The fourth annual MAD symposium took place at the end of August in Copenhagen, and as usual many talks are being released to the public in the weeks after the symposium. This morning, a video was released titled "Be Careful What You Wish For," and features Chris Cosentino talking about the darker side of food television.
It's an important talk, and highlights very clearly the pitfalls of moving out of the kitchen and onto a TV set. Cosentino tells his story with amazing honesty, recounting the damage his life as a television celebrity did to his business, his health and his self esteem. And it brings to light a fascinating contradiction: the fact that cooking's new celebrity status might be hurting the chefs it lionizes.
It's a topic I've thought about a lot. In my review of Girasol, I talk about the "Top Chef curse," in which television chefs have a hard time finding their footing post-TV. It's an odd thing to be suddenly famous, to be tied to a TV contract, and yet to still have to operate in the real restaurant world. I know a number of chefs who have been on the show and haven't been able to find their place in actual kitchens since.
I also wonder if the current lack of good line cooks is partly because many young chefs are more focused on getting on television than they are on putting in the time under the tutelage of a more experienced mentor. Beyond that, there's a worry among the old guard that TV lust is bringing the wrong sort of person to the cooking world. Rather than passionate cooks who know they're signing up for a hard life, young chefs often think of the kitchen as a way to celebrity.
Cosentino has a story to tell that might give even those celebrity-seekers pause. The contractual obligations of television turned him into someone he didn't like, and he had no way out. He also dispels the notion that being on TV will earn you a ton of money. Unless you're talking about Rachael Ray, the chefs you see on TV are probably earning a lot less than you think they are.
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You can watch the entire 25-minute talk from Cosentino below. It's well worth your time.