These days, standing behind a kitchen counter is the best way to reach fame. Who wants to be a rock star when you can be a chef? Why workout for a movie when you can reach celebrity status by growing a gut?
“The spatula is the new guitar,” said a comment I recently read on a food blog. And it is. What Julia Child started back in the 1960s with cooking shows in a modest kitchen set has now turned into a multimillion dollar entertainment business that has led to primetime shows like MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen and Iron Chef, not to mention Mrs Child’s own Hollywood adaptation, Julie & Julia. There are whole TV channels – the Food Network in the US, Canal Gourmet in Latin America – that are dedicated to running back-to-back clips of non-stop chopped, baked, fried and sizzled amusement.
It’s no wonder then that today parents prefer to send their young kids to cookie-making courses rather than piano lessons and young graduates are no longer told off when they decide to pursue a career in restaurants. More and more culinary schools and academies are popping up around the world to join the established ranks of le Cordon Bleu, the Culinary Institute of America or the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. According to the Career Education Corporation in the US – a company that manages 17 culinary academies in the country – there’s been an increase of more than 46 per cent in enrollments since 2008.
This is the generation that wants to see the well-groomed chef posing as judge in a food competition, the chatty cook smirking at the camera, the buff baker flexing his muscles while working the dough. Long gone are the days of tired chefs smoking cigarettes in back alleys, wiping the sweat off their faces with stained and greasy aprons. But it’s wrong. I’m tired of having to walk out of a restaurant while being enticed (ie forced) to buy one of the chef’s – who probably hasn’t been in a real kitchen in years – cookbooks, official apron or branded pan and knife.
Forget the “never trust a skinny cook” saying. For me, it’s “never trust a good-looking cook”. Someone who has clanging pots, sizzling pans and fire-thrusting ovens for an office and ends a shift without breaking a sweat is someone that leaves me in doubt.
Good food is made with passion and that requires determination, effort and hustle. It’s time to bring the chain-smoking, sweaty, tattooed chefs back to the table; leave the hair gel and bling to Hollywood.