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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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!