Jamie Oliver. Gordon Ramsay. Guy Fieri. Bobby Flay.
These are names every foodie knows, thanks to the television shows, books, and press they have floating around them. They’re part of the celebrity chef crew, and they are living it up as some of the most well-paid people in the restaurant industry. They have legions of fans, act as inspiration for aspiring chefs, and are pop culture icons.
But, is all the hype worth it? I’m not so sure.
Being a celebrity chef tends to come with certain connotations. It’s assumed that they have an extremely high standard for food they serve. It’s also assumed that they are trained chefs. And, it’s also assumed that they are gurus in their field.
You might love their work, but before you make assumptions about them, hang on tight. The reality behind many of the people who gain the celebrity chef title isn’t quite what it appears to be…
What Makes A Celebrity Chef Famous?
The short answer: marketing. The long answer: personality and brand.
Don’t get me wrong; most celebrity chefs are extremely talented at making great food. You honestly don’t get to star status without at least knowing some good cooking tips that set you apart.
However, many celebrity chefs aren’t actually trained chefs. Some, like Anthony Bourdain, started their careers as food critics and travel writers before they transitioned into the celebrity chef role. Bourdain never had formal training in the kitchen.
So, experience in the kitchen doesn’t necessarily equate to the status. It helps, but it’s not the main dish, so to speak. What is, is marketing. Celebrity chefs have PR people. They have people who build up their brand for them. They have others who do much of the hard work of getting their name out there for them.
Celebrity Chefs: A Branding Lesson
Think back to your favorite celebrity chefs. Does they have a signature style, phrase, or attitude that makes them stand out? I’m willing to bet they do. Think about it. What would Jaime Oliver be without his obsession with healthy food? What would Gordon Ramsay be without his explosive temper and high standards? What would Paula Deen be without her Southern drawl and country recipes?
Each celebrity chef has a brand they’re famous for, and that’s what they market to the masses. That’s what makes them money. Their brands are carefully designed to be relatable, inspiring, interesting, or just plain fun. I mean, really, who wouldn’t want Guy Fieri to take them to Flavortown?
Media executives and company owners know that people will pay a premium price for a brand they resonate with. They know that, and promoted celebrity chefs as a way to profit. That’s why you see Cake Boss cake mix, why you can get Guy Fieri hot sauce, and why you can get Kitchen Nightmares on DVD.
Take It All With A Grain Of Salt
I don’t mean to burst your bubble with this article, really. I’m not saying that celebrity chefs suck. Most are pretty decent. Some, like Gorden Ramsay or Julia Child, actually did work their way up to fame after formal training. Others made their fame through uniquely stylish foods. Then, some market their way to the top or stumble into culinary fame after getting famous through other means.
If you are looking for fun shows, good cooking pointers, and interesting tidbits, by all means, check out celebrity chefs. Just realize that a lot of them aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, and that can ring true of their restaurants and products, too.
So, if you’re a fan of celebrity chef franchises, feel free to watch. Just realize that they all have their perks or pitfalls—and that business really is the true name of their game.