How To Be A Celebrity Chef

Photograph of chef Jacques Pépin at Aspen Food...

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The end of a long week so a business thought related to food.  Actually, it’s related to the food business, and it comes from Jacques Pepin.  Chef Pepin is one of my culinary heroes, and his TV work, both solo and the series he did with Julia Child, ranks in my mind as some of the best cooking programming ever done.  He was one of the first “celebrity chefs” – after he had put in 30 years in the kitchen.  He kind of built the mold – successful restaurant career, TV, books – that many of the folks you see on The Food Network are trying to follow but he actually paid his dues.

Jacques Pepin is very different from many of them and not just because he was a pioneer.  Want to know why?  It’s a great business point for us all.

There is a little Italian place we’ve discovered nearby.  The food is pretty good – an excellent example of Italian home cooking.  But in all candor I can cook this food as well.  So why do we go?  The service is efficient and friendly, it has a warm atmosphere, and the prices are fair for the product and service.  It’s a successful business in all those respects.

Why do I mention that?  Back to Jacques.  This AP piece as reported in HuffPo quotes him on the topic of celebrity chefs:

“It’s someone who is totally egocentric,” Pepin said of chefs who chase fame. “And in that sense it does affect the customer because that person is not taking care of the customer. He doesn’t give that customer his due in terms of time and effort for the money that the customer pays.”

And that’s the point.  Some of these cooks – Mario Batali, Michael Symon as examples – run places that offer great food and fantastic service.  They’re following the Pepin way.  Others – Thomas Keller and Wylie Dufresne as examples – hardly do any TV and stay mostly in the kitchen making sure standards are maintained, choosing the “chef” part over “celebrity.”  Some like Tony Bourdain leave the kitchen all together, recognizing that feeding your own ego means you really can’t focus on your customers.  But there are many others who have limited kitchen skills or whose restaurants have suffered – that would be you, Rocco – as their celebrity grew.

As is often the case, there’s a right way to do things.  A focus on the customer is always the right way.  And that’s a lesson from a master chef that even you non-cooks can understand.

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1 Comment

Filed under food, Helpful Hints

One response to “How To Be A Celebrity Chef

  1. Really solid article. I didn’t know much about Pepin before. I think Rocco is the absolute worst–a lousy businessman, a lousy celebrity, and (from what I’ve seen, though in all fairness, never tasted), an average chef. Not sure how he gained all that celebrity in the first place, but I get the sense it is largely undeserved. Anyway, love Bourdain and his honest approach; like Wylie and Batali (and Symon has grown on me). Why no word on Gordon Ramsey? Surely he warrants a mention in this discussion! My top 5 celebrity chefs:

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