that's en­ter­tain­ment

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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.”

Big Break

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

An­glo.

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