When is a Chef Considered a “Sell-Out”?November 5, 2014
Any fan of Bourdain’s is likely to remember his less-than-civil departure from Travel Channel. His home for 7 years, the TV channel gave us No Reservations, which became one of the most well-loved food and travel series the network or—heck, I’m calling it—the world has ever seen. It was where Bourdain became a household name, where his irreverence, and no-bullshit approach to his subject became a signature, a refreshing change from the Food Network’s garden variety cooking serials. In a well-publicized falling out, he ranted on his Tumblr page about the execs cutting some footage into the show, which made him look like he was advertising the use of the product (in this case, a Cadillac, which he appeared to be driving throughout one episode). He’d done it before with consent, and the outpouring from his fans was so negative that he explicitly told the bigwigs that he would never do this type of thing again. Doing it to the TV chef under the table made Bourdain angry enough to split ways with the company; his reputation rested on the restaurants and experiences he recommended on the show, with him writing: “I was sensitive to the possibility that if I was seen taking money for saying nice things about a product, my comments and choices and opinions would become, understandably, suspect. Did I really like this particular beer I was seen drinking on the show? Or had I simply been paid to say so?”
There are celebrity chefs, and then there are sell-outs. Nowadays, there’s a very fine line between the two.
There are celebrity chefs, and then there are sell-outs. Nowadays, there’s a very fine line between the two. With the food and restaurant industry around the world becoming even more mainstream, it’s inevitable that chefs would be tasked to endorse a few products. But the big issue is is that sometimes, their credibility is shattered—either because they never even use the products they peddle and therefore risk their fans using something that isn’t good at all; or they spend so much time at events endorsing that they stay out of their kitchens and let their food suffer. Gordon Ramsay for example, with his ever-expanding restaurant and television empire, lost his fair share of Michelin stars (and famous proteges and partners along with it), eventually being accused of spreading himself far too thinly. Tom Colicchio of Top Chef and Craft in New York became the face of Diet Coke; understandably this venture was scrutinized and laughed at, especially since the chef’s reputation and regard for high-end cuisine was such a well-crafted one.
Back at home, in our growing food industry, we have our very own celebrity chefs whose faces now seem to be plastered everywhere. The products they endorse range from rice to ice cream to cooking ranges, to the more questionable shaving cream, hair loss products and phone networks. While one understands that in this lucrative business, money needs to indeed be made, it often feels like these chefs are now placing their names just about anywhere, even if it is unrelated to the work that made them so popular in the first place. Instead of serving up delicious food at their restaurants, they leave half-baked menus and concepts up to the cooks they hire, while making TV appearance after TV appearance. I hate to say it but, if you’re making money off of being a chef but can’t even serve a proper meal at your restaurant, then you’re probably, unequivocally, a sell-out.
A proposal was made by Rose Prince to famous chef Marco Pierre White a few years ago in The Telegraph—celebrity chefs need to get back in the kitchen. With this, I wholly agree. White himself lost a few Michelin stars, and eventually, his way, after becoming much too enticed by the fame he garnered in his younger years. The chef has even been an endorser of Knorr bouillon cubes. Writer Prince told this to White and the new guard of celebrity chefs: show people what you are really all about. Go back to your roots, go back to your first love. Opening 5 restaurants in the span of a year might not even give you the money and approval you seek. It seems a little idealistic, especially since business will always be business, but it can be done. In fact, it should be seen as a challenge to be a better chef, to prove to those who yell sell-out, that you’re not one at all. Junior Masterchef Philippines alum JP Anglo for example, opened his first Manila restaurant to rave reviews, concentrating on food he grew up with, with flavours that only made him even more popular. Even Ramsay eventually cancelled a few of his controversial TV shows to concentrate on his cooking. Rene Redzepi has brought his team to Japan, searching for more challenges in spite of his newfound fame. Fans will always come looking, and if the food is great, they will always stay.