A couple weeks ago, I was browsing Twitter when I encountered a profile belonging to a chef who hailed himself (via his profile blurb) as a “world renowned celebrity chef.” I ran a quick Google search on the guy, who had just under 100 followers, and discovered — via a Wikipedia page that seemed suspiciously detailed — that he’s the chef at a restaurant in Tokyo that is “a favorite among celebrities,” and that he’d previously ran the kitchen at a couple restaurants in Los Angeles that are also noted as “celebrities’ favorites.” He appeared on an episode of the original Iron Chef 17 years ago (which “rocketed him to even higher celebrity status,” according to the entry), and logged hours in some prestigious kitchens. While he very well might be a great chef, there’s one thing he isn’t: a celebrity.
This isn’t an isolated incident by any stretch of the imagination; I’m beset on a near-daily basis with press releases touting the newest achievements of one “celebrity chef” or another. Forty-nine out of 50 times I’ve never heard of them, and their resume is as thin as any other chef, with possibly a regular stint on a local morning show thrown in. It feels good to be on television, but it doesn’t automatically make you a celebrity.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that being a chef is a grueling, oftentimes anonymous job where many dream of stardom along the lines of Mario Batali or Tom Colicchio to elevate them from the daily grind and low pay. There are plenty of chefs that may have earned a bit of local renown, either by talent, a good publicist, or some combination of the two. But I think there’s a good rule of thumb in here: if you feel the need to call yourself a celebrity chef, you aren’t one.
The vast majority of chefs choose the profession because they love to cook, and love to see the happy faces of those who are enjoying their culinary handiwork. But in the Era of the Celebrity Chef, some become chefs thinking that it’s a one-way ticket to a life of hosting their own travel show and making lauded guest-judging appearances on Top Chef. It’s obviously tempting to imagine yourself in Anthony Bourdain’s shoes, but it’s the equivalent of a community theater player in Sheboygan dreaming of becoming the next Robert De Niro: it’s very likely just not going to happen. If you feel the need to call yourself a celebrity chef, you aren’t one.
Apologies for invoking Joseph Goebbels, but his quote “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it” comes to mind. If you walk around telling yourself that you’re a celebrity, if you tell everyone who looks at your Twitter profile or self-written Wikipedia page that you’re a celebrity, if you hire a publicist to tell the media that you’re a celebrity, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re a celebrity. Unfortunately, you’re not.
So what exactly do you need to accomplish before you can call yourself a celebrity chef? I think it’s about time we laid down some criteria (we’ll say that any combination of three or more of these should do it):
1) You host/ have hosted a nationally televised cooking/ food-related show, preferably on Food Network, Cooking Channel, or the Travel Channel.
2) You made it to the finale of a season of Top Chef.
3) You’re the chef–owner of two or more popular (possibly eponymous) restaurants in big cities.
4) You’re occasionally recognized on the street (even if it’s just “Do I know you from somewhere?”).
5) You’re a paid spokesperson for a major company.
6) You’ve ever wondered if you’re “selling out.”
7) You’ve been featured/profiled in a major national food magazine.
8) You’re the star attraction at an event at either the New York, Aspen, or South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
9) You appear regularly as a guest on national morning or late-night talk shows.
10) You don’t refer to yourself as a celebrity chef.
It’s tempting to think that becoming a chef will lead to fame, fortune, and celebrity, but unless you satisfy the criteria, please don’t call yourself a celebrity chef. Nobody will believe you, it’s kind of sad, and anyway, it’s a lame term to begin with.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.