Once upon a time a cook was a cook. It was mom baking apple pies or dad grilling burgers, a baker down the street with crackly baguettes or that guy that makes those tasty little sausage dumplings in that hole in the wall on 5th and Pike. Presently, however, we’ve got more celebrity chefs on television, writing books, and shilling their shtick than you could shake a stick at.
There’s the catchphrase-slinging-I’m-just-like-you celebrity chef that appeals to the moms and dads still slopping together their boxed dinners on a nightly basis – or anyone who could possibly find a hot dog casserole appealing.
Then there’s the bad-boy-act-like-I-hate-my-fame-but-suck-up-every-endorsement-deal-I-can celebrity chef that insists just a little too vehemently that he doesn’t need or want his celebrity chef-dom.
And of course one can’t forget the I-cook-only-organic-sustainable-ridiculously-expensive-foods celebrity chef that attempts to make his or her efforts come off as educational and inspirational, but really only succeeds at being a smarmy elitist.
And last, but certainly not the least annoying, is the I-started-off-as-a-legitimate-chef-but-it-was-too-easy-to-sell-out-and-stop-cooking-to-sell-my-crappy-dinnerware celebrity chef (you could also substitute frozen pies, goofy hats, and some ridiculous invention called a “garbage bowl” in place of dinnerware).
But what it really comes down to is that it’s apparently no longer enough to just be a good cook. You can’t stick with your old public access stand-bys that actually taught one how to fillet a salmon or properly knead a loaf of bread. You have to have a flashy studio set, shiny new pots and pans, and branding gimmicks to hock your product line. It’s as if there’s a race to see who can sell out the fastest.
Don’t get me wrong, getting paid – and paid well – to do what you love is everyone’s dream and we should each have a shot at doing so, but at what point did we cross the line from bringing healthful, homemade food into our homes and once again making cooking part of our culture over to processing and manufacturing the act of cooking until it resembles itself less than a real pizza does a Totino’s Pizza Roll?
I once had a conversation at a group dinner at the French Culinary Institute with Andre Soltner and Alan Richman about who the first celebrity chef was – and no one could pinpoint who it was with any real degree of accuracy. All I know is that no matter whom it was or where it was that we crossed that line, all those great chefs that made cooking real and breathed life into the American food scene already are or will soon be rolling over in their graves.