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Celebrity Chefs - Are They Worth It?


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In today's Politico there is an article about famous chefs who open restaurants in DC.

www.politico.com/click/stories/0912/review_top_chefs_underwhelm_in_d_c_.html

Here is a quote about Alain Ducasse:

"Trouble is: sophisticated, well-traveled diners are drawn to Ducasse restaurants for the obsessive attention to detail that is applied to the highest of high-end ingredients. His brand is probably less attractive to politicians who want prime rib or tourists who want sliders for their children. If he's attempting to please those groups -- plus some portion of the public that knows enough to want the chef's tasting menu -- he's facing a classic dilemma: It's hard to be all things to all people.

And it's unclear how much Ducasse knows about the Washington market. He himself admitted that he does not visit other restaurants here. "I really don't know what Washington has to offer," he said. "I do not need to know. It's never how I open a restaurant. I do what I am passionate about. I offer what I know."

I think that is a great business model. If you build it, they will come.

My question is whether these celebrity-type restaurants with absentee chefs are worthwhile to go to?

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In today's Politico there is an article about famous chefs who open restaurants in DC.

www.politico.com/click/stories/0912/review_top_chefs_underwhelm_in_d_c_.html

Here is a quote about Alain Ducasse:

"Trouble is: sophisticated, well-traveled diners are drawn to Ducasse restaurants for the obsessive attention to detail that is applied to the highest of high-end ingredients. His brand is probably less attractive to politicians who want prime rib or tourists who want sliders for their children. If he’s attempting to please those groups -- plus some portion of the public that knows enough to want the chef’s tasting menu -- he’s facing a classic dilemma: It’s hard to be all things to all people.

And it’s unclear how much Ducasse knows about the Washington market. He himself admitted that he does not visit other restaurants here. “I really don’t know what Washington has to offer,” he said. “I do not need to know. It’s never how I open a restaurant. I do what I am passionate about. I offer what I know.”

I think that is a great business model. If you build it, they will come.

My question is whether these celebrity-type restaurants with absentee chefs are worthwhile to go to?

Nothing against Adour, but how are restaurants expected to source "the highest of high-end ingredients" without knowing anything about the market they are opening in? The recent article in the Post online regarding restaurants misrepresenting items on their menus is the tip of the iceberg. My link

I think DC diners would be shocked if better informed about what exactly "the best ingredients" really means to some restaurants.

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My "real" job as VP of an IT federal contractor requires me to have business lunches about three times a week. Inevitably, the commentary on the table by my guests is that they like to eat light, fast and in a quiet environment so they can talk business. Among my industry friends who take food seriously, we often say D.C. is an "expense account" dining market. Does this impact the level of commitment or perception by these celebrity chefs when they decide to open a restaurant in D.C.? I think so. But I agree with edwinsux' comments. I think more can be done to understand the regional sourcing possibilities and committing oneself to supporting artisanal products, much the same way Europe assimilates a direct rural supply chain into its urban markets with limited third party intervention and processing [think the Les Halles central market in Paris]. I have not eaten in many restaurants in D.C. but I like what places such as Blue Ridge [in my neighborhood and I have no affiliation with it]attempt to do by highlighting regional products So, the intersection of my two points is the following, I find it difficult to grasp that a restaurant can maintain its focus and purpose based solely on the reputation of its celebrity chef unless he/she is intimately involved with its region and has firsthand relationships with suppliers.

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A very capable (but not famous) chef texted me this evening. His question, and my reply:

Q: "Serious question: do celebrity chefs feel an obligation to endorse other celebrity chefs. Humor me."

A: "Yes they do in order to mutually perpetuate their fraud."

Got a chuckle out of that one Don. Methinks you're a wee to rough on them sometimes. Some of them can actually cook. Some just use their marketing savvy to help get more customers. You can't blame them for using another skill they've developed to help increase their business.

I'm not saying all, but some.

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Got a chuckle out of that one Don. Methinks you're a wee to rough on them sometimes. Some of them can actually cook. Some just use their marketing savvy to help get more customers. You can't blame them for using another skill they've developed to help increase their business.

I'm not saying all, but some.

David, why do you think I'm being too rough on them? I'm not saying some of these "celebrity chefs" can't pan-sauté a piece of snapper, but I am saying, strongly, that they rarely do. Nor are they anywhere near the kitchens where that snapper is being prepared because they're somewhere in Dubai promoting their latest "concept."

The only restaurant I've ever seen José Andrés in was Sushi-Ko, and I've been to "his" restaurants perhaps 50 times in my life. And he's one of the ones who probably *can* sauté that piece of snapper. But I assure you he's not one of the 100 Most Influential People In the World.

Speaking in general terms, why shouldn't I be rough on very ordinary people of limited talent for being nothing more than figureheads, aiding and abetting the PR-driven illusion which cleverly dupes the dining public into thinking that they're getting some type of genuine representation of "artistic genius" (give me a break) in exchange for their hard-earned money?

Did you see the 60 Minutes piece on Luxottica? It's worth 13 minutes of your time to see what type of bullshit is peddled to unsuspecting customers.

When you buy Tiffany glasses, do you think Tiffany designed the frames? Have a look and see for yourself.

What are celebrity chefs good for, other than "being famous?" Dining at one of their restaurants, buying a cookbook for sale at the host stand, and succumbing to the myth that people are having some type of "authentic, artisan chef experience" is about as naive as buying a navy blue velour tracksuit at Target with the "Coco Chanel" logo stitched in large, gold letters, for all to see, and thinking you have some type of intimate relationship with the designer.

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Did you see the 60 Minutes piece on Luxottica? It's worth 13 minutes of your time to see what type of bullshit is peddled to unsuspecting customers.

When you buy Tiffany glasses, do you think Tiffany designed the frames? Have a look and see for yourself.

Dining at one of their restaurants.......... is about as naive as buying a navy blue velour tracksuit at Target with the "Coco Chanel" logo stitched in large, gold letters, for all to see, and thinking you have some type of intimate relationship with the designer.

Seems to me these "famous name chef" restaurants are not supported by the 1% like us (the foo-tocrats), but by the general run of diners (the 99%) who, let's be frank, actually have lives separate from obsessing about what they are going to be stuffing in their mouths later today. We the 1% really care about who was standing over that pan of snapper, and whether the snapper was actually red or silk. The 99%, not so much. They worry about other things.

We foo-tocrats spend a lot of time choosing what and where to eat based on the best food out there we can find; we don't pay much attention to endorsements by celebrity chefs to help us do that; in fact, for us they may be a negative.

When the 99% chooses celebrity restaurants, I think they are doing it for the same reason they buy "Coco Chanel" track suits at Target. They understand that Coco didn't sew up that suit, and they don't imagine that Emeril or Paula is back there sweating over the stove. But buying logo-wear instead of a no-logo item, whether it's a track suit or a meal, still brings two things that, for them, are positive. One, it is a way to project that they are part of an in-crowd, which I guess is a basic human psychological need. Second, it is a risk-reduction strategy; since somebody they have heard of has signed off on the thing they are about to buy, that gives them confidence the product meets some minimal standard, an assurance they don't get if they buy from the no-name competitor.

So we foo-tocrats can "pan" the food all we want -- the celeb chefs are laughing all the way to the bank because they have found the way to big profits, not from pleasing the palates of the 1%, but by easing the fears and providing for the needs of the 99%.

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These are business people, not saints, and not fashion designers, and none of them guarantees that they will be in any restaurant on any given day. You will not be disappointed if you don't expect them to be.

Jose Andres spends time doing a lot more than self promoting. He donates much of his time to causes that help feed hungry children around the world and teach convicted felons new job skills to make them productive members of society while feeding the homeless to boot. Have I ever seen him cook? No.

Have I ever seen him work with his chefs to bring new dishes to the menus in his restaurants? Yes.

Just because they aren't sweating in their kitchen night and day doesn't mean they haven't brought together a group of trustworthy, like-minded individuals to help bring their vision to life.

Not everyone can be, or wants to be, Johnny Monis or Thomas Keller (who is now a celebrity chef in his own rite). It is one end of the spectrum of restaurant ownership/management/cooking.

The other end is McDonalds.

Most fall somewhere in the middle. A lot make really good food, and most have a staff that can produce it while they aren't in the kitchen personally. It's part of the skill set required to be an excellent chef - to be able to teach your staff how to do it like you're there even when you're not.

As far as duping the public, I don't feel duped, but possibly that's because I know what goes on in restaurants better than your average Joe. I know what to expect. I know who's doing the work, and what's behind it.

If the "celebrity chef" talent just brings it all together in an enjoyable format, I find pleasure in that as well.

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Speaking in general terms, why shouldn't I be rough on very ordinary people of limited talent for being nothing more than figureheads . . .

Because your view of "celebrity chefs" amounts to little more than romanticism regarding the nobility of cooking for a living, coupled with a general disdain for capitalism. I appreciate talented chefs more than most, but also believe it takes a hell of a lot of talent to build an empire, even if that talent is limited to finding good people and listening to them. Your argument isn't that celebrity chefs are hacks, because if they aren't cooking you have no way to know. Your issue with these chefs is that they have chosen commerce over of "art."

Seriously, what idiot wouldn't want to reap millions rather than toiling in semi-obscurity on the line every night?

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I'd more inclined to share in the outrage (and condescension) if most of the celebrity chef joints being built these days didn't seem so aggressively middle brow. If Spike wants to set up a pizza joint and a burger joint, does the "dining public" really think "they're getting some type of genuine representation of "artistic genius"... in exchange for their hard-earned money?" Or are they just getting lunch and enjoying a low-cost whiff of celebrity dusted over the mozzarella? If Graffiato's most obvious competition is Carmine's, is it really crowding out brilliant local boys who'd be dishing up innovative eating? Or is he just stealing tourist and the office lunch crowd from a less mediocre joint?

When Laurent Tournandel wants to bigfoot into the steakhouse trade here in DC, looking to nick me for $300 for dinner for two, I am not inclined to play along. But the Shake Shack?

I am curious -- now that some local heroes are expanding/have expanded their brand, how do we feel about them? For what it's worth, I've had a good time in many of Jose's joints, but I've never been blown away by his cheffing (a restaurateur of genius, but behind the line?) and I never quite got the gushing praise for Michel Richard Central. But, despite their awesome PR machines, I've never felt "duped," either.

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