Arrogant Celebrity Chefs Give Everyone a Bad Name

27 Mar

Nathan Myhrvold is a genius— not many people would dispute that. Among his many achievements in life include:

He worked at Microsoft for 13 years, eventually serving as Chief Technology Officer and creating Microsoft Research. He has applied for more than 500 patents. In his spare time, he is a prize-winning nature photographer, enjoys paleontology, finished first and second at the World Barbecue Championship, studied classic French cooking in France and moonlighted at a Seattle restaurant during his time at Microsoft. Education-wise he had his PhD by age 23 and participated in a graduate program under the guidance of Stephen Harding.

Yeah, so he’s also ridiculously rich. For the last couple 0f years, he’s taken out space in a quiet Seattle suburb and run experiments on a number of different things (for one, he thinks he can stop hurricanes through a new device). Mainly, though he’s been focused on food. That’s led up to the publication of this 6 volume, 40 pound monster of a book called Modernist Cuisine. This picture doesn’t even do it justice:

Modernist CuisineDid I mention the price yet? $625 for the whole set, though likely on sale for less at Amazon. So here’s where my problems start with this book. Myhrvold fully admits that even a well-equipped casual chef could only replicate about 80 percent of his recipes. Who knows what well-equipped actually means (if it means sous vide machines and centrifuges, I’m not).  That’s all fine. People release a whole bunch of stuff that most people cannot afford to do.

However, Myhrvold has been making the rounds on talk shows promoting the book, as if we can afford to buy it. Even after buying the book, in order to prepare the recipes, one would not to invest hundreds (if not thousands of additional dollars into a kitchen). Now, it may be revolutionary, but there is no NEED for these techniques. With so many people in the world going hungry, Myhrvold could not and has not answered why the world needs his technology. His response actually seems to be, “Because I’m a rich guy who can afford to play with big fancy gadgets.” I expect roughly .00001 percent of the world will ever have access to the technology to make these recipes.

Again, that last fact is not the problem. My anger arises from the fact he took to the Today Show and The Colbert Report (click here to see the clip) to sell the book. Very few people in those audiences will be able to afford or want to buy the book. So the point of doing those shows is to flaunt his work and wow people. What an egoist. Look at the clips below.

Hand it to Matt Lauer, he’s not buying any of it. He points out the practicality arguments against the book and seems unimpressed by the taste of the food. Colbert is a bit more enthusiastic about the whole thing, but still takes a few digs at Myhrvold.

Though his book may be every bit as revolutionary as everyone claims, Myhrvold has not convinced anyone in the general population that they should buy it. I actually think these televised appearances hurt his ability to sell it. He comes across as a rich, mad scientist.

Another chef seems to have forgotten the economics of restaurants. Ferran Adria is the head chef at El Bulli, voted the World’s Best Restaurant five times. It will close for good this July, not because it couldn’t afford to stay open, but because it will become a culinary institute in 2014. In an interview with Bloomberg he described his plans for that foundation:

“Who will come? It doesn’t matter. Everybody will want to come and every year we will have different guests. If we need feedback, we will get it. If we don’t, we don’t have to have it. Our priority is creativity. That is our challenge.”

Adria goes on to tell people his life has become wearisome because he constantly has to ask people to come to his restaurant. Oh woe is you. Most chefs would kill to be in your position and comments like the one above shows a complete disregard for the customers who actually pay (LOTS) of money to eat at your restaurant. This is a growing sentiment I’ve heard several times from master chefs. They forget that the customer is the one who ensures they can pursue that creativity by paying a premium to come to the restaurant. It may be “wearisome” but I’ve you didn’t care about customers, you picked the wrong industry to enter.


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