.  Mario, Ming Tsai, are as well. (i'm sure I'm missing some others)

Emeril Live is an autrocity which I can barely watch, but regardless of his personality, he is quite a good chef and during his other show - "Essence..." is quite informative - I think they medicate him for that one.

Finally, Bobby Flay is decent, and Rachel Ray - although her personality often makes me want to shoot myself - has given me great ideas for things to cook in between my never ending amounts of school work.

Eric,

I like what you have to say. Different people/different tastes. Professional chefs/food writers view things differently than those not "in the biz." Some folks like to watch the Food Network to learn, not just to say "Hey I can do that and much better..."

Working in law and familiar with the inside of a courtroom, I laugh out loud sometimes at the plot absurdities on The Practice... but its TV... its ENTERTAINMENT.... ALL of it.... Even the weather channel can't resist, with specials on tornado chasing...

Like it or not, Emeril put the FN on the map, and its because of him that some very fine chefs have gotten widespread play... Eventually overexposure will winnow down the field of commercialism.... Fashion designers used to put their names on everything... I recall seeing a Bill Blass toilet seat cover at Macy's... And look at the Osbournes (actually try avoiding them, its difficult).... I think Ozzy's 15 minutes are up...again...

Gotta give the public some credit for having some savvy... Graham Kerr (a/k/a The Galloping Gourmet) may have cashed in on his foppishness, but no one mistook his culinary genius for Julia Child's...

Let's have some fun... :smile:

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