Profit Margins and Culinary Geniuses

I’m not sure how to broach this subject, because I’m not sure if it’s bloody obvious or too “inside baseball” to resonate with readers. But it’s been nagging at me ever since reading both the ABC News piece about “Teh Evil Food Blogz” and the Batali follow up a couple of days later.

I’m not here to defend food blogs. Either you like them or not, and I’m not here to sway you to like them. Yes there are crappy food blogs, and my list of crappy food blogs will probably not be the same as your list.

No, what I want to talk about is this overall sense that only a select few can adequately discuss food, and only a select few of that select few could ever appreciate the artistry of a chef or cuisine.

What utter and complete nonsense.

Because while superstar chefs have become the de facto spokespeople for “quality” meals, let me take a moment of your time to lift up the rock and show you a bit of what I’ve seen over the past few years.

Let’s get one thing straight here. Restaurants are in the business to make money. Period. Any chef who tells you otherwise is likely not financially invested in their restaurant.

To make money, a restaurateur will do anything to get people into those chairs. No, wait, scratch that. A restaurateur will likely hire someone else, under the guise of a publicist, to do anything to get people into those chairs.

That publicist will then turn around and recommend to the chefs of these places to do anything to get their name out – their names, in essence, have become brand names. Batali, Lagasse, Ramsay, Flay are all names recognizable to anyone with even a passing interest in food. Keller, Mayer, Achatz are also recognizable names, but probably on a lesser scale. You can thank Food TV for that.

Any publicist worth their salt will do anything to promote the brand…er…chef that has hired them. Whether it’s lending their name to Burger King, writing a cookbook for the NASCAR set, or even sending out a press release on how the chef consulted on a big time Hollywood movie.

I willing to bet that every one of those decisions listed above (as well as countless others) were made, not with the idea of food, but the idea of promotion. And the two are NOT the same. The one thing that many chefs love more than food are their names and faces on television, in the magazines or mentioned in the newspapers.

I’m not saying that promotion is a bad thing. But please don’t tell me how disappointed a chef is when others state their less that stellar opinion about their food, when the chef so clearly had no problem in putting themselves in the limelight. When the food, restaurants, and chefs are hyped, and the chef and their staff can’t live up to said hype, is it the fault of the consumers or the fault of the people who painted the chef as a culinary genius?

Restaurants are not an idyllic refuge of artistry. They serve food, hopefully good food and hopefully for a profit. Anyone who argues otherwise wants you to pay forty dollars for a plate of seared scallops, a dollop of potatoes with balsamic reduction and the pleasure of eating in midtown Manhattan.