Cheesemongers: The Food World’s Newest Celebrities

In the beginning, chefs were chefs–hot, sweaty, loud, generally French (though occasionally German or Swiss–the product of emigration, international hotel schools and a kind of laissez-faire, Foreign Legion-style disregard within the industry for anything a man did before pulling on the whites), usually florid, hitty, fond of the bottle, and always motherfuckers of the highest stripe. These were men (always men) who thought nothing of slapping around their staff, shrieking obscenities in as many languages as they possessed, throwing things. They believed in discipline like a prison warden, in repetition as a form of worship, that women were fit only for starching the linens and that the greatest, most noble thing that one could do to a bunting was to blind it with a hot hatpin, force-feed it figs and millet until it swelled like a balloon, then drown it in a bucket of Armagnac, roast it and eat it whole–bones and guts and all.

These were not men who were ready for prime time. And while yes, there were some chefs who became celebrities (Careme, Escoffier) by cooking for bankers and kings, they were once-in-a-generation rare. For the most part, a chefs job was to create, to cook, and to make more little chefs in his pot-bellied, stoop-shouldered, gin-blossomed image.

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