Celebrity Chefs: Why?

Without revealing too much about our political leanings, let’s just say that we aren’t exactly regular readers of The Weekly Standard. That being said, we very much enjoyed a recent piece in the news magazine about the rise of the celebrity chef. Author Victorino Matus discusses the role of celebrity chefs over the past two hundred or so years. “Two hundred!” you say. “But Julia Child’s show only started in 1963! The Food Network wasn’t founded until 1993!” Au contraire, mon petit fromage. Celebrity chefs have been around in one form or the other since 1815, when Antonin Careme, who had served as a chef for Napolean, the Rothschilds, and Tsar Alexander (to name just a few!), started publishing French cookbooks that mixed recipes with gossipy stories about his former employers.

Another fascinating tidbit from the article concerns Julia Child. Although Child is widely considered to be the first real American celebrity chefs, she shied away from overt publicity. As Matus reports, Child once wrote “I just don’t want to be in any way associated with commercialism (except for selling the book in a dignified way), and don’t want to get into the realm of being a piece of property trotting about hither and yon.” It’s certainly very difficult to imagine Rachael Ray or Bobby Flay expressing similar sentiments (and not just because it’s nigh on impossible to imagine either using the phrase “hither and yon”). Rather than being a detriment to a chef’s career, commercialism is now seen as an enhancement. It’s easy to dismiss this focus on fame as crass, but, as none other than Our Food Hero Anthony Bourdain points out in the article, “Enough people are actually raising their expectations and knowledge of what food is–particularly their expectations.” The celebrity chef complex is, therefore, a force for both good (raising people’s expectations about food) and evil (causing people to think that Sandra Lee is any sort of authority on what to eat).

What do you think? Are celebrity chefs inspirational and informative or insipid and inane?

Bam! [The Weekly Standard]

[Photo: Fishbowl New York]

Celebrity Chefs: Why?