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Thu 23 Oct 2008 01:27 PM

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Celeb chefs: cause or solution?

Are celebrity chefs partly to blame for our draining F&B talent pool - or do they in fact have the solution?

‘Tis the season to be (gastronomically) star-struck, it seems. Over the past few weeks, a host of big-name chefs have flooded into the UAE to promote their latest books, shows, restaurants and partnerships.

Jamie Oliver —
Caterer’sNovember cover model — was in Dubai recently, promoting his new kitchen design for the residences at Jumeirah Golf Estates’ Water neighbourhood.

Garry Hollihead, chef and co-founder of the Embassy Club, was at Grosvenor House to confirm the design of the three-floor Embassy venue at the property.

Hot on his heels was Gary Rhodes, who made an appearance at the hotel’s Rhodes Mezzanine outlet to celebrate its anniversary, while British TV personality Oz Clarke was also in Dubai to launch his new selection of drinks in conjunction with UAE firm MMI.

Next month looks set for more of the same, with Italian chef Antonio Cannavacciuolo tantalising guests’ tastebuds at the Hyatt Regency Dubai, and Jumeirah’s Festival of Taste boasting a multitude of household names, including Jean-Christophe Novelli, James Martin, Michel Roux, Ainsley Harriot, Brian Turner and Cyrus Todiwala.

That may sounds like an overdose of celebrity, but it’s a fair indicator of today’s fame-obsessed society. And if the population’s current TV chef fixation raises general food and beverage standards, then so much the better. Or is it?

There is a school of thought that suggests this culture of celebrity may have negatively impacted the industry’s talent pool.

Michelle Telfer, director of human resources for Courtyard by Marriott and Marriott Executive Apartments in Dubai’s Green Community, claims celebrity chefs have over-glamorised the industry, leaving new recruits disillusioned with the reality of life in the kitchen.

“Nowadays there are lots youngsters wanting to get into chefing, but it’s almost been glamorised as an industry by a lot of the celebrity chefs,” she said.

“In reality, it’s not what they thought it was going to be. People who actually continue to climb the ladder and reach chef de partie level and above are like gold dust,” she added.

One way of addressing this problem might be for the region’s celebrity visitors to spend some time with local kitchen trainees, to explain the reality behind being a chef.

Because no matter how different their cooking styles, whether they are famous for cracking jokes or cursing, there is one opinion that all these ‘celebrity’ chefs share: the key to a career in cooking is hard work and education.

As Jamie Oliver explained to Caterer, “true luxury is knowledge” — and if the Middle East industry can recognise that, and make more decent training options available for budding chefs, then maybe we can re-stock our dwindling talent pool before it runs dry.

For more on this story, see next month’s Caterer Middle East.

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