Celebrity chefs transform our most basic need–the desire to eat–into art. In the last decade, cooking has taken a more prominent place in American culture thanks to televised cooking competitions. African American chefs made up 2% of executive chefs and 5% of restaurant owners in 2009, according to StarChefs.com, but they seem to show up far more often on television than they do in real life. In fact, of the 17 contestants on the current season of Top Chef D.C, four, or almost 24%, are black.
Meet five chef-preneurs who have appeared on television but who try to keep the dough rolling in while managing their own restaurants and catering companies.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson, owner and executive chef ofC-Housein Chicago, has apprenticed in Switzerland, Austria, and France, but is internationally acclaimed because his culinary prowess has been heralded by some of the top tasters in the world. Not to mention the fact that he beat 21 fellow chefs and won first place on the second season of the television competition Top Chef Masters.
Samuelson, who received the James Beard Foundation Awardfor New York City’s Best Chef in 2003 and was hailed one of the Great Chefs of America by the Culinary Institute of America, is planning to open his newest restaurant, The Red Rooster in Harlem this year. Like his book New American Table, which was released in October 2009, the new restaurant is slated to feature American cuisine with recipes that cross the spectrum from breakfast to dinner and from high-end to street food.
Chef Kenny Gilbert, aTop Chef contestant this summer, is fluent in American Regional, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Native American, Moroccan, and African cuisines. Before moving to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where he is now the executive chef of PGA Resort and Hotel, Gilbert worked as a Chef de Cuisine at age 23 at The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida, a AAA Five Diamond restaurant. He went on to become the youngest African American chef ever to run a Ritz-Carlton Hotel restaurant.
Carla Hall, chef and owner of Alchemy Caterersin Silver Spring, Maryland, realized she was a better cook than accountant or model, both vocations she tried in the past. After working for two years at Price Waterhouse and earning a CPA certificate, the Howard University Business School graduate fell in love with the art of food after visiting Paris, Milan, and London as a model.
Hall was the runner-up onTop Chef Season 5in 2009, but before that she graduated from the Gaithersburg, Maryland-basedL’Academie de Cuisine and served as an executive chef at several posh hotels. She started Alchemy Caterersin 2003, outfitting weddings, and corporate and private parties with food from the farms in Chesapeake Bay, and offering cooking classes that can run about $1,500 for eight guests.
As a contestant this season on Bravo’s Top Chef Competition,Timothy Dean, chef and owner of Baltimore-based, Prime Steakhouse, has an opportunity to flaunt his classical French training and cook up the sweet smell of victory. Dean skipped out on culinary school for an opportunity to work for 12 years under Jean-Louis Palladin, a two-star Michelin chef, before opening Timothy Dean Restaurant & Bar in 2000.
Unlike other contestants, Dean, a widower who recently filed for bankruptcy, might have a lot more riding on the contest than his fellow competitors. After TDR&B closed in 2002, he launched Timothy Dean Bistro/TD Lounge, which also closed after multiple suppliers sued him for nonpayment. Prime Steakhouse, which opened its doors in February, will feature an American- and French-inspired menu at affordable prices. (Source: Joe Madison Power Breakfast)
Shaw, who was one of 11 finalists on The Food Network’s“Next Food Network Star” in 2007, wants to help reduce childhood obesity by finding fun ways to talk to children about making healthy food choices. Many of her recipes are kid-friendly since she believes kids are more likely to eat healthy foods that they helped create. In addition, she works with theAmerican Diabetes Associationperforming cooking demonstrations to help prevent and control diabetes. (Source: Los Angeles Lakers)