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Eating out

Farewell to the celebrity chef

Nigella in 2005. Francesca Yorke/Getty

In the mid 2000s, the celebrity chef reigned supreme, says Finn McRedmond in The New Statesman. Jamie Oliver, plucked out of the River Café kitchen by an enterprising TV producer, delighted viewers with phrases like “spag bol”, “lovely jubbly” and “pukka”. Gordon Ramsay lorded over a culinary empire built on “screeching and sneering at Midwestern diner owners on Fox’s Kitchen Nightmares”. It was as if Nigella Lawson was “the first woman to eat butter”, and Anthony Bourdain “the first white man to eat pho on a plastic stool”. Unshackled from the kitchen, these titans were known not for their cooking but their books, TV shows and endorsements of frozen pizzas.

That world is disappearing. There are no worthy successors to those stars, besides small-scale Instagrammers such as the “sinister French patisserie chef who sculpts dinosaurs out of chocolate”. Instead, restaurants themselves hog the limelight: London establishments like St John and Noble Rot have become brands with huge social media followings and their own lines in media and merchandise. This is for the best. Life in a restaurant is onerous and poorly remunerated; “the world of micro greens and basil foam is not a natural home for a showman”. The guiding principle of celebrity – self-interest – is “anathema to the requirements of decent hospitality”.