Chefs Are Our New Celebrities
Being a chef traditionally never seemed to carry the prestige of so-called white-collar professions. It was, and is, a job with long hours, grease-splattered clothes, stinky clogs, and a semi-permanent rim around the hair where a toque (the classic tall white chef's hat) has been positioned for at least 14 hours of any given day.
Then the Eighties brought a flurry of dining out, an emphasis on nouvelle cuisine and much gastro-hype, making the chef the focal point of the restaurant scene. And subsequently, chefdom became fashionable and respectable. Even as a profession. However, what launched a handful of chefs to the level of the greatest superstars had to be the advent of Food Porn. With nonstop 24 hour a day food programming competing for our television attention, food became the new sex. It is used to sell everything and promoted by the media to be the maximum zenith, the highest paramount, the ultimate end all of human existence.
Most television viewers do not fully comprehend what psychological warfare has been perpetrated on their unwitting souls. When I was young (and not digging into a Brontosaurus Burger) food was an edible product that tasted good and either your mom or a local restaurant served. When the food was really good, you might even pay compliments to your mom or the chef. But you would never think of elevating either one of them to the heights of gods and describe their products as manna from heaven! Well... maybe your mom... but never the corner restaurant cook!
Food was food. It was a product you used. You would no longer wax prosaic about it and make it the center point of your existence any more than you would write love paeans to raincoats or suitcases.
Then came the Food Network. And the world was never the same again.
Some East Coast and West Coast entertainment agents, with the sweet smell of success in the air, jumped on the food wagon and packaged these chefs like celebrities or maybe even rock stars. Heck, more people today can name three top TV chefs than they can name three artists who have chart topping hits! We now have a barrage of round-the-clock television programming with chefs cooking magical meals, traveling to far off lands and preparing local food, even if they can't speak the country's language, and giving words of wisdom on entertaining for family and friends.
We have "star chefs" preparing food for the Academy Awards dinner, and we get to see the food preview along with the jewellery on shows like "Good Morning America". Ordinary people who have never tasted a truffle argue over the relative merits of white over black and how you simply have to be in Piedmont in November to get the best.
Where will this explosion of food fantasy end? And just how far are celebrity chefs and their agents willing to go to make it happen?
Culinary schools will soon need to include Acting 101, stage makeup and stunt pot-handling as course requirements. "Light the lights" (and the stove), "three seconds to air" (stir the soup), "stage left, stage left" (the spoon is falling out of the bowl), "look straight at camera three," "Can you hear me in your mic? ... Are your clothes still on?"