Is the rise of the “celebrity chef” doing more harm than good? In this photo, chef turned TV host Anthony Bourdain readies himself for a press conference. (paloma.cl/flickr)
Though Joanne Chang is one of the finest — and best-known — chefs in Boston, she doesn’t consider herself a celebrity.
“At the end of the day,” she says humbly, “I bake cookies for a living.”
In her September 13, 2012, piece, “Celebrity And The Chef,” Chang writes:
I am by nature shy … One of the things that drew me to the kitchen in the first place was that I liked working in solitude, as I mixed the ingredients of an intricate cake or rolled out a perfect pâte feuilleté, behind closed doors.
But all that changed in 2007 when the Food Network’s Bobby Flay challenged her to a “Throwdown” and put her bakery, Flour, in the national spotlight.
“Throwdown” opened doors to media appearances and magazine articles and pretty soon I was spending more of my days talking about baking and cooking – than I was actually baking and cooking. In an industry notorious for its high failure rate, I quickly came to realize that the PR/marketing that came with appearances and media coverage was as crucial to our business as making sure our scones were flaky and our service hospitable.
And so, though the reluctant star is not entirely comfortable being the center of attention, she writes:
Today being a chef means juggling what we’re trained to do with what the public clamors for us to do. So though I would rather peek out at the world behind the comfortable crack of the kitchen door, I feed the benevolent beast and enable the glamorization of our industry. It’s restaurant Darwinism, and today it is a key ingredient of being – and staying – a successful chef.
Listen to Chang read her piece here:
After reflecting on that piece, and on everything that’s changed in her life since 2007, Chang sent us this author’s update:
When my husband and I opened Myers+Chang, the Globe approached us about featuring us and the restaurant in a profile piece. We knew free PR when we saw it and said yes in a heartbeat. As soon as it was published we were derided for chasing after fame rather than focusing on the restaurant. How could we be so shallow to allow for such a feature? I went from being hurt to dismayed to indignant. Should we have turned down the offer to be featured? Would that make us a more legitimate restaurant in the eyes of some purists?
As I share in this piece, the “celebrityness” of being a chef is something that I personally struggle with for a variety of reasons… but have also learned to embrace for more obvious ones. The romantic notion that you open a restaurant because you love to feed people and that’s all that matters omits the reality that you are running a business. Just last night someone called the restaurant, enraged that they had not enjoyed their evening; he screamed into the phone that we were sellouts, as evidenced by how much time we spent in the press and on social media. I was certainly crushed that he’d had a poor experience with us. But as a chef I also recognize the importance of reaching out and connecting with as many potential customers as possible. It allows me to do what I got into this business to do: feed people. Some might call it selling out; I call it selling.
– J.C. 12/15/12
You can read the original piece here.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.