Culinary prowess: celebrity chefs

Celebrity chefs cook up a storm at Dubai’s Food Festival whilst the Emirates Festival of Literature reveals another secret to their foodie success: personal branding campaigns anchored by lavishly illustrated recipe books

Delicate fish slowly melted in fragrant salt; generous bunches of coriander and a delicate coating of yoghurt-tahini sauce. Something’s cooking in the kitchen of an Australian television show and it isn’t just salmon tarator. This food genre is ‘Modern Middle Eastern’ and it is part of the brand identity of Australian-born Lebanese chef Greg Malouf.

As countries around the world continue to work up an appetite for interesting, inspired cooking, the inaugural Dubai Food Festival enters its final week. An author as well as a chef, Malouf is holding a series of workshops for an eager audience of foodies. The man, who made his name at Mo Mo in Melbourne, has written six award-winning books on Middle Eastern food imaginatively interpreting the flavours of Persia, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. At his new restaurant in the financial district in Dubai, he will serve his signature brand of Middle Eastern fusion food, a passion shared in the book ‘New Middle Eastern Food’, co-authored with Lucy Malouf.

The enormous enthusiasm for food in Dubai, one of the world’s gastronomic capitals, has give rise to the cookery strand at the Emirates Festival of Literature. In association with Dubai Food Festival, the public are given the opportunity to interact with international chefs including Camilla Panjabi, author of the seminal 50 Great Curries of India and Michelin-starred Prue Leith, author of Leith’s Cookery Bible. Also, William Sitwell, who wrote History of Food in 100 Recipes, celebrating the greatest dishes and techniques of international cuisine as much as the 21st-century phenomenon of the celebrity chef.

The lavishly illustrated books that today’s great cooks write not only speak volumes about the elevated place of food in modern lifestyles but how important this type of branding is for the modern chef. Other techniques include television programmes and food ranges.
Jamie Oliver, the self-styled Naked Chef, is the culinary force behind restaurants Fifteen, Jamie Oliver’s Diner and Barbecoa and Jamie’s Italian. With a reputed personal fortune of £150 million, the British chef also has a number of internationally aired TV series under his belt, his own kitchenware range and has published 15 cookbooks, many of which are international best sellers. The success of his restaurants both at home and abroad is directly linked to this brand building strategy.

French culinary legend Pierre Gagnaire, the purveyor of high-concept cuisine, has been in the restaurant business for over 40 years. He runs eleven restaurants in cities including London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Dubai, and Las Vegas, and holds multiple Michelin stars. His position at the top is bolstered by a slew of savvy brand building exercises and these include recipe books he has written in collaboration with French chemist and professor Hervé ‘La Cuisine c'est de l'Amour’ and the recently published Reinventing French Cuisine.

While the chef’s gourmet reputation are the major selling point, arresting imagery is crucial to the success of Gagnaire’s books. Good food photography needs to create a call to action with the viewer. “Does it inspire one to make the recipe from the cookbook?” asks blogger and professional food photographer Matt Armendariz, who joins Dubai Food Festival’s line-up with a  ‘Great Writing and Food Photography For Bloggers’ workshop. “Does it pique someone's interest in a new type of cuisine? And, Is it successfully showing a chef and his vision?”

Constructing these outcomes while telling a story is the key. “We're a visual global culture: we like seeing food,” notes Armendariz. “Food photography in cookbooks, especially from celebrity chefs, is an essential tool to selling that dream, that brand, that recipe.”