You've watched their cooking shows and tried their recipes. Now, the new generation of celebrity chefs hopes you'll also keep their cookware in your pantry.
The past decade has seen the rise of the superstar chef, accompanied by the type of fanfare once devoted to top athletes or supermodels. While gaining a following, the food experts have emerged from their kitchens, extending their reach to cooking shows, publishing deals and household products.
That means, these days, a browse through a housewares store or catalog seems more like a celebrity event than a glance at a kitchenware business as famous faces promote a slew of new products.
Name a media-savvy chef, and they probably have some merchandise. Emeril LaGasse's All-clad Emerilware line includes a "men only" cooking set, while Wolfgang Puck's Bistro Line is promoted with his cooking tips on HSN.com.
New York-based chef Rocco DiSpirito used his Rocco Cookware on recent episodes of The Restaurant, while Nigella Lawson's Living Kitchen products give her fans a chance to emulate her style. Her pale-colored measuring cups and bowls look as if they came straight out of her British garden home. Also in the game: "The Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver, who has his own cookware line with T-fal.
"It is clear that celebrity chefs have had an impact both on the visibility and the style on a wide variety of products," notes Perry Reynolds of the International Home & Housewares Show, an annual industry event attended by 18,500 buyers. "[That] includes cutlery, tabletop products, kitchen tools, bakeware — virtually any kind of food preparation product for the home."
For consumers, the items carry an inherent appeal. "I'm sure they're thinking it's going to make them be a better cook," said Food & Wine magazine senior editor Kate Krader. "All of a sudden you have this professional helping you."
DiSpirito called chef-branded merchandise a natural progression of each food expert's unique "voice." He adds: "My goal is to empower the home cook."
Hot Pots, or Cool Reception?
Reynolds said there has been a "dramatic" increase in the number of stars attending his trade show in the past five years, but not all in the industry are ready to line their store shelves with the products.
"I think there's been a lot of hype with it," said Reneé Behnke, president of specialty food store chain Sur La Table. "I don't know that my piece of fish will work better in the fish poacher with so-and-so's name on it"
Behnke said while the chefs are bringing renewed energy to the market, which is "great for the business overall," the chef-branded items have not had an impact on her revenue.
Added Behnke: "We have not been particularly successful with our customer base with the celebrity-driven products … I think that on a cooking show that people are interested to learn the techniques and I think they're interested in learning different ideas of different recipes, but I don't think it's as much that they care about the pan that they cook it in."
And she's not convinced these products will have lasting appeal. "You see brides; they normally will not register for something that is a chef-driven piece of cookware. Seems they would buy a name brand before they would buy an 'Emeril.'"
"It's absolutely not a necessity," agrees Ken O'Brien, director of merchandising for housewares at QVC, which carries Rocco Cookware. "But obviously … we thought that in order to add new customers and attract customers … it was a good idea."
From the Kitchen to the Design Room
While some cookware industry experts are skeptical of celebrity-branded products, they acknowledge some of the chefs are quite involved in the design process, bringing hours of experience in the kitchen to the process and adding their sense of style.
New York-based chef DiSpirito was involved in all aspects of design for his cookware line, planned two years ago, long before his Restaurant antics were spotlighted on national TV.
He added collander lids to his pots, for instance, and finished them off in vibrant red. "Color is also important to me," said DiSpirito. "I wanted bright, fun cookware."
Krader acknowledged she's been surprised by the quality of some of the cookware. She points to British luminary Oliver, who demonstrated his new pans at her magazine's headquarters.
"[He] was really into his pan … He was passionate about it and it was a great sauté pan," said Krader, who added it had a unique feature, a spot in the middle of the saucepan which lights up when the preheating is complete.
Behnke offered similar praises for Daniel Bouloud, whose items, which include a cutlery line, seem to be driven more by quality than by the "Bouloud" name. She adds: "He does have some very high-end, beautiful cookware."
And if there's any doubt a high-profile name can boost a cookware line, just look to one of the biggest successes: the George Foreman grill. While Foreman is hardly a chef, Reynolds said the electric grill is a "stellar" example of a successful celebrity product, demonstrating "significant benefits to a supplier of obtaining that kind of endorsement."
Krader does expect an increase in chef-branded deals, but adds that when you're cooking, it's the quality of the cookware product, not the label, that ultimately matters.