All-rounders: Food critic Matt Preston and chef Marco Pierre White on MasterChef: The Professionals.
They're the rock stars of today but do they need to be great cooks? Not necessarily.
The emergence of the so-called celebrity chef is a recent development in the hospitality industry and the media. I would go so far as to say that high-profile chefs are the rock stars of today; you only have to look at your television guide and count the number of cooking shows listed to see what I mean.
Food is something we all have in common, and those who can create appealing food and talk about it in an entertaining way hold an almost universal appeal. Those who control our media now clearly recognise this, because with universal appeal comes advertising revenue, and with advertising revenue comes job security for newspaper editors and TV station executives. So, enlightened self-interest is the engine that drives the creation of celebrity chefs.
So, you think you can cook; what does it take to join this exalted and seemingly well-paid group? Well, I have a few observations after 45 years in the hospitality industry. First, it's helpful if you can cook, but it may not be strictly necessary if you're an efficient developer of other people's ideas or you have a team of good cooks under you. There are thousands of great cooks out there who never see the light of day, despite their culinary talents, and some fairly ordinary cooks have risen to become darlings of the media.
The most admirable of the celebrity chefs are those who have built successful businesses at the highest level, then expanded successfully into multiple restaurant operations and then developed themselves beyond their businesses to become savvy media personalities - the Pierre Whites, Steins, and the Perrys, for instance. These people are multiskilled; they can cook, manage, lead, write, communicate and market themselves; they are very talented people.
Quite often they don't plan to head in this direction. There is a certain amount of luck involved in becoming one of the blessed.
Perhaps they have risen to hold a status inside the hospitality industry because of their business success and the word spreads, prompting the media to descend on them for public enlightenment. If they are reasonably presentable and can express themselves well, momentum and recognition can build and they may become regular commentators. It's a win-win: the media gains expert insight and the chef gains an effective marketing tool for their business.
It can also go too far. Some high-profile chefs I have known have spent so much time outside of their businesses doing guest appearances and food shows that their businesses have suffered from a lack of leadership and the goose that laid the golden egg starts to limp, drag a wing and stop laying.
It's easy to lose perspective when your ego is being continuously stroked and you are jetting around business class and hobnobbing with the glitterati. I can well understand how returning to your hot, cramped kitchen with a bunch of sweaty cooks can seem like a very poor option, but you are unlikely to remain in the public eye for very long once your restaurant loses its entry in The Good Food Guide or gets a succession of bad reviews.
Another category of celebrity chefs are those the media has deliberately cultivated because they are photogenic, personable and can hang a few words together. There is a parallel with the music industry here; some groups make it on their own and some are ''manufactured'' (Pussycat Dolls, One Direction etc). I am aware of several chefs who have been asked to attend screen tests by television companies seeking to create the next ratings blockbuster. Sadly, none that I know has so far made it. Every year many ideas get pitched, a few make it to a pilot, and occasionally one makes it to the screen, but the odds aren't all that good.
Many apprentices enter the industry with the intention of becoming the next McConnell, Calombaris or Camorra without realising that the odds are against them from the start. These high-profile people are by far a tiny minority in the restaurant industry, and the chances of joining them are slim. Most cooks will labour away in obscurity until they change career because they can no longer cope with the physical demands of the job.
And the rewards if you make it? Chefs who develop into full-blown media personalities can do quite well financially from their television income and the fees they get from flogging products in advertisements.
If they own their own business, they can drive growth in revenue from increased patronage, and often purchase food and beverages at more attractive prices as suppliers queue to promote their products. If they are employees, the exposure can lead to more lucrative career prospects.
Then there are the hedonistic perks: the grand dinners, the fine wines, the travel and, in some cases, even the chef groupies …
Tony Eldred is a hospitality consultant.