The problem with celebrity chefs…

…and indeed, with all things popularised by “real” experts on telly.

Scene: Café de la Concha, 1 Mira Concha, San Sebastián, Spain. It is nighttime, and DAVID CHANG, TONY BOURDAIN, and WYLIE DUFRESNE are gathered around a table. A January storm rages outside and keeps the café nearly empty. The three Americans—in town to speak at a conference—are catching up over hard cider and pintxos, and talking, at CHANG’s behest, about culinary mediocrity back in their homeland.

TONY: So what about all these kids rolling out of culinary school now, with their $80,000 in debt? They’re totally jacked there.

DAVID: We’re all their f–king problem. We’re sort of a catalyst for them.

TONY: We’re inspiring generations of kids to go to culinary school.

DAVID: Could you have achieved your career without having gone to culinary school?

WYLIE: Sure. Of course I could have. I went to college, too.

DAVID: But now, what percentage of kids going to culinary school are actually going to contribute to a real kitchen? Like a two-Michelin-star, one-Michelin-star, whatever, a real f–king kitchen. Zero.

TONY: Man, that’s such a dark worldview. I just spoke to a kid today who came up to me and said, “You came up to the Culinary Institute of America five years ago and gave a commencement address.” I have no recollection of meeting this person. She asked me then, “What should I do after school?” And I said, “Do what I didn’t do. Acknowledge the fact that you’re not going to make any money at all, you’re not going to get paid for two years, and go work for the best. I would suggest Spain, some place like Mugaritz.” She’s at Mugaritz now. Come on, man, that’s a f–king awesome start.

DAVID: And if you didn’t talk to her, she’d probably—

TONY: Oh no, don’t do that. My point is that there are actually people who come rolling out of culinary school—maybe it’s a tiny, tiny number, but probably proportionally more than during my time—who don’t see the Hilton as a fantastic gig, or a cruise ship or a country club, and understand that if they wanna be great, if they want to be really good, then they have to start looking at places like Mugaritz or Arzak.

WYLIE: I disagree with that. I think unfortunately there is more of a mediocritizing of the average culinary-school graduate now than there was way back when. I think to a certain extent schools are selling them a bill of goods. “Come to culinary school, go through our program, and in six to eight months you could be the chef of this or that.” Not “Come to our schools and we’ll give you the absolute basics so you can go out into the world and work for pennies.” But that’s the truth. Today it’s, “You could end up on TV.”

TONY: F–k, you’re right. So we’re part of the problem.

DAVID: We’re part of the problem.

TONY: We suck. We are destroying what we love.

WYLIE: You more than me.

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