Television is not just about stardom and fame. It can really create problems for people who are not aware of the risks and pitfalls that may exist.
As a former print journalist who has seen many people succumb to the allure of television only to become unrecognisable when they attain so called ‘fame’ this talk at the Mad Symposium by Chris Cosentino, a Californian chef is a must watch.
In this case, this American chef gives advice to young chefs “to be careful what they wish for” which was also the talk of his half an hour presentation in Denmark.
If you do not have 30 minutes to watch it, here is a short resume. But if you are tempted or allured into doing it, you need to really watch this video and to think before you actually decide to take the plunge. Only in this way can you be sure that you will not end up regretting it. This is important advice not just for chefs but for anyone who is tempted by the allure of fame on television.
Cosentino recalls how after taking part in a food show, everyone started to call him telling how how funny he was, how he said really good things and what good sound bites he gave. “I hate that word. What about saying we like your great techniques,” he said.
After taking part in an Iron Chef competition he was asked to co-host a TV show with 23 episodes which ended up harming not only his health (he has only fully recovered now after five years) but also effecting his self-esteem and business.
“What I wanted when I signed up for the television programme was to travel for free with a friend all over the United States to compete.”
He thought that this would help his family, his restaurant and his business. He however recalled how as the show started to progress, the TV producers started to find weak spots which were used against him in the interests of the show. “The challenges that we were asked to carry out were incredible. I would have thought that a blind tasting or cutting a huge wheel of Parmesan would have been attractive. But instead, we had to eat 8 pounds of a deep-pan pizza, snakes, testicles, bowls of chillis, 10 pounds of baked beans”.
The problem, he said was that there was no way out because he had signed a contract and he had also learned as a cook that you needed to follow a job through.
Speaking emotionally about the experience he realised that the experience had a profound impact on him because it made him do things which he really did not want to do. “I looked like a bully, I really hated it. There was an episode where I went to a town and made two local chefs feel bad. All they wanted was to promote their restaurant and not for someone to ridicule them,” he said.
He says TV shows with food challenges are not only disrespectful to restaurants and businesses but were also encouraging bad habits because what is seen on TV is replicated in real life. “I was in complete shock when I went to pick up my son from school and saw that the children were emulating the show and trying to eat their lunch as fast as they could. When I saw that, my heart sank, I never felt so low about myself in my life. I was ashamed to talk about this,” he said.
He said how he felt angry with himself and went to speak to the TV producers but what entered from one ear exited from the other.
Cosentino, however, says that what hurts most was that you are called a sell-out chef? “But why are you called a sell-out when all you want to do is to help your family, your business and your staff. Ultimately, my aim was to better my business even if this did not materialise.” Being called a sell-out has clearly had a deep impact on Cosentino who says his business at the restaurant actually decreased because customers thought he was not at the restaurant given he was on TV.
He spoke of how the food challenges on TV had made him sick causing huge problems to his stomach which meant he could not drink alcohol for over a year, could not eat any acidic food, could not even taste tomato sauce which was a problem given his restaurant is Italian. “To this day I cannot drink red wine,” he said.
He said the reason he went on television was for ego. “I wanted to be somebody but it was wrong to think in that way. I should have listened to my wife. Looking back, I should never have done it, I let so many people down.”
Cosentino warned young chefs to seek advice from mentors and even chef TV mentors who may guide them as to what they really want from the experience. Now, fully recovered after five years, Cosentino said that he hoped that the next generation would think before they succumb to the allure of these opportunities. “And if you want to do it, seek advice,” he said.