Everyone Wants to Be a Celebrity Chef

My wife and I are huge fans of Hell's Kitchen and now we have started watching the new cooking competition show Master Chef.  Based on the BBC hit, the American version features unknowns competing for a monetary prize and a cookbook publishing deal -- and also for fifteen minutes or more of fame.  Celebrity chefs are sprouting out of the woodwork and new cooking shows seem to be popping up every second.  It used to be that people fantasized about becoming movie stars, rock stars, sports stars -- now the aspiration of choice seems to be becoming a TV cooking star.

Hell's Kitchen is like Survivor, while Master Chef is more like American Idol.  I'm already rooting for some of the personalities, and the judges (Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich) seem very capable of providing some great entertainment and drama as the show progresses.

One major flaw with a show like this is that viewers cannot taste what the contestants are cooking.  Unlike talent shows in which viewers feel like an additional judge, for a cooking show they can only really judge a dish based on its presentation and guess at what it might taste like based on the ingredients being used.  Maybe it might spark them to cook similar dishes at home and someday transform from home cooks to master chefs themselves.

What does it take to be a celebrity chef?  The sad fact is that looks and personality are key elements necessary for multimedia superstardom.  As Simon Cowell might say, they have to have the "X Factor" or that elusive "It" that brings fame and fortune to the lucky ones who have it, or even know what "It" is.  Cooking skills almost seem secondary.  (And there does seem to be a bit of sexism involved -- the women tend to be slim and curvaceous while a higher proportion of the male chef stars seem to be overweight.)

Televised cooking shows have come a long way from the days of Julia Child.  For good or bad, cooking stars now rank up there with bestselling novelists, singers, actors, directors, and other pop culture stars.  And almost everyone who can boil water feels like they might have a shot to be the next great celebrity chef.