A Chef In Love

“Top Chef” Effective Branding for a Chef, or a 5 mins of Fame?

In Uncategorized on March 5, 2011 at 8:13 am

Pack Your Knives and Make a Buck
by Coeli Carr Mar 03 2011

Bravo’s Top Chef franchise shows no sign of slowing down. Some of its “cheftestants” have seen a huge upswing in their restaurants’ business after being on the shows. But the long-term benefit to a chef’s own brand may be fleeting.

For culinary entrepreneurs battling for food glory and prize money on Top Chef, overcooked protein is one of the fastest routes to elimination. So with flavor and succulence at a premium, just how juicy is the brand-building allure of the Emmy Award-winning food reality show?

Now in its eighth season with Top Chef All Stars, the franchise has just begun its U.S. casting calls for Season 9 of Top Chef and Season 2 of Top Chef Just Desserts.

“If you get on the show, you’ve already won,” says Gina Keatley, 31, one of the hopefuls at the meet and greet last Monday at Colicchio & Sons, the New York outpost of Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio. Keatley, founder of Nourishing NYC, a not-for-profit community food organization, has a dozen years of cooking under her belt. “Having people view you lets you pretty much pitch yourself to a million-million people,” she says, noting the extra benefit of being connected with food professionals around the country. “I’d brand myself off that,” she says. “I’d love to have Top Chef as a launching board.”

Can the show really plate piping-hot dreams like those?

“Informally, Top Chef could be a branding tool and create a lot of opportunities for the chefs involved with it,” says Hunter Braun, a casting producer at Magical Elves, the show’s production company. Braun says some cheftestants’ restaurants have increased their businesses as much as 300 percent once those chefs returned to those venues. Endorsement deals, as well as offers to do culinary demonstrations and work on events, may also be in the cards.

“Most of the chefs I’ve spoken with after they did the show said it’s changed their life,” says Braun, who recognizes the appeal of upping the stakes. “As we increase the prize money, we also step up the level of talent. The challenges get more difficult. We make sure we’re keeping it fresh and stepping it up every season.”

When Harold Dieterle, now 33, got onto Top Chef Season 1—and emerged its skilled and hugely popular winner—he had no preconceived notions, other than he liked the idea of competing. The show made an impact immediately. “It was as close to an instant phenomenon as I’ve ever seen,” he says.

“I think it would have taken me significantly longer to raise the funds had I not been on television,” says Dieterle, referring to the money he secured to open Perilla in 2007, and noting it takes at least $500,000 and as much as $2 million to launch a restaurant in New York City. One downside: “A lot of critics tend to be very harsh when new restaurants are surrounded by Top Chef hype.” Further distanced from the show, Dieterle believes the public saw Kin Shop—his second restaurant in New York, opened last fall—as more uniquely his own enterprise.

OKAY, HERE IS WHERE I CHIME IN: Papacitos was started with $10,000 cash. Brooklyn Label was Started with $70,000.00, Brooklyn Standard Deli with $50,000.00, Cafe Royal with $50,000.00. Holly shit!!! What I could do with 2 Million Dollars for a reastuarant in NYC?? ANY INVESTORS PICKING UP MY MESSAGE??

Overall, Dieterle—the win allowed him to quickly hurdle from sous chef to chef-owner—believes a stint on Top Chef provides the potential for good press and an increase in an entrepreneur’s future profits. He did some work for Pellegrino, one of several companies that approached him to do endorsements.

“The reach of Top Chef is tremendous, especially the social-media application of what they do,” says Dale Talde, a cheftestant on Season 4 who was eliminated on Top Chef All-Stars and a chef at Buddakan who was recently appointed culinary director of Asian concepts for Starr Restaurant Group. “I had 17,000 hits on my website last Friday,” he said, which may have been connected to the viral leak of the debut of his invitation-only pop-up restaurant Bodega, this past weekend.

As for signing on for Top Chef, Talde says, “When you get on that show, you’re Bravo’s property, and, if you’ve had too many cocktails and you say something stupid, you know they’re putting that on TV.” Such impulses may be tough for spotlight-hungry chefs to control. “I think everyone wants to get face time, and if they feel that they’re acting out that they can get even more,” says Dieterle.

Surprisingly, bad behavior doesn’t always hurt the entrepreneurial game plan.

Mat Mandeltort, a senior consultant at food-service consultancy Technomic and also a former chef-owner, says some more-conservative venture capitalists are very concerned with their investee’s public image. “But some investors want their chefs to be edgy and nonconformist,” he says.

Is Top Chef a strong branding device? Mandeltort isn’t convinced. “Even if you win, being on television provides just a fleeting and momentary public awareness,” he says. “Once chefs get off the show, they need to put their entrepreneurial plans in motion very quickly.”

Coeli Carr is a business writer based in New York. Her web site is http://www.coelicarr.com.

Read more: http://www.portfolio.com/executive-style/2011/03/03/top-chef-franchise-on-bravo-proves-beneficial-to-chefs#ixzz1Ff54MmCd


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