Would you say that was the a-ha moment? I had a moment where we were in northern California at an event that was being done for Mr. Verge. It was called "The Master Chef Series" at a motel. You bought in for three days—I think it was $2,500—you got a meal with chef Roy Yamaguchi. You also got a cooking lesson from each. And he didn't get paid for it, which really surprised me.I thought, I've spent my whole life monetising artists. I sort of know how to do this. I'm going to change the direction of these careers. For me it was sort of obvious that the demand was there. You couldn't get into places like Spago, or Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, or Le Cirque in New York. No matter how much money you had, you couldn't get in. So I knew demand was there, it's just nobody really monetised the demand.
I never get a call anymore for someone to work in Daniel's kitchen or Emeril's kitchen. The calls I get are, 'Can you get him on Top Chef?'
American food culture has changed tremendously. What is the role of the celebrity chef as we enter into 2017? Well, I think it's morphed into something different. I think that's a really interesting question with a lot of different answers. I think that, sadly, not just in the chef world but in our entire world, celebrity meant that you were fantastic at what you did. That's the way you became a celebrity.If you were a great actor, if you were a great musician, if you were a great cook, if you were a great dancer, that's what got you to fame. So people wanted to be great at their profession so they could become celebrities. Now being a celebrity is the whole game. Nobody really cares anymore about skills or the craft, they just want to be a celebrity.I never get a call anymore for someone to work in Daniel's kitchen or Emeril's kitchen. The calls I get are, "Can you get him on Top Chef?" You know it's a completely different game, so I think that's very scary because the focus has become, "How do I get a TV show?" instead of "How do I learn how to make the best soufflé in the world?" So I think that part of it is scary.That being said, I think that the phenomenon is amazing. And I think that the next evolution of it which we're starting to see now are the David Changs of the world.
A lot of people are starving and I think that the culinary arts and the artists that are in this game now need to really focus on not just feeding rich people but feeding everybody in whatever way they can do it.
Where do you see the future of celebrity chefs going? It's hard to say. I think that now, it's sort of ingrained in society that restaurants are entertainment and not fuel. I think the category is well established enough now that the better restaurants will be considered celebrities rather than better chefs. But, I think within that, we're going to see the wave of chefs taking from their family cultures. The other directions is this very, very, very, very, tech-oriented approach to food, all the chemical gases and the foams, and they're pretty much the difference between writing a letter and using a computer. It's pretty much today, it's not a look, feel, touch, like a great meatball. You know it's a look, feel, touch thing.But I think that will die out just like every fad dies out. At least that's my opinion. It just doesn't have the warmth for me that I enjoy in a meal. But I'm not a tech guy either. If I was a tech guy I might really enjoy it.Is there a place for the celebrity chef in 2017? I think it's just going to get bigger and bigger. I think that people have realised these are true artists. They follow their favourite artists the way they do their favourite music artists. If you're the Rolling Stones, you have to put out a new album every couple of years. But if you go see a Rolling Stones concert, they've got to do their hits, they have to. Same thing with Emeril. Emeril's got to put out new restaurants, new recipes, new cookbooks, but if you go to into an Emeril restaurant in New Orleans and he doesn't serve his gumbo? You're not going back to that restaurant.So it's pretty much the same rhythm as the other artists. I think it's now accepted as an art. They'll be one-hit wonders like in music. I think now you can't separate chef from celebrity. Just like you can't separate musician from celebrity, or actor from celebrity. There are some that are not successful, some that are successful, but they all are, basically.You know, I even go to school cafeterias and the chef comes out there to meet the kids and give autographs to the parents. That's, like, insane. [laughs] But just like you went to a club with 30 people in it, then someone would ask for an autograph of the band, even if they weren't headlining baseball stadiums. I can't see it going away.Thank you for speaking with me.
I think now you can't separate chef from celebrity. Just like you can't separate musician from celebrity, or actor from celebrity.