Food connoisseurs have been aware of their nearest, and favourite, Michelin starred restaurants since 1926- when the guide began recognizing outstanding restaurants.
The guide was published yearly to an excited and expectant public; the media frenzy that surrounded the publication was akin to the Oscars, at the time. This boost for restaurants was the start of the celebrity restaurant, which ultimately led to the celebrity chef.
However, it would take a few years for these individuals to get the world-wide recognition they deserved through the media of television in the 1950s.
There was a time when cooking wasn’t so fascinating. Ancient Grecians had feasts that were based around medicinal and herbal recipes, with wine as the guest of honour - to induce philosophical thought.
The Romans introduced the idea that food can be something spectacular. Roman armies were stationed all over Europe, giving them access to foods and techniques they had never experienced before. On their return to the homeland they brought delicacies back with them. Soon the age of decadence came, with specialities such as hummingbird tongues, and other exotic food, being the norm.
Popular dishes were shared among the people via the Apicus cookbook. The book contained a complete journal of how to keep a house and various recipes. As the Romans moved from city to city they took with them this new way to eat. Regular dining hours were introduced, as were cooks to prepare food for meals. Cooks suddenly were in great demand, travelling all over Europe to cook for royalty.
After the fall of the empire and the dark ages, people were no longer as self-indulgent as before. Cooks were contained to large houses and palaces, preparing banquets rather than delicate specialities. The age wasn’t a complete loss to the cook; it brought with it new tools and pans for cooking. However, when the renaissance emerged, so once again did the love of food.
In the 1800s, it was the French who were leading the way in the kitchen. Antonin Careme (chef for Napoleon and Tsar Alexander) produced a series of cookbooks that combined sumptuous recipes with titillating gossip. Auguste Escoffier soon followed suit by publishing his own food magazine in the late 1800s. High-society demanded chefs at their soirees, and it wasn’t long before the world took notice and French cuisine was leading the culinary way.
Fast-forward a couple of hundred years and accessing high-end chefs is easier than ever. The popularity of food TV shows and celebrity chefs has seen a rise in people’s expectations of food, and quality.
Chefs are respected for their craft, and the dining room is a place of fascination. Being a chef is more than the whites, it is about interaction- providing a show for your customers; become a craftsman and a showman.
SACA, the South African Chef’s Association, comments “chefs have less mystery and are more accessible to the consumer than ever before, their skills are still held in extremely high regard. “
Shows such as MasterChef, have turned around the opinions of the masses. These shows inspire people to cook, demonstrating new techniques and taste combinations that they may have not experienced before. In 2001, the “Delia effect” was used to describe how shelves were emptied as a result of ingredients featuring on her show. This phenomenon has been seen time and time again, with the latest being Heston Blumenthal’s Christmas Pudding in 2010 – the £13.99 product was sold out in minutes and went on eBay for £130.
However, it isn’t just our buying habits these chefs are changing, but they can also be credited with changing our mind-set.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall showed the power of his celebrity when he filmed Big Fish Fight on Channel 4, the show highlighted the problems of wasting fish due to a quota system imposed by the EU Common Fisheries Policy. His campaign to educate the masses received 320,000 signatures for his cause. Without his credence of being a TV chef and personality, his story wouldn’t have been heard.
The Slow Food Movement, founded by Carlo Petrini, has been powered by numerous chefs, bringing media interest to the movement. The campaign’s goal, to promote sustainable foods and local businesses against fast paced globalization of agricultural products, is now a common theme running through every international community.
There is no doubt that chefs are a hot commodity; people trust them, and they want to buy from them - and brands are catching on.
Pairing alcohol with chefs is one of the popular choices; think Gordon Ramsey for Gordon’s Gin. But brands understand that chefs can sell a wider range of products. Thomas Keller partnered with BMW of North America in 2010, to create a concierge service featuring the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 for Keller’s acclaimed restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California. Tom Kowaleski, vice president corporate communications, BMW of North America said, “The number one hobby and interest of BMW customers is fine dining, which makes a partnership with Thomas Keller and The French Laundry a natural fit.”
In this day and age, it seems there is nothing that chef’s can’t sell.
© Alberto Peroli; Stefen Abtmeyer; BMW NORTH AMERICA Thomas Keller