Celeb Chefs, MIA

Which celebrity chefs still cook in their own kitchens? That’s the question tackled Wednesday by Grub Street, which answered a query from a reader who wants to eat at a restaurant “where the chef whose name is on the door is still in the kitchen,” instead of in a joint like Lupa or Otto, where “Mr. Batali’s clogs haven’t graced either kitchen in some time.”

Grub Street responded:

Wylie Dufresne, as you have heard, hovers over his food [at wd-50], frequently tasting everything to make sure it’s right, and oversees the plating. April Bloomfield runs the kitchen at the Spotted Pig like a Daytona pit crew. The ultimate hands-on chef, of course, is Masa Takayama [of NYC’s Masa], who literally makes the food before your eyes and hands it to you, should you have the good luck to eat at his omakase bar.

Of course, the oxymoronic phenomenon of the celebrity chef who no longer cooks has not gone unnoticed. In the October 3 story “TV Chefs, Far from Reality,” New York Times food critic Frank Bruni writes:

When celebrity chefs show up on TV these days, at least during prime time, they are less likely to be sautéing than to be swaggering through exotic locales (Anthony Bourdain) or swearing at the lesser mortals stuck with the grunt work (Gordon Ramsay). They are outsize personalities tapped for the charisma they can project, not the skill set they are prepared to demonstrate.

The step-by-step cooking tutorials that were once chefs’ stock in trade on television are increasingly relegated to morning news shows and to home-entertainment gurus like Martha Stewart and her down-market, ‘Yum-O!’ successor, Rachael Ray.

Bruni also nails a particularly painful reality-television vignette on The Next Iron Chef:

The most priceless moment comes near the episode’s beginning, when one aspirant, Traci Des Jardins, the executive chef of the restaurant Jardinière in San Francisco, confronts an array of basic tasks that include filleting a salmon and deboning a chicken.

It’s a situation more firmly grounded in kitchen reality than a typical ‘Iron Chef’ stunt, and what’s fascinating is the way Ms. Des Jardins responds to it. Looking nervous, she says with admirable candor that she can only hope the requisite skills are still in her command, because she doesn’t handle such chores often anymore.

Oh, ouch.

Says Ed Levine of Serious Eats in his post ”’Top Chef’ Finale Is Serious Business”:

The bottom line is that just about every super-talented chef judge we have seen on Top Chef, from Colicchio to Daniel Boulud, from English to Eric Ripert, has the opportunity to realize their far-flung ambitions as a result of their celebrity status. The days of an André Soltner (Lutèce in New York) having one restaurant and literally living ‘over the store’ are gone forever, whether we like it or not. If ultimately that means we will now judge celebrity chefs as managers and business people instead of chefs behind a stove, so be it. Some will undoubtedly succeed, and some will fail (I beg you, Tom, make the eggs in the egg sandwich at ’wichcraft to order). All of us can be the judge and vote with our tastebuds and ultimately our wallets.