Whereas the original celebrity chefs—the Julia Childs and Jacques Pepins of the world—rose to prominence through television and cookbooks, the current crop of boldface food personalities has ushered in the age of the Social Media Chef. Someone like Grant Achatz may be able to seat only a handful of uberrich patrons at his restaurants in Chicago each night, but with 76,000 Twitter followers
, his influence extends far beyond those who actually have a chance to eat his food.
Credit chefs for using new technology to tell their own stories. By running content-rich Tumblrs
, releasing cinematic YouTube trailers
for new menus, and Instagramming live from their own kitchens, they have shifted power away from old-guard media. David Chang's Lucky Peach
may be traditional in its magazine format, but it was made possible by the new reality in which chefs don't need a middle-man to reach a large audience.
The dark side of this paradigm shift is that chefdom, like everything else on the Internet, has become a giant popularity contest. You don't have follow food media for long to see who the power players are, and how they prop each other through a constant feedback cycle of Twitter handjobs, appearances on each other's TV shows, and so on. And while we jokes about the existence of a food-world Illuminati run by Noma's Rene Redzepi
, the unprecedented interconnectedness of the world's best chefs is certainly changing the landscape in real ways. As the leaders of haute cuisine cook together and attend insider-y conferences like MAD, high-brow cuisine risks becoming more homogenous. Chefs from around the world can see exactly how Alinea plated its scallops last night, or what's fermenting at Momofuku, creating a tendency to coopt and share rather than invent. (On the plus side, hobnobbing chefs also take their game offline, traveling around to each other's restaurants
and giving diners in different markets a chance to eat food they might never get their hands on otherwise.)
Some chefs are rebelling against this new cool-kid's club
, but they're on the fringes (literally, they're in Canada...no shots). Most up-and-coming chefs want in, so expect the food-world Twitterati to continue to grow in power.—Chris Schonberger