High profile chefs helping the industry
Today’s band of celebrity chefs has a huge influence on consumers — and by using their high profiles to educate the public, they are simultaneously revolutionising the F&B industry
The F&B industry is undoubtedly a far more glamorous proposition today than it once was.
This is a climate in which the media has made celebrities of Michelin-starred chefs, where food has its own television channel and more young people than ever before (at least in western countries) are considering a culinary career.
It boils down to the fact that food has become fashionable — and consumers want to know more about it.
This means a multitude of professional chefs have unexpectedly become high-profile, influential public figures, with millions of people around the world hanging on their every word.
This provides these professionals with the ideal platform for educating the consumer, which not only improves public food knowledge but also strengthens and broadens the F&B industry itself.
Last month saw an impressive turnout for the Taste of Dubai (ToD) festival, a food fair in the UAE’s most cosmopolitan emirate, offering visitors the opportunity to sample taster portions of signature dishes from exhibiting restaurants.
Renowned chef Gary Rhodes — who was present not only to represent his Rhodes Mezzanine restaurant at Grosvenor House, but also to officially announce his second Dubai outlet, Rhodes Twenty10, opening at Le Royal Méridien later this year — said such events were a massive boon to the region.
“This really shows off what Dubai is all about; it’s become the culinary capital of the Middle East, there’s no question about that — we’ve got loads of great chefs, great restaurants and a huge variety of cooking styles from all over the world,” he asserted.
“And if you can open the doors wide to this huge fairground extravaganza of culinary delights, to all the people who live in the UAE and hopefully many tourists from further afield as well, there’s going to be something for everyone to take away from that.
“Many people won’t have tried some of the styles of food before,” he continued. “Just to be able to give them a taste and broaden their food knowledge — there’s nothing better for a chef than that.”
Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia, the man behind high-end Indian outlet Indego at Grosvenor House, added: “I believe it’s good for people to come and meet us and try new things, so they can take away a lot of new ideas and flavours across a whole range of cuisines. It helps to educate consumers, as it means they will try new things in future.”
Celebrated Italian chef Georgio Locatelli has taken part in ToD for the past two years, and agrees that an education in food has become “highly important” — for consumers of all ages.
“I teach a few sessions each year in schools, telling kids about food and showing them it’s a part of their life and accessible to them,” he reveals.
“It’s important to take steps like this; the next generation should be one that understands the relation between food production and cooking and can appreciate a balanced, wholesome diet.”
Beyond the obvious benefits for consumer health and diet that a culinary education offers — Locatelli’s lesson could certainly be of use in the UAE, which fields a notoriously high rates of diabetes and obesity — such efforts can also yield significant rewards for the F&B industry.
Scott Price, the new executive chef at Verre by Gordon Ramsay at Hilton Dubai Creek — who took part in demonstrations at the ToD Cookery Theatre — points out that culinary events are a great opportunity for the chefs involved as well.
“It’s good to be able to see what everyone else is doing, to check out ideas and scope, and just find out a bit more about what’s going on in the industry,” he asserts.
“It’s also a great way to push the restaurant, and let people know about things such as the chef’s table we’ve got coming up, and our cooking master classes,” Price adds.
“Again these classes are educational, but in addition they’re a great way of getting people into the restaurant, interacting with them and getting them enthusiastic about food and about cooking.”
Rhodes agrees that chefs can take away a great deal from such events. “It helps the industry to have this opportunity to network, catch up and exchange ideas,” he comments.
“There seems to be a traditional view that everyone here is in massive competition, that every restaurant hates the other and there’s no camaraderie whatsoever — but it’s nothing like that. People realise that at these shows and are surprised that everyone gets on so well,” he asserts.
“We run about to the different stands and try their food, and it’s really about sharing. It really is one big family cooking together, aiming to attract more people into this fantastic country.”
Bhatia adds that it is “a chance to catch up with old friends and new cooking styles”, as well as getting a feel for the market.
“Being involved in food events gives you a chance to meet local chefs and other people in the market, so it’s a great chance to broaden your horizons as an individual,” he observes.
And the benefits are taken through to the kitchen as well, as Uwe Micheel, director of kitchens at Radisson Blu Dubai Deira Creek and president of the Emirates Culinary Guild, explains.
“The more consumers know about food, different cuisines, about the way things are done in the kitchen, the more they appreciate and understand the art of food,” he says. “Naturally, this creates more interest in exploring new things.”
Rivington Grill head chef Duncan Cruickshanks elaborates: “With customers having a wider understanding of food, suppliers and importers have to make more seasonal and higher quality products available to the market.”
In addition to these benefits, there is of course the fact that the more the consumer knows and appreciates, the more a chef must push himself — as Verre’s Price notes.
“The more the customer understands, the more you have to push yourself and your offering to deliver something that really impresses them. It keeps you on your toes,” he says.
A duty to diners
Whether they like it or not, celebrity chefs have a great influence on consumers — as I. Made Darmagunawn, head chef at Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates outlet Sezzam, notes.
“They are well known public figures; people love them and their food,” he says. “People will listen to them and take their advice, because they believe in them and what they do.”
As a result, many of today’s high-profile chefs feel they have a responsibility to not only educate people about different foods, but also what constitutes good food, or a balanced diet.
Rhodes is insistent that he is not a celebrity chef, but rather a professional chef who has ended up as a public figure. However he admits that this position does confer a certain sense of duty.
“I think as far as being a ‘celebrity chef’ — for want of a better expression— is concerned, we can hopefully share with the public the understanding of the delicate flavours of food, about how to create that great marriage of flavours and textures.”
“For me the key is really to share your own culinary secrets and knowledge with people, so they can have a greater understanding and appreciation of food in their daily lives.”
Verre’s Price, who joined the Dubai outlet after six years at Claridge’s in London and trained under Gordon Ramsay, adds that influential culinary figures have a great opportunity to educate consumers about a healthy, balanced diet as well.
“Nowadays there’s a lot of emphasis on how you eat and what you eat,” he explains.
“At a restaurant, a lot of things are going to be rich, or cooked in butter, and that’s fine — as long as you’re not eating that every day.
“But it’s important that people learn from high-profile chefs like Gordon, who people really listen to, about how to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
“When you’re in the business of finding the best fresh ingredients every day, you realise how important this food really is — and passing on that information is invaluable,” he comments.
Bhatia agrees: “Personally, I love to teach. I think you can influence people in what you do, particularly with regards to a health-
“When high-profile chefs attend public events or hold cooking demonstrations, they inspire people,” he continues.
“People do look at you as a benchmark, as someone who has succeeded or achieved something in the field, and they want to do that too. So you actually can be there and be a role model for others wanting to come into this industry.”
Indeed the culture of celebrity chefs has done wonders for attracting fresh talent to the industry, as Radisson Blu’s Micheel notes.
“The ‘power of media’ as well as the exposure of the F&B world to consumers promotes the profession to the public, and since the culinary scene has now reached so many people around the world, the profession is much more respected and looked up to, as opposed to how it was perceived before,” he explains.
A food-lover’s future
Obviously trends come in waves; the steady ‘celebritisation’ of chefs may not continue forever.
But hopefully, the principles that people such as Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Georgio Locatelli, Gary Rhodes, Vineet Bhatia and others teach will continue to influence consumers around the globe.
Because, as these chefs have realised, it is through building consumer understanding of food, ingredients and cooking that the industry itself will continue to grown and flourish.