Celebri­ties crash­ing kitchen par­ties

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE - By Kevin Be­gos

THE flam­boy­ant chefs who boost their ca­reers with TV shows and cook­books have tough new com­pe­ti­tion, but it isn’t com­ing from the kitchen. A wave of sexy, friendly and in­stantly rec­og­niz­able celebri­ties — with no culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence — is find­ing that a side of Hol­ly­wood, Nashville or supermodel goes quite well with a sec­ond ca­reer in food.

“Peo­ple watch th­ese shows so much be­cause of the way they iden­tify with the per­son on cam­era,” said Bob Tuschman, a se­nior vice-pres­i­dent for Food Net­work.

And so Va­lerie Bertinelli, Tr­isha Year­wood and Haylie Duff have spun off first acts in mu­sic and tele­vi­sion into suc­cess­ful food shows. Ditto for Patti LaBelle, Mila Ku­nis and Hay­den Panet­tiere, who have ap­peared on cook­ing spe­cials or as judges. Supermodel Chrissy Teigen and mu­si­cian Questlove have cook­books com­ing out next spring. Even rap­per Coo­lio did a cook­book and se­ries of YouTube cook­ing videos.

“I have a chef friend who was jok­ing with me the other day, ‘Oh, you ac­tresses, you all get your own shows now,” Bertinelli said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Bertinelli said she had fan­ta­sized about hav­ing a Food Net­work show and now “can’t be­lieve it’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing.” Friends and fam­ily make guest ap­pear­ances on Va­lerie’s Home Cook­ing, and Bertinelli tries to cap­ture the feel­ing she got from cook­ing with her mother or grand­mother. “It was al­ways about fam­ily, and food was about spend­ing time with peo­ple you love. I’m hop­ing that comes across in my show.”

Asked about the chal­lenge of hook­ing view­ers who can’t taste or smell what she cooks on TV, Bertinelli re­sponded with an ex­am­ple of the skills ac­tresses bring to the food busi­ness. “You ex­plain to peo­ple the smells that you’re smelling and the tastes that you’re tast­ing. You can make peo­ple ex­cited about food even if they can’t taste it,” said Bertinelli, who stars in Hot in Cleve­land and en­joyed suc­cess on ’70s sit­com One Day at a Time.

Tuschman cred­its Rachael Ray — who had worked in food, but isn’t a chef — for making this pos­si­ble. He said her suc­cess “changed the type of peo­ple we put on the air. It was a sea change for us. I think that prob­a­bly opened up the way for celebri­ties to come in.” Now, he said, “The in­ter­est­ing thing is we don’t have to do the con­vinc­ing th­ese days. Celebri­ties come to us, in great num­bers, who are in­ter­ested in be­ing as­so­ci­ated with Food Net­work. We’re de­lighted about it.”

There really has been a shift, said Josee John­ston, a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Toronto, and co-au­thor of Food­ies: Democ­racy and Dis­tinc­tion in the Gourmet Food­scape.

“There used to be a sig­nif­i­cant part of the mar­ket that was just writ­ten by cook­book au­thors. And now it’s harder to pub­lish a cook­book with­out be­ing a celebrity in some way,” John­ston said, though that in­cludes some trained chefs who mar­ket them­selves as celebri­ties. She said it all fits with a broader trend. “We ex­pect celebri­ties to give us life­style ad­vice on mul­ti­ple as­pects of our lives.”

John­ston thinks non-chef celebri­ties are find­ing new food ca­reers partly be­cause view­ers and read­ers — es­pe­cially women — look for some­body “who is not trained, who you can re­late to as a per­son who has lim­ited skills but an abid­ing in­ter­est in food. Which is how I think a lot of us de­fine our­selves.”

Lee Schrager, founder of the South Beach Wine and Food Fes­ti­val and the New York City Wine and Food Fes­ti­val, be­lieves the celebrity trend will con­tinue to grow. “I think we’re just touch­ing upon it. Th­ese are house­hold names. So the fact that they come with a built-in au­di­ence and a built-in fol­low­ing” is a nat­u­ral fit for spe­cial events and tele­vi­sion. Schrager said the key point is, “You trust those peo­ple.”

But chefs with se­ri­ous culi­nary train­ing will still have a place, John­ston said. “As more celebri­ties en­ter the field as food ex­perts, hard­core food­ies will prob­a­bly re­ject a lot of th­ese cook­books,” or pass on celebrity food shows. John­ston also noted that some chefs have risen to celebrity sta­tus them­selves.

Tuschman said young chefs have a dif­fer­ent view of the food busi­ness now, too. “From what I hear a lot of peo­ple go to culi­nary school hop­ing that they will have a ca­reer like a Bobby Flay, where they will end up be­ing in food tele­vi­sion as much as in a restau­rant,” he said. But whether the host is a chef or a celebrity, view­ers “want some­body who makes the kitchen feel like a very warm and wel­com­ing place.”

BRAD BARKET / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Roots drum­mer Questlove has a cook­book com­ing out in spring 2016.

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