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  Celebrity Chefs: Brands that Cook in the Kitchen   Celebrity Chefs: Brands that Cook in the Kitchen  Barry Silverstein  
Celebrity Chefs: Brands that Cook in the Kitchen These days, it seems as if a renowned chef has not achieved his or her fullest potential without a branded product line. In her book, Super Chef: The Making of the Great Modern Restaurant Empires, Juliette Rossant says, “The most talked about issue among chefs and Super Chefs today is branding. Many chefs with only one restaurant talk about building a brand.” Rossant wrote the book in 2004. If anything, the branding of celebrity chefs has advanced dramatically since then.

In “Follow the Money All the Way to the Kitchen” (The New York Times, January 24, 2007), Michael Ruhlman writes about the “network of consultancies, endorsement deals and book and television contracts” that celebrity chefs enjoy. He says these deals are “a sign of how far the industry has come from the days when a chef earned his income by cooking, and doing that in one kitchen.”

Super chefs like Wolfgang Puck have rocketed far beyond even television and book deals. Puck’s California restaurant, Spago, caused a sensation twenty-five years ago. Chef Puck leveraged its reputation by aggressively opening more restaurants and starting a world-class catering organization. The Puck global brand now includes fast-casual Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Express restaurants in the United States, Canada, and Japan, branded cookware, utensils and appliances, and a line of frozen and packaged foods that includes pizza, soups, and coffee.

How did the branding, packaging, and merchandising of chefs happen? From the very start, the celebrity chef exuded a sort of magic and a memorable soul. The ambitious culinary entrepreneur would create magnificent dishes and share the recipes and secret techniques, at first via cookbooks and, later, through television. The founding super chef—at least from an American perspective—was James Beard, who hosted television’s first food program as early as 1946. Beard’s cookbooks, television and radio appearances, and the James Beard Cooking School legitimized the notion of the celebrity chef.


Television fueled the branding of celebrity chefs. The medium was ideal for demonstrating the detailed how-to of cooking and, more importantly, it let the personality of a chef shine through. The development of the modern-day chef brand is so closely tied to television that an entire network has grown up around it. The Food Network reaches more than 90 million household in the United States and is also broadcast in Canada, Australia, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Monaco, Andorra, Africa, France, and the French-speaking territories in the Caribbean and Polynesia.

This is the basic branding formula for celebrity chefs: A chef achieves acclaim for a restaurant and publishes a cookbook. More restaurant openings and more cookbooks follow, along with newspaper columns, radio shows, and television appearances. Then the real pot of gold comes in the form of endorsements and branded merchandise.

Personal appearances also enter into the mix. Fans will pay dearly to see a chef in action. In March 2008, for example, over 3,000 people flocked to the Pebble Beach Food & Wine extravaganza in California to meet over 100 of the world’s top chefs and sommeliers. Some attendees paid more than $4,000 each for the privilege.

Chef branding success stories are stunningly similar. Chef Emeril Lagasse, known simply as Emeril, opened a restaurant in New Orleans in 1990. Now he runs eleven restaurants, has authored twelve cookbooks, hosts two television shows, and does celebrity endorsements of such products as Crest toothpaste. That’s just the beginning, however. Emeril markets “Emerilware” cast iron skillets, cutlery, fryers, grills, and steamers. He sells tableware, a full line of kitchen and casual apparel, and music to cook by. “Emeril’s” is the chef’s food brand that includes signature coffees, cooking spray, spices, sauces, salsas, salad dressings, marinades, and mustards. In February 2008, Emeril Lagasse’s non-restaurant holdings were purchased by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for about $50 million.


Some stories are charmingly poignant—and they can create a chef brand with real personality. Take the case of Paula Deen, a divorced mother who, with two children to support, started a sandwich delivery service called “The Bag Lady” in Savannah, Georgia with $200 in 1989. Now Paula has her own Food Network show, operates the very successful Savannah restaurant Lady & Sons with sons Bobby and Jamie, has authored numerous cookbooks, publishes a magazine, and sells her own line of branded food products from the Paula Deen Store in Savannah. The phenomenon is repeated around the globe. India’s Sanjeev Kapoor has built just as impressive a branded empire. Kapoor hosts the Cookery Show on Zee TV. The show has been telecast non-stop for 14 years, the longest running TV show in any category on any channel in India. His numerous cookbooks have become instant bestsellers. Under the brand name of “Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khazana,” Kapoor offers pickles, blended masalas, ready-to-cook mixes, gourmet chutneys, and other products that are marketed in India and internationally. His multimedia CD-ROMs “Zee Khana Khazana Interactive CD-ROM on Indian Cooking” and “Ode to Indian Food” have brought Chef Kapoor into Indian kitchens.

Examples abound of the personal branding power of celebrity chefs. Paul Prudhomme (“Chef Paul”) has a line of “Magic Seasonings.” Mario Batali has his own signature Crocs shoe. Marcel Biro came out with Biro Cookware in 2007, and Marcus Samuelsson just launched a line of made-in-the-USA “Marcus Cookware.” Gary Rhodes (UK) produces recipes, ingredients, and utensils for younger cooks under the brand name “Kids in the Kitchen.” Maggie Beer (Australia) has a food distribution business. Alfons Schuhbeck (Germany) owns restaurants and a catering service, has published over twenty books, and is a national television personality.

Others have taken different paths but built brand franchises all the same. Instead of opening a restaurant, Rachael Ray became known for visiting restaurants and made a television series out of it. She has written numerous cookbooks, has several endorsement deals, and publishes a lifestyle magazine, “Every Day with Rachael Ray.” The UK’s Gordon Ramsay, an award-winning chef, has crafted a different brand image through his TV reality show, “Hell’s Kitchen,” in which Gordon trains (and demeans) budding chefs.

Celebrity chefs and wannabes continue to crowd television airwaves and the cookbook aisle at bookstores. While there may appear to be a glut of celebrity chefs, the trend is steadily simmering. That’s because there are plenty of chefs with charisma, and they all follow a tried-and-true recipe. They know how to cook up their own unique brand of success and rise to the top.     



Barry Silverstein has been a frequent brandchannel contributor since 2007. He has thirty years of advertising and marketing experience and is currently a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He founded and ran his own direct marketing agency and held executive positions with Epsilon, a leading database marketing firm and Arnold, a major ad agency. Silverstein is the author of three marketing books, including the McGraw-Hill book, The Breakaway Brand, which he co-authored with Arnold CEO Fran Kelly.

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Celebrity Chefs: Brands that Cook in the Kitchen
 The Food Network is built on smart branding - for the Network as a whole, as well as for its individual celebrity chefs/hosts.

Two of its biggest brands, Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee, provide an interesting branding lesson: you can occupy the same positioning within a niche, yet still have a brand that sets you apart.

The positioning these two stars occupy is one of authority in home-making convenience: quick and easy, quality meal preparation for busy women (mostly). Yet each has been able to carve out a separate and distinct brand within that same space.

Rachel Ray’s empire is build on the foundation of her very emphatic tagline – “30 minute meals.” The name says it all. Sandra Lee’s tagline is “semi-homemade meals” - preparing meals with the aid of pre-packaged ingredients. It is essentially the same positioning.... for more go to 
Leon Altman, Owner, - May 5, 2008
 Often the success of "shelf extension" for a chef comes at the expense of his or her initial success. Working with members of the Relais 
Paul Belserene, Senior Strategic Storyteller, Envisioning Storytelling - May 5, 2008
 I'm surprised. Does anybody over 30 write this stuff? Julia Child essentially invented the celebrity chef brand. And you had James Beard, the Galloping Gourmet, the Frugal Gourmet, Yan Can Cook... 
Steve Rustad, Owner, - May 5, 2008
 Celebrity Chefs forget what made them celebrities in the first place. The quality food they produced at their original restaurants. I have tried several Celebrity Chefs restaurants and none of them are up to the expectations they generate over the media.
Unfortunately for the customers "Celebrity Status" is not like a Michelin Star.If you are not up to it.It is gone.
Saul - May 5, 2008
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