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Career of the Year

So exciting that an ever-increasing number of people now want to become chefs. It's the reason for-profit culinary schools are bursting at the seams and hatching large-scale expansion plans to accommodate the surging tide of prospective culinarians (a trend we'll be reporting on in the January issue of RH). Meanwhile, assorted media are working overtime to make a restaurant career seem even more glamorous, lucrative and rewarding than ever. Here are three of the latest developments that are fanning the publicity flames for culinary wannabes. Their shared theme: If you become a successful chef, fame and money will flow your way, even if you seldom spend much time inside an actual restaurant kitchen.

GOURMETPALOOZA: Many people credit the Food Network for the glamorization of high-quality food and the people who prepare it. It's a theory being put to the test this fall by producers of "The Great Big Food Show," a partnership between the Food Network and American Express.


Their event is best described as a three-day food-centric trade show, only there's no "trade." Anyone willing to pay 20 bucks (plus $7 to park) can get in. If you've noticed that your restaurant's clientele has become increasingly knowledgeable about food, this is the kind of event they attend to learn more about what you're serving them.


The show's format consists of an exhibition floor that houses 200 vendor booths plus several performance stages where Food Network celebrities and others prepare items in front of the crowds. No "Iron Chef" stuff here. It's just the "here's how to make a salad" type of presentations that enable beginners to take something basic and kick it up a notch.


Not that Mr. Kick-It-Up-A-Notch himself, Emeril Lagasse, was on hand. He's the Food Network's biggest draw, but isn't part of this event. No matter. The network has plenty of other stars in its stable, and show-goers are content to watch them prepare food, even though they only get a small taste of the preparer's finished product. Super chef Mario Batali, for example, left his fine New York City restaurants—Babbo, Esca and the rest--to fend for themselves while he did eight demos during the three days of the show, often to standing-room only crowds. Yes, he wore his distinctive TV outfit of a white chef's coat, shorts and orange clogs.


It's a new level of adoration for chefs: Watching them make a dish has apparently become an acceptable substitute for going to their restaurant and eating a dish they have made. If you've got an exhibition kitchen in your restaurant, or are thinking about putting one in, take note of this trend. People really like to watch professionals prepare food, both on TV and in person.
As for the success of the show, its backers took it to a pair of cities this year--Philadelphia and, later, Cleveland--and said the public response was nearly overwhelming. One spokesperson said some attendees at the Philadelphia edition lined up outside well before the show floor opened, with many staying around for the entire 12-hour day. Showgoers in Cleveland complained about long lines and parking. The early betting is that there will be four "Great Big Food Shows" in 2005 and six the following year.

One thing's for sure. Shows like this one will continue to create new customers for your restaurant, not to mention future culinary students who watched these live demos and thought, "hey, I could do that."


LAST COOK STANDING: Those who watched the dismal final episodes of NBC's "The Restaurant" might be surprised to learn that another reality-based show about restaurants is in the works. Such is the public's fascination with the day-to-day workings of restaurants that the FOX network is going to debut "Hell's Kitchen" in January.


Slotted for Friday nights, the unscripted show follows the well-worn formula already proven on shows ranging from "Survivor" to "The Apprentice." On this one, cameras follow a group of aspiring chef/restaurateurs who want to run their own place someday as they collectively open a new restaurant in Los Angeles. The show's authority figure/hit man is controversial British chef Gordon Ramsay, noted for both world-class cooking skills and a really, really hot temper.


Each week during the 10-episode run of Hell's Kitchen, Ramsay will provide a series of "challenges," with the loser being booted from the show. The person who remains wins sole ownership of the restaurant, which Fox claims is worth $2 million.


We can see how viewers who stuck it out with "The Restaurant" while Rocco DiSpirito and Jeffrey Chodorow sniped away at each other in prime time will be attracted to the show. This one has a clear-cut beginning, middle and end. Hell's Kitchen will enable the audience to root for a favorite contestant as the show moves to its natural conclusion and the winners and losers get sorted out. "The Restaurant" never really went anywhere, except to court.
One thing's for sure. Ramsay's volatility guarantees the show will get plenty of attention. He's already gotten into a scuffle with a contestant during the taping of the show. The contestant, who suffered a sprained ankle in the back-of-the-house melee, threatened to sue Ramsay for $3 million. But before he filed his suit, the show's producers reportedly settled the matter for approximately a $100,000 payoff. We expect ratings on this episode, at least, to be high.


As we've said before, restaurant work may seem like just a job to you, but is inherently more challenging and interesting than what most people in the U.S. do each day to earn their keep. How many people will watch "Hell's Kitchen" and think, "I want my own restaurant, too. I'm trying out for the second season of that show"?


PUSHING TIN: But if you want to really see media-driven celebrity chef worship in action, check out the Home Shopping Network. That's where Wolfgang Puck reigns, selling assorted kitchenware and cookware at a dizzying pace.

This guy can really move the metal. On just a single day in August, Puck sold 15,000 units of his 27-piece cookware set, pulling in $3 million. And if you can't find him on TV, head to www.wolfgangpucksuperstore.com to check out the 224 separate items for sale there. To outsiders--hey, even to insiders--it looks like Puck is a chef who is able to coin money on the fly, without having to really cook anything to do it.


Emeril Lagasse is no stranger to coining money himself and his line of Emerilware just continues to grow. This line of cookware has better distribution in high-end retail stores than Puck's does, and it's also available at many outlets on the Internet. You can pick some up at www.emerilware.com.
Surprisingly, the latest entrant in the celebrity chef cookware category is Daniel Boulud. While widely acknowledged among his peers and food world cognoscenti as the finest chef in the country, Boulud doesn't have much of a media profile at all. Emeril and Wolfgang Puck are household names, while Boulud's small New York City restaurant empire is primarily known to a coterie of high rollers with very good taste.


That hasn't stopped the French-born Boulud from coming out with a line of cookware with the suggested retail prices for open stock pieces ranging from $60 to $440, and full sets on sale for $625 to $875. It's all available from Chefs Catalog, over the Internet from www.cooking.com and www.amazon.com, plus retail outlets like Bloomingdale's, Chef Central and a variety of high-end gourmet stores.


Boulud will have to do some serious selling to put up the kinds of sales numbers Puck and Emeril do. But you can bet that there are plenty of chefs-in-waiting out there who see these three greats raking it in from product endorsements and hope to get in on the action themselves someday, too.

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