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Celebrity Chefs – Brands for Hire When the Price is Right

Kim Brebach - Thursday, July 31, 2014

Celebrity Chefs – Brands for Hire | Technoledge

Big Name Chefs will flog any rubbish for pots of money

‘You cannot criticize a man for going to work. You really cannot,’ says Celebrity Chef Marco Pierre White. ‘But you can criticise a man for choosing to go to work as a pimp and a whore,’ says a reader on Eater. Find out how more celebrity chefs are compromising their hard-earned reputations, and why you can't trash your brand and hope to keep customer loyalty - whatever your business. 


Marco Pierre White making love to a hindquarter (Source: www.eater.com)

White became the brand ambassador for Knorr ‘Homestyle’ stocks in the US. ‘He is no stranger to Knorr (a division of mega-conglomerate Unilever), as he’s promoted the company’s boullion cubes in the UK since 2006.’ White claims to have used Knorr stock in his kitchens for 30 years and says: ‘It is my secret ingredient.’ More.

The surprise is that so many celebrity chefs are doing this and seem happy to trash their own brands in the process. They don’t seem to mind spruiking complete rubbish either. ‘We are excited to once again be supplying the MasterChef Australia pantry with the same great food customers will find in our stores,’ says Simon McDowell from Coles. Should we be excited too?

Everybody wants to get to the trough

If you know anything about cooking, you know that it starts with quality ingredients. You also know that you don’t find those in Coles or Woolworths, no matter how many celebrity chefs throw their white hats into the ring – and it’s quite a list: in addition to Masterchef regulars Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan, we have Kylie Kwong, Maggie Beer, Nobu Matsuhisa, Darren Purchese, Frank Camorra, and heavies like Marco Pierre White and Heston Blumenthal.

The last two had a few runs-in since Matt Preston credited White with mentoring Blumenthal a while ago: ‘Many famous chefs have passed through his doors – Curtis Stone, Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay.’ Blumenthal complained that White had made this claim more than once. ‘I saw him in a restaurant a couple of months ago,’ says Blumenthal, ‘and I said, ‘Marco, can you stop telling people that you mentored me?’ More.

‘Jamie, hold your head in shame!’

If you know anything about cooking, you know how important quality cookware is. You’ll also know that Tefal doesn’t make quality cookware, and you’ll wonder why on earth Jamie Oliver would put his name on its wares. ‘Jamie, you put your name on absolute rubbish here mate,’ writes one sore punter on Amazon’s UK website.

Another victim says: 'I was excited when I bought these pans believing that Jamie Oliver would not let us down'. Another reviewer says: 'Please don’t fall for the hype or the association to a celebrity … Jamie – hold your head in shame!' There are many more complaints on the Amazon UK website, and tales of woe from those who tried to get some recompense from the manufacturer. It’s the same story on another website but Jamie doesn’t seem to care: his smiling face is still adorning Tefal’s packaging.


Reality TV? Really?

They say truth is the first casualty of war. Reality seems to be the first casualty of Reality TV. Why are celebrity chefs so eager to be part of the deception, so keen to sell out their carefully built brands?

It can't be the PR: it's can't be good PR to promote mass-produced food and garbage products, or to side with a company like Coles who is known to squeeze its growers against the wall until they can't breathe, and was fined for selling ' bakery goods as ”freshly baked” even though they were made up to six months earlier in Europe’ according to the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Croissants, danishes and muffins are being shipped frozen from Germany, Belgium and Denmark.’ Are you getting excited yet?

The Art of Deception

‘… it’s the end of Heston Week,’ writes Ben Pobjie in the Herald, ‘which means for some of these cooks, it could be their last ever opportunity to dip a hamburger in liquid nitrogen or sculpt pea foam into the shape of a water buffalo. Matt informs the contestants that tonight’s challenge is “all about deception”, like the deception Heston employed to convince the world he was a famous chef.

‘Heston himself, staring down the amateurs like the tightly-wound Thunderbird puppet he is, explains how wonderful it is to eat something that turns out to be a different thing than what the thing you thought it was is. Indeed is that not the essence of dining? Basically that’s the challenge: make a thing that isn’t what you think it is.’ Read more; it’s mandatory.

It's a big stage, the masyerchef kitchenm big enough to make Matt Preston look normal and to make MKR look pretty suburban. Coles is the major sponsor for MKR as well, with celbrity chef Curtis Stone (the one who was mentored by Marco Pierre White) starring in the commercials, usually standing in sunny fields picking wonderful ripe fruit and veggies, surrounded by happy farmers. Eater says 'Stone's last stint in a professional kitchen appears to have been back to have been back in 2002.

Jamie Oliver, PR Supremo

When Woolworths asked its growers to cough up more money for a Jamie Oliver campaign, the media had a field day. ‘Farmers slugged for Woolworths Jamie Oliver campaign,’ was the ABC’s headline. ‘Jamie Oliver levy leaves farmers fuming,’ shouted the Australian. ‘Woolies slugs farmers to pay for Jamie Oliver campaign,’ wrote AdNews.

Woolworths said the extra fee it asked growers to pay was voluntary, but an AUSVEG spokesman on ABC’s Landline said that many growers were very unhappy about the situation, ‘but simply aren’t game to refuse to meet the request that’s been given to them by Woolworths.’ AUSVEG has complained to the ACCC, with support from Nick Xenophon. Growers already have to pay Woolworths 3-5% for promoting their produce.

Oliver was ridiculed when he claimed he was only an “employee” of Woolworths, The Monthly reported, and added, 'coincidentally but symbolically, the next week Woolworths had to recall thousands of defective Oliver-branded vegetable-shaped toys.'

‘Jamie Oliver burnt by Woolworths partnership,’ was another headline in the Brisbane Times. In it Bill O’Chea wrote that, late last year Woolworths announced a partnership with Oliver which had the aim of ‘inspiring a healthier Australia.’

O’Chea says ‘Mr Oliver promised in a YouTube video he would be “working across the whole of the business, at front and back end.” In another video he said: “Part of what I’m doing with Woolies is looking at standards, and ethics, of where our sort of food comes from.” The problem is that he is not. Instead, Mr Oliver has come under fire over the funding of the advertising surrounding his relationship with Woolworths.’

Standards, ethics and where our sort of food comes from? Just how far are these guys prepared to go for a fridge full of dollars? Not that Jamie needs more dollars. ‘His personal wealth is estimated at £150 million,’ the UK Telegraph tells us, ‘making him the 501st richest person in Britain.


Another great headline for Jamie

‘Jamie Oliver in hypocrisy row over feeding the poor rant as comparison finds his supermarket meals cost SEVEN times as much as own-brand equivalents,’ is the headline in Daily Mail article. It tells us that Oliver’s ‘new television show and accompanying cookery book sees him steering families away from spending money on expensive ready meals and convenience foods.’

It seems Jamie was inspired by ‘the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60 pence, and knocks out the most amazing pasta.’ The Daily Mail goes on to tell us that Jamie Oliver Spaghetti 500g costs £1.75 from Ocado, more than five times Asda Smart Price Spaghetti 500g or Tesco Everyday Value Spaghetti 500g at 32p.

In Woolworth stores Down Under, where Oliver’s products are beginning to appear, it’s much the same story. So it’s not about the ethics of Woolworths and where they source their produce or how they treat their growers, it’s about selling his overpriced products at juicy margins.

Push me-pull you

Not to be outdone, Coles made a deal with Heston Blumenthal late last year. ‘His hidden orange pudding flew off the shelves at Christmas, and now Heston Blumenthal is back with another range of products set to wow consumers,’ reports news.com.au.

‘Jamie is promising fresh food and healthier choices at Woolworths,’ reports the Herald, ‘while across the road Heston is touting native Australian ingredients at Coles. But will either celebrity chef manage to lure more shoppers through the doors of the major supermarkets and away from the cheap goods on offer at Aldi and Costco?’

So whom will Aldi and Costco contract to spruik for them? Are there any celebs left out there who want to destroy the brands they’ve worked so hard to build for themselves? And if so, why?

‘These chefs aren’t doing it because they love making food,’ Matt Brand of the NSW Farmers Association summed it up for The Herald, ‘they are doing it because it is commercially viable for them to be a face of a supermarket. It’s all about the dollar.’

Choose wisely

Whether you're a celebrity chef or the CEO of an IT or biotech company, your brand will take hard, careful work and a lot of time and money to build - and it's fragile: you can damage it in an instant. Rebuilding a tarnished brand might even be impossible; you may never get the trust back. One thing is certain: it will take a lot more time and money than the first time around - so why risk it?

Be careful with your choices: you can leverage your brand for short term financial gain or for long term customer loyalty, but you can't do both.


Kim Brebach
Content Chief

I've always loved people and words. As long as I can remember, I've been a story-teller and the team here says I'm pretty good at it. That's probably why I head up the Content Team: I create the arc of the story and others add their magic. 

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