Are Celebrity Chefs Worth the Fame and Fortune?
If you know me, you’d know that I’m not into the term “celebrity chef,” I think it’s a silly term.
It seems like every chef today who gets one plug in the media is dubbed a “celebrity chef.”
Don’t get me wrong, when a food critic discovers a restaurant and praises the chef and their food, it’s great for business and putting them on the map. But that’s not my point.
My concern with the term is how the rise of the “celebrity chef” on TV and through cookbooks has appeared to have warped the next generation of young chefs into thinking it’s an easy breezy glamorous career.
I think the introduction of reality TV cooking shows like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules are great in a way because they bring awareness to the home cook about fresh produce, where their food comes from and gets them interested and talking about the industry.
However, it’s a double-edged sword…
Thanks to amazing production teams with access to modern technology, cooking shows sugar coat the reality of what it’s really like to be a chef to make it appealing for their audience.
Then, they see what it’s like on TV, think it’s great and end up getting a job and finding out pretty quickly that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be.
Chefing is a very rewarding career but if you ask anyone in the industry, they’ll tell you it’s a great deal of hard work, a lot of long hours and pay’s not always great.
What TV shows also don’t show you, is that it comes with a lot of sacrifices, a lot of time spent away from family and friends. It’s a physically and mentally demanding profession.
Today’s leading chefs were raised in a very different time where there were no rock stars, no glamorisation of food on TV, no reality cooking shows or hall passes to bypass the dreaded four-year apprenticeship.
Chefing was never a popular career choice. In fact, it was at the bottom of the profession food chain, but we wanted to be there because we had a burning passion for food and the industry.
They were raised in much tougher kitchens than today’s kitchens and got to where they are now because of their persistence, dedication and ‘can do’ attitude. Not one crumb was handed to us on a silver platter.
That being said, I think workplaces have changed for the better. There’s a lot more emphasis on the importance of having a work-life balance. There’s more flexibility with work hours, employees are encouraged to use their leave and take a holiday, take their hour lunch break and clock off once they’ve done the work.
While I believe in putting 110% into whatever you do, it’s very much encouraged at our company to look after your health first. Stress and pressure from work can build up, so it’s important to know when you need to take some time to reset.
But it’s true that the first years are the hardest, especially for young apprentices. But If you have the passion and drive, and don’t go into it with stars in your eyes, you’ll make it. Longevity is the key to the game.
If you really want to grasp what it’s like to be a chef, my advice would be to do get as much hands-on experience as possible in a real restaurant or café, rather than from TV.
Another way to put a realistic picture in your mind of what being a chef is like, is to read books about the industry written by chefs. I recommend you get a hold of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table or Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen. I even have an autobiography that paints a pretty realistic picture of Australia’s hospitality industry called The Making of a Chef.
Our development program, The Inspired Series, is all about painting a realistic picture of what it’s like to be a chef. The program, which consists of Q&As with some of the world’s best chefs who generously give up their time to motivate and inspire young chefs to stick with it and not throw in the towel when the going gets tough.
These sorts of mentoring and educational programs are a vital piece of the puzzle to ensuring the survival of our industry and growth of our young chefs.
It’s possible that the TAFE system could be modernised to accommodate for the new generation of young chefs to keep them engaged. They could introduce more mentorship programs, like our Inspired Series, and modernise the cooking curriculum.
I did actually do a cooking show throughout Asia for four months, have appeared as a guest chef a few times in the early seasons of MasterChef and do the occasional TV appearance on Channel Nine’s The Today Show, but my core business is my restaurants.
If I’m not at glass brasserie or MOJO in Sydney, I’m travelling to visit my restaurants in ASIA, I couldn’t imagine being away from all this for any long period of time. You've got to be in your kitchens or it all falls apart.
Maybe if I didn’t have 21 restaurants or 700 staff to look after…but even then, I’d probably do an Anthony Bourdain style cooking show and travel the world eating amazing food… now those are the kinds of cooking shows I can get behind.