Celebrity Chef Craze

Before Food Network expanded to the empire it is today, I can remember watching and interacting with food related media content in my early childhood. I have distinct memories of  watching and re-watching  rented VHS cooking videos from the library.  I would rent the same VHS video year after year. The video was a gingerbread house demonstration. An elderly lady would go through the steps on how to make and design a gingerbread house for Christmas. I was simply memorized by her movements, and enjoyed watching her delicately ice the rooftop. I was obsessed with watching her create a food masterpiece.

Gingerbread houses, led me to Food Network TV and Rachael Ray. Ray was the first host I remember distinctly watching. To me, she was someone I wanted to be. We had the commonality of a shared name, and her dinnertime creations seemed effortless and astounding. I tested her “30-minute meal” challenges on my family.  Today the enjoyment continues and my consumption of food related media content, cooking shows, and slight obsession with celebrity chefs such as Rachael Ray has grown.

But what really is a celebrity chef? The word celebrity has connotations of a crazy, out of control Kim Kardashian or a famous actress Jennifer Anniston. And the word chef is a career position that requires several years of schooling and intense study of the preparation of food. So how do these two roles collide? According to Wikipedia a Celebrity Chef is, “ a kitchen chef who has become famous and well-known. Today celebrity chefs often become celebrities by presenting cookery advice and demonstrations via mass media, especially television.” (Wikipedia)

However, I think it is much more than being “well-known” but one who has a cult following in viewers and products. It is not only enough to have your own TV show; but now restaurants, cooking utensils, cookbooks, and even your own food products.

Time goes into detail about various realms of stardom, “In a world in which what and how we eat have become fetishized, celebrity chefs are finding new ways to harness their star power — and not just to make money. … In the Food Network era, the phenomenon of the celebrity chef has utterly transformed the restaurant industry and, in the process, changed the very nature of how we eat.”(Time) This article from Time continues to argue that food media is one of the main reasons we as Americans are alienated and distant from our food.

As I mentioned previously, celebritys harness their “star power” through their product lines such as cookbooks. Cookbooks prove a unique facet because we as readers assume that we are getting inside knowledge to their recipes. However in reality, the cookbook is more of a promotion of the celeb chef themselves. In a research study of the analysis of celebrity cookbooks, Author Christine Mitchell analyzes the differences of female vs. Male cookbooks:

In contrast to such warm, encouraging cookbooks by the female chefs, those by the men do little to support the reader’s ego. They support the authors’ egos quite well, however, as both Lagasse and Flay talk about their restaurants and television shows. But neither man works to give his readers a sense of accomplishment or knowledge. Both books reveal much about their authors, but little about cooking as an activity to cultivate.“(Mitchell)
Cooking shows, food media, and the fame of celebrity chefs are quickly growing. It is more that just sharing a simple dish with a viewer or teaching them how to cook. Instead it is self-promotion, consumerism, and the expanding of a star’s brand.

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