I recently went to a restaurant named Mestizo that just opened in a swanky shopping district in Kansas City. I think my experience could best be summed up by the comment I posted on a story about the restaurant on the local food/restaurant blog.
“I visited Aaron Sanchez presents Aaron Sanchez’s Mestizo by Aaron Sanchez tonight. There was a picture of Aaron Sanchez mentioning all off Aaron Sanchez’s TV show roles out front. Inside there were at least two displays of Aaron Sanchez’s books. Aaron Sanchez’s name was on the menu and even on all of the POS screens. The server (I am not joking) greeted our table by welcoming us and explaining that the concept was designed by Aaron Sanchez and then provided a short bio of Aaron Sanchez’s TV roles. My girlfriend and I were trying not to laugh by this point. We had a table facing the kitchen, but didn’t see Aaron Sanchez. Just some early 20s line cooks cranking out plates. If the number of times you read Aaron Sanchez’s name in this paragraph annoyed you, this might not be the restaurant for you.”
A trend has started to develop as a result of all of the chefs we are turning into TV celebrities. These chefs are opening restaurants based on their newfound celebrity. This trend has let the general public in on a secret that many of us in the industry have known for years. Chefs are often some of the most narcissistic people in the world. Not all of them are, but if you are a chef who owns a restaurant here is a quick checklist to measure whether or not you might need to tone it down.
Does your picture appear more on your website than pictures of the food?
Is your bio on the website larger than the description of the food you serve?
Does your name appear more than three times on the homepage of your website?
Do your servers lead off the greeting of a table by talking about you?
Do you spend less than three days a week in the restaurant with your name on it?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, this intervention is for you.
Let’s be candid here chef, you are probably an incredibly talented person. I can respect that. You spent a great number of years refining your craft. I can respect that as well. Your culinary skills have afforded you the opportunity to become a basic cable quasi-celebrity. I am happy for you. Now you have to determine whether you want to be known as a celebrity or as a chef. There is a difference.
A chef is sought out because of his food. A chef works hard to develop food that people rave about. This word of mouth brings in more guests and affords you a number of opportunities. A chef deserves all of these opportunities because they have worked hard to earn them. At the end of the day, a chef is sought out because of their food.
A celebrity is sought out because they were on TV. If this celebrity opens a restaurant, it is rarely about the food. People enjoy the celebrity’s work and thus choose to check out their restaurant. Most of these restaurants don’t last because; no one equates Flavor Flav with great fried chicken. The celebrities just add their name to the sign to provide a gimmick. At the end of the day, no one seeks out a celebrity for their food.
So when the world of celebrity and chefs meet in a single person they can choose to highlight one or the other. If they choose to highlight their celebrity status, it does not speak highly of the food. Take a look at this screenshot from the homepage of the Mestizo website and you will understand what I mean.
Of the three pictures on this page, one is of food. Aaron Sanchez’s name appears nine times. There are not even nine food related thoughts on the page. Of the three places the site leads you at the bottom of the page, two are to pages about him and the other is to a menu. Guess which pages are longer and feature a more thoughtful design. I couldn’t find one typo on his bio, but there were two glaring mistakes on the menu. Does anyone really think the food is a bigger focus than his ego?
What I don’t see on his bio is mention of Michelin Stars and James Beard Nominations. I decided to compare this to websites of some other local restaurants run by celebrity chefs. Julian is owned by Chef Celina Tio. You might know Chef Tio from Top Chef Masters, but if you didn’t know she was on the show you would not find that info on her website. There is only one picture of her on the site and she is blurry in the background with a sharply focus dish in front of her. The American Restaurant is run by Chef Debbie Gold who you might know from Top Chef Masters as well. Again, it is not listed on her bio. The same can be said for Michael Smith’s, Bluestem, and my personal favorite, Justus Drugstore. All of these chefs have James Beard nominations or awards. All of them have celebrity cachet. None of them list their TV credits on their websites. Chefs build their resumes on awards. Celebrities build their resumes on TV shows.