Regardless of how other chefs look at them, TV chefs bring something unique to the table
always thrown into the picture when critics, and sometimes even senior chefs, unleash grating comments about a clean-cut, dapper chef’s deserving place.
“When Jamie Oliver first started, all the chefs in the kitchen, I remember when I was working in Australia, would laugh at him,” says Anglo. “They would always say he can’t cook in a real kitchen; he’s only good on television. But you know what, at the end of the day, who’s making more money? Who’s enjoying his job the most while we’re bitching in the kitchen? If you’re presenting yourself as a television chef, you have to earn your stripes in the kitchen. You have to earn credibility. Although, you are watching television with your eyes and ears so that also has to somehow come across.”
“It’s the general public that will decide,” says Heussaff about what qualifies someone to be on television. “You’ve had some very good-looking chefs or cooks on television that have not translated well and have tanked completely. And you have people like Rachael Ray who do extremely well because they can talk to a certain audience a certain way.”
But appearances can be deceptive, as in the case of Anglo’s stripped-down, Seabiscuit Films-produced, surfspanning show Hungry with Chef JP, where he retains most of his raw energy, thanks to the total creative freedom afforded him. “No scripts, no menus. Wala talaga. It was very free-flowing. That’s why we kind of wasted a lot of time,” he says with a wry smile, sharing that he comes full circle in the second season, one that feels truer to form. “There’s a structure now. We’re going to cook for the tricycle driver. We will go to the market and see what we find and cook for the entire staff of the resort.”
Anglo’s point is valid because good looks without substance can get old quick. “When I first started Sarsa Restaurant, everyone thought that I was just this TV chef from Bacolod who surfed a lot. No one knew that I could cook. They didn’t know that I cooked the most and practiced during those surfing trips. That’s the downside of being a TV chef. People underestimate you.”
It’s a feeling that’s all too familiar for Heussaff. Out of all the personalities out there, no one generates more detractors and doubters than Heussaff, who funnily enough never claimed to be a chef in the first place and yet still falls victim to acerbic social media comments and tumultuous, toxic tongues.
Most of the hate he gets is founded on the fact that he has continued to create content and concepts on his own terms, regardless if anyone else other than his family or friends likes it. “When you see someone doing what they want, it pisses off a lot of people because they realize they don’t necessarily have that flexibility or freedom. If I’m a divisive character, I’m fine with it as long as I know I’m authentic of who I am.”
Heussaff’s fearlessness is forceful. He fends off hate with terse tones, firing new ideas instead with slightly disorienting accuracy. He comes at you with ideas at breakneck speed, and just as well because the former “fat kid inside” is slowly turning the industry on its head. A digital stalwart through and through, Heussaff produces a visually sumptuous environment for the home cook through his own online channels.
“I didn’t want to be a cook for hire that you would put on your program and I’m just the face of the operation,” he says, indicating that working with a professional production team would serve his brand better in the long run. As the content became more polished, TV networks started noticing. “Fox Network came in and said we want to give you a chance: interstitials, 10 episodes of five minutes, do whatever you want to do. And we did the same thing with TLC Asia. So this whole strategy of shooting content we like to shoot and presenting it well attracts television networks.”
Caught on the Web
While the television offerings remain strong for the time being, the pressure to innovate is immense and the need to bridge the gap between the old-
“I didn’t want to be a cook for hire that you would put on your program and I’m just the face of the operation,” says Erwan Heussaff.
fashioned demographic comfortable on the couch and the digital natives tweeting and watching from their smartphones is causing a structural shift. In Favia’s case, the debilitation of traditional television came quickly after working for major channels. “It limited me and at some point, it became a dilemma. And I didn’t want to do television anymore. They wanted it to be relatable to the audience so if you use cardamom seeds or even parsley in your recipes, they wouldn’t approve it.”
Despite television’s orientation geared towards the markets they serve, it still plays a vital role. “The prestige of television is still there. It legitimizes what you are and what you do,” says Heussaff. The budgets are bigger, the production values are much higher but, he adds, understanding what’s happening online is crucial to television’s success. “You do see television now looking online. What are they doing that is so organic and raw that they can’t translate into television? So both are necessary for each other.”
“You know all these web videos taken from the top angle?” asks Favia. “I’m amazed by them because you’d think who needs a television chef now with the speed of digital media?” And he brings up a question that demands attention. Where do celebrity chefs stand in the grand scheme of the restaurant industry? Especially now at a time when digital has disrupted and eroded traditional forms of media?
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” says Heussaff. “There wouldn’t be this much hype about food if you didn’t have all these programs like The Naked Chef or Top Chef. When I grew up in the ’90s, food was important but it wasn’t hyped up. You wouldn’t line up three hours for food. That was crazy. Nowadays, it’s completely normal. I tried getting a reservation at Sushi Saito in July for February next year and it was fully booked. This level of hype has never been there before and the only reason it’s like that is because of all the hype it got on television. There wouldn’t be this many restaurants if it weren’t for television chefs and food programs.”
Television could still be the most logical stepping stone for chefs in the Philippines, but for Anglo the status of being on camera is aligned with maintaining standards.
“Some people do it for the wrong reasons. That’s why they don’t deserve it,” Anglo says when asked if there are people who don’t deserve their spot on television. “I don’t know if this sounds right but some people do it for fame. If you’re on television and you’re trying to teach something, you should do it because you sincerely want to lend your knowledge to the viewers. When you do it for the wrong reasons, it reflects and shows, and you look like an idiot.”
Frankly, it could be a relatively small price to pay. A Forbes story in 2012 listed Gordon Ramsay as the highestpaid chef with an estimated $38 million in earnings, but most of it is believed to have come from television shows and merchandise. Which makes the brand and its entertainment value all the more important for chefs looking to cash in on celebrity culture.
While becoming another Gordon Ramsay is a highly unlikely scenario for most chefs, a television show doesn’t necessarily guarantee an influx of new customers, says Heussaff. “It brought in more interest in the worst way possible where, when people eat in my restaurant, they think everything that goes wrong is my fault. In a sense, it is, because it is my business. But it gives people that attitude since they know you on television, when they go to your restaurant they will expect certain things.”
As with anything in the entertainment industry, you simply can’t please everybody.
“When you do it for the wrong reasons, it reflects and shows, and you
look like an idiot,” says JP