Shane Commentary

      

Why do Chefs Exert Inordinate Influence on the Food Industry?

Jan 13, 2017

    

Over the past 20 years, celebrity chefs through their cookbooks, appearances on television and contributions to the social media appear to have exerted an inordinate influence on culinary trends and the food industry.  It must be remembered that many of the prominent members of the American Culinary Federation are self-taught or espouse a specific ethnic food.  A review of the course offerings for-profit culinary institute which claims status as a ‘university’ shows deficiencies in food science and public health which would be expected of their graduates.

  

The National Restaurant Association recently published a survey comprising 1,300 professional chefs affiliated to the American Culinary Federation.  The objective was to compile the “what’s hot” list to identify themes (fads?) which will find their way onto menus in 2017. The survey identified twenty food trends, many of which were duplications or were closely connected.

  • It would appear that “house-made” is a common theme involving six of the twenty trends.  These include house-made condiments, sausages, ice cream and cheeses.  Surely “house-made” which is not subject to the rigorous microbiological evaluation and HACCP systems in commercial food manufacturing or in commissaries is what created problems at Chipotle Mexican Grill during 2015.
  • Ethnic-inspired flavors and menu items represented four of the twenty trends for 2017.  Ethnic cuisines tends to be popular until the next iteration emerges. This is denoted by the failure of many restaurants within a year of establishment especially in our costal metropolitan areas.
  • The list of trends was rounded out by projections for “healthful” foods emphasizing vegetable-protein for both adults and children.

A recent example of an unfortunate combination of a lack of knowledge or concern for food-borne disease can be found in the financial performance of Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Company was established by an entrepreneur trained as a chef.  Conceptual and practical defects in the supply chain and in both the training and management of store-personnel directly contributed to outbreaks of at least four different food-borne infections in 2015. This resulted in consumer disaffection and the evaporation of billions from the market capitalization of the company

In many respects celebrity chefs are practitioners of their art. It probably does not matter if a sculptor is unaware of the crystalline structure of marble which is formed into a statue or if an artist is unaware of the organic chemistry of pigments used.  It is however important for an executive chef organizing a kitchen or an enterprise to be constantly aware of how food-borne pathogens are introduced into establishments and how disease can be prevented by appropriate handling and cooking.