I am surprised that chefs do not regularly take curtain calls. After a final spoonful of (chocolate bacon) panna cotta that jiggles like Lucia di Lammermoor’s “Il dolce suono,” diners should bravo the chef into postprandial ecstasy; when polishing off a plate of hormone-free lamb-balls, the modern eater must rise and applaud. The charismatic chef deserves, no, demands praise. His food is an extension of his irresistible and indefinable and authentic personality.
Reading Zachary Woolfe’s piece in the Sunday Times, “A Gift From the Musical Gods,” I was impressed by how well his commentary on classical music charisma describes the economy of fine dining. Today, there are two types of successful chefs: the skilled technician, operating behind the scenes, and the celebrity chef mogul industry giant whose magnetism gives electric motion to a personal brand. If there is a Mary Callas of American cooking, it is Thomas Keller, a man whose “Oysters and Pearls” would send a dining room into bivalvular orgy—mouths open to receive Chef Keller’s winsome and terribly genuine “Zen and the Art of Fine Dining” philosophy, anuses expelling a continuous stream of savory tapioca pudding. And if there is a Christian Tetzlaff, Mr. Woolfe’s example of the “technically flawless” but uncharismatic musician, it is Eli Kaimeh, Thomas Keller’s chef de cuisine at Per Se. Continue reading