When is a Chef Considered a “Sell-Out”?

October 26, 2019

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.

Do you think celebrity chefs and endorsers are sell-outs? Or do you think these chefs are just doing their job? Would you buy the products they endorse if you saw them on the shelf? Tell us your thoughts below!

1. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/the-fall-and-fall-of-gordon-ramsay-1674269.html
2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/7545259/Sell-out-chefs-should-get-back-in-the-kitchen.html
3. http://www.chow.com/food-news/108267/why-chefs-sell-out/
4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/celebrity-chef-endorsements_n_1775933.html
5. http://www.naturalfoodfinder.co.uk/Celebrity-Chefs-selling-out
6. http://anthonybourdain.tumblr.com/post/35577815503/fighting-mad

Pamela Cortez Pamela Cortez

Pamela Cortez writes about food full-time, and has honed her craft while writing for publications such as Rogue, Town and Country, and The Philippine Star. She once rode on a mule for a mile just to eat mint tea and lamb in Morocco, and has eaten a block of Quickmelt in one sitting. Her attempt at food photography can be viewed online @meyarrr.

13 comments in this post SHOW

13 responses to “When is a Chef Considered a “Sell-Out”?”

  1. Volts Sanchez says:

    A chef is a sell-out when he/she stops giving a damn about the quality and taste of his/her food. Commercial aspect (endorsements of products you don’t actually use, et al) aside, succumbing to the temptations of the glitz ‘n glam is (at least, for me) selling out as well.

  2. juicecolored says:

    The chef who calls himself the boss is a sell-out.

  3. If one has a competent staff who is willing to execute the food exactly as the chef intends it, then I don’t see it as selling out. If problems arise in the kitchen due to the chef’s absence, he needs to get back in there. There’s nothing wrong with self promotion. After all, who else will. My hat is off to the guys who have been able to turn what is normally an average paying job into one that will allow them to travel, dine out, spend time with their families and retire comfortably.

    • Pamela Cortez says:

      Yup, I totally agree. If their food is still really good, even if the chef’s running the ship elsewhere, then they can do whatever they want! Let’s say for example, David Chang- yeah he’s everywhere, but his restaurants are still consistently good.

  4. Bryan Tan says:

    I remember that time a few months back when all these Chefs were endorsing that Jollibee Champ with the pineapple in it

  5. Alex says:

    So true, nice article.

  6. Pierre says:

    The truth is the usual number one sell outs are from the media. What’s more annoying is the false sense of truth in journalism.

  7. Vill jr. says:

    Well, maybe some people think they know everything about other people’s lives, and think they should publish their opinions because they can, but one thing is for sure, we do not know everything, and maybe, before writing something judgemental, get all facts straight, basis beyond the superficial. Some people just write, and they call themselves writers.

    • Philosophical Epal says:

      “Some people just write, and they call themselves writers.”
      – But isn’t the most basic definition of a writer “someone who writes”?

      “Well, maybe some people think they know everything about other people’s lives, and think they should publish their opinions because they can, but one thing is for sure, we do not know everything, and maybe, before writing something judgemental, get all facts straight, basis beyond the superficial.”
      – A lot of commas there bud. Periods are also a thing in this modern world. And it’s a blog, so yes the author can publish her opinion because she can.

  8. Andrea Jane says:

    Hmmm…. Marco Pierre White “returned/refused” his Michelin stars.

  9. Ed says:

    Chefs don’t exactly get paid well. Endorsements help pay the bills. As long as they still cook and make sure their food is of outstanding quality and not mediocre then I do not see why they shouldn’t get paid for endorsing products.

    • Pamela Cortez says:

      As long as they cook and do it well, and make sure their kitchens (which is what got them there in the first place) are churning out delicious food, then they’re making money and not selling out.

  10. MissLilly says:

    really interesting article. It’s very easy that once a chef starts to become famous he start selling-out: either merchandising, product placement, tv shows…. but ultimately he needs to continue to be connected with the food at his heart. If the chef disconnects from the food, eventually the whole brand will start to collapse anyway.

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