“Chef hysteria — it’s going on everywhere,” reports Leonard Pickell, head of the James Beard Foundation, the overseer of gastronomy’s “Oscar”
Thanks to cable TV’s Food Network and the evolution of the kitchen into performance art house, much of the hysteria is being cooked up by American chefs for a change. Catering to people’s tastes for trendy food and eateries, American chefs are developing a smorgasbord of hybrid cuisines: California, Tex-Mex, Cajun, Creole, Pan-Asian fusion.
“Classical cuisine is gone,” intones Pickell. “Global is what’s in.”
So is entertainment. More than ever chefs are putting their kitchens on center stage. “Fine dining was all a mystery with chefs engaged in a danse de la cuisine,” observes restaurateur Barbara Lazaroff, whose husband, Wolfgang Puck, was one of the first to open up his own kitchen.
Now, chefs perform before adoring audiences.
“It’s connecting people to the creation of the dish, to the drama and spectacle of it all,” Lazaroff says. That’s why the choicest table at Jean-Georges Vongerichten‘s newest restaurant is literally in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, the great chefs aren’t always behind the stove these days. They’re out hawking condiments, endorsing pots and pans and appearing on talk shows. “A single three-star restaurant just doesn’t make money anymore,” explains Julia Child. “Celebrity chefs have to be on TV.”
The biggest new star, Emeril Lagasse, took Child’s advice and, in his words, “kicked it up a notch.” Says one food critic: “He has become a star of proportions even Wolf [Puck] never dreamed of.”
Of course all of this begs the question: If all the great chefs are busy appearing on television, selling frozen foods and managing multiple restaurants like fast-food chains, who’s watching the stove?
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