Celebrity Chef Facade

Well it has finally happened, the Chef has now climbed the status ladder from blue collar worker to full blown celebrity. Thanks to The Food Network and the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, etc…, and let’s not forget the pioneers, Julia Childs, and Graham Kerr. The Chef now is this sort of Michael Jordan figure who wows foodies with seared this, emulsified that, and crusted whatever in the breath taking fashion of MJ’s top of the key, airborne, slam dunks. Audiences eat it up. (No pun intended, OK maybe a little pun intended.)

Be that as it may, with the exception of the Emerils, the Flays, and the Pucks, the chef, I mean the hotel or restaurant working chef, for all his/her hard work is making relative ‘peanuts’. For a profession that takes the skill, education, and the long hard hours of very intense concentration you’d think that the wages would be comparable to let’s say an entry level computer analyst, or business consultant. It is in most instances not even close. And let’s not even talk about the lead line cook, who does all the stuff that wows people on TV a hundred times over every night, who may not even be making $15 an hour.

Does the general public understand that all the glitter and glamour of the TV Chef does not translate into real world working situations? No, not in general. Oh, there may be a few that are related to someone who is a chef and get an earful every now and then about the ”real chef’s job”. Or the unfortunate guest of the local ‘Vacation Lodge Hotel’ who makes a wrong turn and walks into the main kitchen during the banquet rush and realizes this is not what he sees on TV. No, in general people see glistening chef coats and chili pepper baggies, top of the line equipment that is spotless, and one dish being prepared at a time by chefs who always have a big Hollywood grin on their face and make lots and lots of money. It is a facade, albeit an appealing one, but still a facade. Then there are shows like ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ where novices are thrown into high pressure situations that really seasoned professionals would be handling in the real world- again, another façade. (I’m getting really tired of ‘unreality’ TV, aren’t you?) There are shows like Next Food Network STAR and Top Chef that I think are a little more realistic although remember these shows run on drama- elimination drives that, if it didn’t the general public would pack their collective knives and go. For example I stepped into the kitchen at the French Laundry one evening and if it were a TV show it would be on PBS right after Charlie Rose- no drama, just precise execution and still the cooks there on that line, except perhaps for the chef de cuisine and sous chefs, are not making enough to dine on the cuisine they prepare, yet they will springboard with TFL on their resume to more lucrative positions for sure.

There are moments in a chef’s life when a bit of that glitz is enjoyed, but in general it is hard ”blue collar” work that requires a ”white collar” education, work that deserves to be acknowledged for how much sweat and sacrifice goes into each dish by talented professionals. Recompense should reflect the work in wages that are fair for the job description. If a kitchen turns out big profits for the establishment then the talent involved needs to be fairly compensated. Unfortunately, sometimes restaurant and hotel owners are living in the same facade as the general public, except when they write out the checks. Unlike the general public, they should know better.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Most people are attracted to the industry by the “glitter” but don’t really know…I give the same advice to everyone that wants to come in the industry.. Get a job , see if you like the lifestyle that comes with it and get a feel for it …
    This is not just a job…Its a lifestyle…Are you up for it?

  2. very insightful post! my husband is a chef and he does not work behind a kitchen because we all know that it takes a lot of work to get to top to make any kind of decent money! love your blog!

  3. Posted by cordel knight on October 17, 2009 at 9:34 AM

    Very well spoken Chef.

  4. Posted by JAC on November 19, 2009 at 8:47 AM

    If you cook professionally, it’s because you love it. You love cooking and great food. You love to be good at it. You love to work with it. You love to think about it when you’re not working with it. You love it when something you cooked silences a room or makes eyes close quietly for a few minutes and heads lean gently back remebering a flavor memory long lost or a taste long wished for. You don’t do it because you think you’ll be famous. You don’t do it because you want to get rich. Those folks are chased off by the reality of the work pretty quickly. What’s left? Only those in it for the love.

  5. You can put the man in a chef coat, put him in front of the camera and using camera trickery, create the illusion of a master chef but nothing beats “real world” culinary masters.

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