The idea of a celebrity chef is a relatively new one, and last night some food industry folks who know a thing or two about the subject sat down to discuss it in a round table hosted by the food journal Gastronomica. At the table were chefs David Chang and (the suddenly everywhere) Andrew Carmellini, Carmellini's wife and co-author on their cookbook Gwen Hyman, Gail Simmons, and Mitchell Davis of the James Beard Foundation. Dara Goldstein, editor of Gastronomica, served as moderator. The conversation was too exhaustive to summarize neatly, so we've compiled the most intriguing and telling quotes from the discussion.
On Perceptions Of Chefs: "When I was a Ph.D. student at Columbia, people would say to me, 'you're living with a cook?' Nice boys and girls didn't share their lives with cooks. There was a perception that cooks were low - people didn't have the idea of popular chefs as cultural figures. What chefs do has not changed, but the way they're perceived in the culture has changed exponentially." —Gwen Hyman
"If you said you were gonna be a cook in high school, that was lower than joining the military." —Carmellini
On Celebrity: "I consider myself a cook, but [the celebrity] has become part of the job. It's such a part of the culture, you have to do it. 10-15 years no one in America cared. Bouley got four stars in 1990 and that was a big deal, a turning point for American cooks." —Carmellini
"When I started out, I wanted to be the best cook possible. The attitude has changed now from cooking to entertainment." —Chang
On Formality: "I grew up thinking that to eat well you had to go to a white tablecloth restaurant with waiters in penguin outfits. After going abroad, I learned that the best techniques didn't need to be reserved for the fanciest restaurants." —Chang
On Rocco D.: "He was a very talented guy who decided to put food aside in favor of his career." —Mitchell Davis
On The Changing Role Of The Chef: "I think [the media has] contributed to this phenomenon - [at Food and Wine] we've charted this change, and it's been a long time coming. I'm on television for the same reason as a chef is. The same reason as a magazine can't just be a bunch of paper today - a chef is the same way." —Gail Simmons
"You're still cooking. There might be books on knife skills, but that doesn't mean you have good knife skills." —Chang
On The Changing Role Of The Consumer: "Will people expect more when they go to Applebee's? You see it already in the marketing - spice rubs, stuff that 10 years ago was on the culinary forefront is making it national." —Carmellini
On New Media: "People didn't used to take pictures in the restaurant - it just never happened. You need to be much more consistent now, and it wasn't always like that. Everyone's a critic. There's too much salt in a scallop and someone's twittering about it." —Carmellini
For more stories from Eater, go to eater.com.