Uncork’d has come and gone. It’s weird seeing it from the inside - getting the itinerary, being shuttled from here to there, from this press conference to that event, meeting with this media outlet, saying hello to this writer or that writer. I mean, I am far from an A-list chef and I still had meeting after meeting with PR and media. It’s a lot of fun, but the single most unique thought that went through my head during the festivities was that it takes so much to make it as a chef these days.
It’s not enough to just know how to cook anymore! We can’t all be like David Chang and fall into an if-I-build-it-they-will-come mentality. For most, it’s a lot of work that has to meet at the intersection between luck and skill. And even then having all three won’t guarantee success. A popular chef has to have a publicist or PR machine behind them, media training so when their publicist books them work they don’t flop and look like an idiot, an image, schtick or angle on the food world, a restaurant or outlet from which to practice his/her craft, and last but not least, some business smarts to strategize their moves! Whew! It’s exhausting.
So, let me break it down a little deeper. Just what does a chef need nowadays to have a chance at super-stardom?
1. PR machine! A typical chef spends 50 to 100 hours a week just working! That means working at the restaurant, planning menus, food costing, dealing with labor, writing specials. The day to day of it is pretty crushing. So how the hell is there any time left to show off your talent to the masses? Now and then a chef gets lucky and media people come into a restaurant, fall in love and invite him/her to be in their TV show, magazine, blog, radio show, etc. The rest of us have to have a publicist to stay plugged into the media world and find gigs. This is so important to the budding star chef.
2. Media training! I mean if you plan to be on TV in any capacity, this is invaluable! Forget about TV; how about the interviews and meetings that are going to lead to TV? If you bomb any of those, you won’t even make it to the small screen! Media training isn’t just getting better at being on TV, it’s being taught how to be a better person when around people, too. A great media trainer - and I know of one if you ever need one - will show you how to be “cool” by pointing out your faults (“opportunities”) on camera and showing you how to correct your bad habits. This is gold. In the beginning you might have very few chances to be on TV, so you have to make them count!
3. Grooming/Image/Angle. First, what’s your angle? It’s not enough to say you cook French or Italian or Chinese or Thai. What’s the hook? Are you regional? Are you a specialist? Is there a niche or do a million people do what you do? What’s your story? Why should I trust your cooking more than the dude at the restaurant next door? Here’s my story: I’m the kid that grew up in Thai town before there was a Thai town. Tony Bourdain calls me the unofficial mayor of Thai town… Blah, blah, that kind of stuff. So now that I know what you cook and why it’s different, how do you physically represent that? Hanging at the press launch of Vegas Uncork’d on Thursday, it was easy to see who the old guard Euros were and who were the USA cool kids! The old guard had their uniform: slacks and dress shoes, a chef coat worn over a designer collared shirt, and always a little facial hair like a mad scientist. The “I work so much and so late that there is never time to shave” look. Now, for us USA kids, the new uniform seems to be jeans over clogs (mandatory), chef coat over a cool t-shirt, and some kind of tattoo and/or piercing. Yes, dudes, I am guilty of dressing like an American chef.
So where the f does cooking come in? It’s crazy, but it’s equally as important as the ones above. You’d think the cooking should come first, but do you ever get the feeling that many TV chefs might not be great cooking chefs? It still trips me out, but it takes all that s**t to make it as an über chef today. And, yes, I’m guilty of all above. You need to evolve or get out of the way.
Between all of that, I think it’s easy to lose yourself and start believing you are great after the ten thousandth time you’ve heard it. I enjoy the game because it’s fun as hell, but I don’t ever plan on forgetting where I can came from and how fortunate I’ve been to work with amazing people.
So that’s it. That’s the formula to making it as celebrity chef that so many of the folks at Vegas Uncork'd have mastered. Trippy.