Essential Cooking: Chef Andrew Carmellini shares what’s wrong with food media

Distinguished Chef Andrew Carmellini joins Ann Delisi and Chef James Rigato to discuss how the rise in media attention surrounding chefs has changed the industry.

Chef Andrew Carmellini

In this episode:

  • How cooking shows changed the perception of the restaurant industry, for better or for worse.
  • How Chef Andrew Carmellini got his start cooking at some of the greatest restaurants in the world.
  • The future of the restaurant industry, and challenges facing the industry beyond the pandemic.

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In the more than 30 years that Chef Andrew Carmellini has been in the food industry, he’s witnessed lots of changes. His career began in the nineties, working at San Domenico, a two-Michelin star restaurant in Italy.  

While today the profession of chef garners respect, Chef Carmellini says it wasn’t like that when he first started.  

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m moving to New York, going to cooking school, and I’m going to work at a four-star French restaurant,’ and I might as well have said that I was going into the priesthood, or to the military,” says Chef Carmellini. “Restaurants were places for drug addicts and sexual deviants.”  

That began to change in the eighties, as chefs in the United States started to gain recognition on the world stage. The transition, however, was not instantaneous, and not across the whole country.  

“This heyday, when I look back, of American gastronomy that started in the late 80s… It was really only in New York, one restaurant in Chicago, maybe one or two in California where it really was about the food culture and enjoying food,” he says.  

Part of the shift came from a greater connection between European chefs, and chefs working in the U.S. However, changes within the U.S. began to push this shift as well.  

“The Department of Labor changed its classification of chefs from a domestic to a professional category, and that was a huge thing that changed with the unions and hotel structure,” he says. “Then you had this over-glamorization of this stuff that happened, which was great for the business and the profession since it legitimized the role.”  

During this time, media coverage of professional chefs began to take off, with the introduction of the Food Network in 1993. Today, you can find food and cooking content on every streaming service, and while this media craze did introduce the profession into many American homes, there were some downsides as well.  

“Then it got ridiculous. I would call it like, 2005. It became kind of like hair bands in 1991,” says Chef Carmellini. “You could feel that it was not going to last, because chefs were everywhere and there were a lot of people calling themselves chefs that never worked in kitchens, and a lot of dopes on TV — some of them that worked for me — that couldn’t do anything.” 

While the restaurant industry was reinventing itself, Chef Carmellini established himself as a Chef and restaurateur. Today, he owns twenty restaurants across the country, and while the perception of the food industry has changed, the work remains the same.  

“Really the profession is a very blue collar, trade-oriented job,” he says. “The business is the business, you still have to close, you have to take out the trash, you have to order, you have to run HR, you have to not lose money all the time.” 

While many aspiring chefs are entering the industry who became interested in food as media coverage glamorized, the business side of things can’t be forgotten. 

“The art of cooking, that’s the fun part, and if you can get to do that 25% of the time, that’s pretty good. But all the other stuff has to support that.”

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