The restaurant world is a fickle place to eke out a living, so we can understand why a chef would want to capitalize on his or her fame with a TV show or product endorsement. But that doesn’t mean it’s not jarring to see a well-respected toque shilling a car or a credit card. While using one’s food-world clout to push a seemingly unrelated product might seem counterintuitive, we would argue that it damages a chef’s cred less than pushing KFC or Bud Light (we’re looking at you, Edward Lee and Aarón Sánchez).
Here are five celebrity chef endorsements that might surprise you.
Danny Bowien and David Chang for Uniqlo
In 2011, Uniqlo successfully enlisted David Chang in their Made For All campaign by donating money to New York’s Edible Schoolyards program. A year later, the retailer launched its San Francisco flagship store alongside its Face of the People campaign—which included a free panel discussion about the city’s dining scene featuring Jason Fox (Commonwealth), Brandon Jew (Bar Agricole), Chad Robertson (Tartine Bakery, Bar Tartine) and Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese). With that kind of thoughtful marketing strategy, and presumably some free swag in a variety of bold colors, what chef wouldn’t sign on?
Nobu Matsuhisa for Chase Sapphire
With a veritable empire of hotels and restaurants as well as a lifestyle magazine, we’re pretty sure Nobu Matsuhisa didn’t do this because he needs the money. But as an international hospitality mogul, it’s not exactly like he’s selling out either. He’s just doing business. And in this case, business involves dropping by Austin’s Franklin Barbecue for a personalized tour with owner Aaron Franklin. NBD.
David Chang for Audi
Two years later and the Momofuku honcho has matured from urban menswear to automobiles with a series of ads for the Audi A3—including this black-and-white, classical music soundtracked video. Cars (even mid-range sedans) are clearly where the money’s at: another of the campaign’s many clips, Dues, features a clutch of notables in addition to Chang, including Ricky Gervais, Kristen Schaal, boxer Claressa Shields, photojournalist Lynsey Addario, and street artists Cyrcle. If you are going to be in a commercial, that’s the kind of company you want to keep.
Carlo Mirarchi for Lexus
The Roberta’s and Blanca owner is the latest to sign on as a “Lexus Culinary Master,” joining the likes of Masaharu Morimoto, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal, Daniel Boulud, and Michael Symon. As an official brand ambassador, one of Mirarchi’s jobs is to create “memorable culinary experiences at Lexus events”; that included cooking for 200 people at Roberta’s this week as part of a sponsored dinner series. The business-minded Mirarchi seems set on targeting high-end consumers, presumably those who don’t think twice about dropping $195 per person (before tax, tip and booze, mind you) at Blanca. Last year he plugged U.S. Trust, a private wealth management company owned by Bank of America. (Photo: Lexus)
Amanda Cohen for Wüsthof
The knife brand’s “Defining the Edge” campaign has recruited 8 chefs and butcher so far, including Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen. The video shows her slicing and dicing, yet there’s barely any mention of knives in the 3:45 minute clip. In fact, we’re not sure who’s promoting whom here. The campaign’s microsite features recipes, essays, quotes, and fast facts from the vegetable-loving chef, as well as excerpts from the Dirt Candy cookbook. If Cohen got paid for this partnership, she’s even sharper than we thought (see what we did there?). She also gets bonus points for boosting a product that’s relevant to her profession, and patently doesn’t suck, which is more than we can say for her I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter shilling compatriot Alex Guarnaschelli. Being transparent and blogging about the experience of corporate partnerships is also laudable.