Culture Shock: Celebrity Chefs the New Super Models

I was asked to participate as a judge for this year’s “Tasty Awards” and I thought what a fun way to peek behind the curtain and check out what all the fuss was about with the celebrity chefs.  Being a food lover means I indulge in watching Food TV, read any and all food related magazines I can get my hands on, and well just literally go gaga when it comes to anything food.  My travels in recent years, have confirmed that the celebrity chef is no way limited to America – every country seems to have their version.  My mother and I on our recent trip to Ireland spent many an evening watching Master Chef while massaging our tired feet.  Thailand even made theirs Prime Minister,  Samak Sundaravej had a popular TV and radio show as well as a book Chimpai Bonpai (Tasting, Complaining) as well as a recipe for pork stew with Coca Cola that seems to be his defining recipe.

A Bit of Perspective – Famous Chefs in History

Given French cuisines reign as the dominate of the culinary scene since time began (or so it seems, anyway), it stands to reason the most famous historical chefs (at least in the Western Hemisphere) are well, French, with some exceptions.

Antoine Carme, image from cooking4kings.com

Known as the “King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings,” Antoine Careme went from the abandoned child left at the door of a restauranteur in 18th century Paris, to the father of “haute cuisine” in the early 19th century. Chef to then-world movers and shakers such as diplomat Talleyrand-Perigord, the future King George IV, Czar Alexander I, and the powerful banker James Rothschild, Careme is noted for his voluminous writings on cooking, including  L’Art de la Cuisine Francaise (The Art of French Cooking), a masterpiece on menu planning, table settings, recipes and some French cooking history thrown in.

There was Jacques Olivier who, we think, brought us Salade Olivier, also known as Russian Salad to large swaths of the potato salad eating world.  I say “think” because there is a bit of a mystery there, but regardless, that dish is about as global as curry

photo from columbia.edu

Another Frenchman, George Auguste Escoffier, bridged the 19th and 20th centuries modernizing Careme’s elaborate cuisine by simplifying it.  Besides creating such famous treats at Peach Melba in honor of Australian singer Nellie Melba in 1893, Escoffier wrote voluptuously on cooking and was instrumental in improving conditions in commercial kitchens.  He was a stickler for cleanliness and demanded the same from his staff.

Charles Ranhofer, the son of a restrauteur, and the grandson of a chef, brought his country’s cuisine [French, mais bien sûr] to America.  Famous as the head chef of New York City’s famed Delmonico’s restaurant, Ranhofer ran its kitchens for nearly 34 years, and is created with such culinary delicacies as Lobster Newburg and Baked Alaska.  He also wrote “one of the most complete treatises of its kind,” according to the New York Times in praise of his book, The Epicurean, published in 1894.

Any overview of famous historical chefs would not be complete without the inclusion of one American woman named Julia Child.  Julia did not begin cooking until the tender age of 34.  After moving to France that she had her grand epiphany: Good food is more than roast beef and mashed potatoes. She flung herself headlong into an education at the esteemed Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and later co-authored Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She more than made up for her late start by becoming one of the first “celebrity chefs” with more books, television programs, newspaper columns, and magazine articles. She brought French cuisine to the American masses with her “have-a-good-time” attitude along with her talent and expertise.

The Advent of the TV Chef

The advent of the TV cooking shows really gave the trend some traction.  Julia Childs was not the first TV chef but she certainly catapulted to the forefront when her show went from a local market to national programming via public television.  Then there was the Frugal Gourmet, Emeril and a host of others.  I also found it interesting that most of the shows that are popular today have mutated from the instructional shows of yore.  Now the focus is over the top personalities (Gordon Ramsey’s The F Word)  or reality TV or even competition (Iron Chef, Top Chef), how to run a restaurant, what not to eat when traveling, or conversely what to eat . To make it as a chef seems to require skills and talent outside the kitchen – having a cookbook seems to be a minimum requirement and the next step appears to be a cooking show.  But sometimes the chef goes overboard.  When I moved from Washington, DC to San Francisco, it was akin to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.  In Washington, DC, we had celebrity chefs, two that immediately come to mind are Michel Richard (Citronelle, Central), Jose Andreas (Zatinya, Jaleo, the Minibar).  Both have successful cookbooks, and continue to expland their culinary impires with restaurants rapidly spreading beyond the shadow of the capital.  Jose has taken it to the next step with his cooking show on public television: Made In Spain.  In San Francisco, the list of celebrity chefs is L-O-N-G – Thomas Kellar, Gary Danko, Jerimiah Tower, Alice Waters….

This explosion in celebrity chefs really gained traction with the birth of Food Network back in 1993, there was a building of momentum that jumped around 1998 and continues to climb.  They managed to turn something utilitarian – cooking and turn it into a glamourous hobby.   They revamped cooking and got the chef out from behind the counter.  Food TV went global with its first UK program in November 2009, and continues to expand in Asia this year. In 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle claims that food has supplanted sex as our main preoccupation.  They suggest that “as sex became more risky with the rise of AIDS, food became a form of glamorous sublimation”.  Around that time several food related films had been released:  “Chocolat”, “Eat Drink Man Woman”, “Mostly Martha” to name a few.  Martha Stewart might have been at her pinnacle.  Copia, which sadly went belly up last year, was just opening in 2002 as a modern temple for food.  These seem to be onto something, because about everywhere you look see “sexy” + food.

Famous chefs have a blog devote to them: Celeb Chefs.  Least they get too big for their britches, those cooking shows have comedies to mock them: Posh Nosh.

Sometimes those famous chefs take their fame and knowledge and use it to for a worthy cause, such as Jamie Oliver and his work on school menus and obesity who recently won a TED award for his efforts.

The Awards Ceremony

controlled chaos

The invitation said black tie attire only and the awards show was to be televised and started promptly at 7 pm.  Mr. Oyster and I walked into controlled mayhem; interviews were taking place, photographs were snapped, goodie bags collected, air kisses distributed.  We quickly made our wait to the champagne reception and secured a good seat to observe the action unfold.  As my husband said, we were essentially there for fun (my work was done) but for some of these folks, this was a networking opportunity extraordinaire and we watched in awe as they worked the room.

Let the Awards Ceremony Begin

2010 marked the first year for this awards show, and the professionalism with which it was done shows it should be around for years to come.  It was not without a few glitches, but the thought and effort put in was evident and that it will only improve with time.  The awards show focuses on both television and web shows related to either food or fashion.  Judging by the guests in attendance they certainly intersected this night at the Kabuki Theater.  I have not seen such an array of fashion in some time.

The first award of the night for Life Time Achievement went to Anthony Bourdain and while he was not there to accept in person he had a hilarious video clip acceptance speech.  His show “No Reservations” won in another category and his producers accepted that

Debra Mazar and Nathan Lyon

award.  Zane Lamprey as one of the presenters and kept the audience made sure we did not take the show too seriously.  Nathon Lyon who has the energy of 6 people (that’s him getting interviewed in the photo) bounded up on the stage to present a few awards with Debi Mazar, who in addition to acting has a cooking gig, Under the Tuscan Gun.

After the awards show, everyone hurried across the street to the after party where we were greeted with some delicious food and wines.  Mr. Oyster’s favorite, and I am not saying he was wrong, I just could not choose, was the hot chocolate with a bit of schnapps from Schoggi Chocolate – a Swiss chocolatier in downtown San

The after party

Francisco.  It was smooth and the perfect way to finish an evening.  We sampled some delicious and inventive drinks (Mandarin Orange Soda, Shandy) from Fentiman’s.  Sabor of Spain offered some incredible nibbles, Tamales Bay oyster skewers, bacon wrapped dates (a personal favorite), Spanish torta with Romanesco sauce.  CJ Stix offered highly addictive pretzels rolled in English toffee.  I had to move away from their table otherwise, I would have been in trouble.  Quady Winery fixed a delectable aperitif, and I was happy to learn they make Essensia wine, which is a wonderfully versatile dessert wine.  I see a road trip to their vineyard in my future.  Some other providers also offered some incredible food and drinks, and unfortunately I do not have their names to give them credit.  An Italian restaurant turned out some great flatbreads topped with Speck and dates.  Another chocolatier made some truly melt in your mouth chocolates with 5-Spice Powder and Meyer’s lemon to name but a few flavors.

chatting after the show

I recognized a few people: Anita Chu of Dessert First, a fellow engineer with a love of food (she was a presenters), and Stephanie Im of Lick My Spoon.  Joanne Weir was both a presenter and award winner (The Passion Award).  Marlena Spieler, food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle stopped by to show us her sushi necklace.  It was a fun evening with the chance to see my husband in his infrequently used tux – ah, some sights are very nice indeed.  I had a wonderful time and look forward to next year’s Tasty Awards which should only be bigger and better.  Congratulations Tasty Awards on a job well done!

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22 comments for “Culture Shock: Celebrity Chefs the New Super Models

  1. January 15, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    I don’t know about this … It would be weird to watch celebrity chefs strut down the red carpet waving to the adoring fans, mugging for the cameras, and telling the eager reporters which designers they wear.

    But then again, why not?

    Former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who passed away just a few weeks ago, was actually removed from his position because of his cooking show. Conflict of interests. You can’t run the country while being employed by a TV show. It was fun while it lasted, though.

  2. January 15, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    Lucky you! ;-D Looks like a fun event.

  3. January 15, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    Was lovely seeing you as always, LouAnn!

  4. January 15, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    Well you’ll have a great responsibility, really a tasty one!

    In this geographical area this event isn’t promoted but I’d like having more diffusion of the same as a foodie.

    Have a great weekend!

    Gera

  5. January 15, 2010 at 2:36 PM

    Fantastic opportunity….wow. Sounds like you had FUN!!!!!!

  6. admin
    January 15, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    Leela – It was a bit surreal to watch all the activites. As to the fashion part, sorry, not the same, they had distinctly different awards for fashion – basically two broad catagories, food and fashion. I focused mostly on the food last night, but I can say everyone seemed to be dressed to the 9s. It was a fun way to meet people you do not commonly connect with as your work is so different.

    Regarding the PM, it sounded like he was using his cooking so more as a political platform, I wonder if he kept purely to cooking if he would have been forced to quick.

    Jenn – It was a fun event, not something I do everyday.

    Stephanie – Likewise, sorry we did not have more of an opportunity to chat.

    Gera – I accepted my position and gave it my all =) It was loads of fun! It offered me a chance to see a lot more programs both on TV and on the web – which you should get access to. If you want to learn about some interesting ones check the list as they give a rundown of what was nominated.

  7. January 15, 2010 at 4:36 PM

    Hey, thanks for the mention. I think A.K did a great job for first time out. It wasn’t the Beard Awards yet but it definitely has very strong potential.

  8. CJ
    January 15, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    Thanks for stopping by the table and tasting our CJ’s Bitz – we had a fun time – chatting with people and being apart of the festive mood at the After Party. We will look forward to next year!

  9. January 15, 2010 at 8:36 PM

    That sounds like a fun event!Good for you!

  10. January 15, 2010 at 10:32 PM

    Oooh, what a fun time! It’s amazing to think how chefs are like rock stars now. Who can believe it was once thought of as a below blue-collar job that nobody in their right mind would want their kid to go into. Now, everyone wants to be a celeb chef.

  11. January 16, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    What a fun event and eve for you. I would drinking it all in. (Eating it all in) Love the historical perspective. Food is so ingrained our different cultures. Every morsel is a nod to a place or person.

  12. January 16, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    I have not heard of this event but it sounds like a great time! Yeah, celebrity chefs are like rock stars now, it’s so funny. It’s a very popular profession to want to dive into these days–the reality is it’s still an incredibly tough job day to day! Television gives the impression that it’s all fun and glamorous–I have a couple of friends that are chefs and it is so not that way! Fun post and recap!

  13. January 16, 2010 at 11:23 PM

    And soon, there’ll be celebrity food bloggers, I’ll bet! What do you think about that? you can interview me anytime you want. Haha, I kid!

  14. January 17, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    What a fun night! The extent to which we glamorize food and chefs has become extreme, but of course, I enjoy watching and learning with everyone else. (better than making celebrities of young, wealthy socialites who end up in jail, I suppose. ;)

  15. January 18, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    Wow that’s awesome! I thought Antony Bourdain was just in Santa Rosa last week. Did he not attend intentionally?

  16. admin
    January 18, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    Joanne – agree, AK did a great job and only I can only see it getting stronger next year. Congrats to you on your well deserved award.

    CJ – Thank you for developing those delicious snacks – too tasty!

    Erica – It was a lot of fun and certainly a change from my usual activities.

    Carolyn – Agreed, which is why I felt compelled to comment, its amazing what the power of media can do.

    Claudia – It was a wonderful night, and it is certainly interesting to see how food and culture can connect in an event like this.

    Lisa – Agee – the TV has certainly glamorized what is an incredibly tough job. More power to those that succeed. There is a lot of sweat equity in their success.

    Sophia – Great point, I cannot wait to see you make your acceptance speech! I’d be honored to interview you! =)

    Lisa – Agreed, its kind of nice to have a less insane view of the business but be able to stick a toe in from time to time.

    Em – I’m not sure about his availability, as it was a new show, maybe he wanted to wait – really have no idea.

  17. January 18, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    How exciting for you!! Lucky you!!

    What a grand responsibility,…waw!

    Thanks for the lovely review of a fine evening, my friend!

  18. January 19, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    What a fun event to attend! Thanks for sharing all the details of the evening with us!

  19. admin
    January 19, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    Sophie and Natasha – it was fun, something different for me certainly!

  20. January 19, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    How lucky you are! But totally deserving of attending and judging this fun event. Your a food superstar now!

  21. January 20, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    This really does sound fun and I really am jealous. Really… GREG

  22. admin
    January 24, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    Reenie – Not sure about that, but thank you!

    Sippity – Listen, I never said anything when you got to go to Panama, my goodness. It was a lot of fun btw.

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