Just gave a class to this group of aspiring cooks yesterday. They are coming in and getting free lessons from chefs in #nyc if anyone is looking for a group of #dedicated cooks that’s willing to do anything to get in the industry, please contact @chefsconnection #battman #giveback #inspire #volunteer #hungrycooks #food #PRSRV
Perceptions – like anything in life – are affected by a first impression, which matters even in a restaurant with your employees and yourself. For example, after the third episode of Top Chef Season 12, we’re already getting to know the cheftestants, from how they cook to how they act, shaping our opinions of the competitors and the competition. From the moment he overtly criticized a competitor for choosing to serve a salad in the first episode, Chef Aaron Grissom of Bow & Truss in Tacoma, WA, emerged as this season’s “bully”. After his “Shove your mouth with bread pudding” argument with Chef Katsuji Tanabe in last night’s episode, it appears Chef Grissom’s not backing down from that persona. Being the Top Chef baddie isn’t necessarily bad, though. What matters is how a cheftestant handles that perception after the show ends.
Notorious Top Chef season five “cheftestant” Stefan Richter’s ego seemingly had no limit, as he cut down his competitors with sharp remarks while taking the win in several challenges before ultimately losing to Hosea Rosenberg in the finale of the popular Bravo show. After Top Chef he seemed to embrace the “villain” archetype with his later appearances on Top Chef Season 10 and Top Chef Duels, though he has since retired from the restaurant industry – at least for now.
In contrast, Top Chef season three winner Hung Huynh appeared to have sought out the villain role on Top Chef – or at least was edited to appear that way. He burst onto our TV screens with quotable remarks like “I’ve been labeled a CPA for about a year now: Certified Professional A**hole!” In my opinion, his show-worthy comments were more entertaining than off-putting, and he has arguably become the most successful cheftestant from that season with his restaurants Catch and The General. His success by far outweighs his perceived Top Chef personality at this point in his career.
So what draws the line between arrogance and being a beloved baddie when it comes to how a chef is perceived, whether it’s on TV or in a restaurant? One of the biggest differences is how that perception is carried beyond the negative first impression.
Outside of Top Chef, Stefan Richter capitalized on his reality TV momentum with an infamous appearance on The Millionaire Matchmaker. By airing his personal life’s dirty laundry he essentially led viewers to believe that he was accurately portrayed on the show – both in and out of the kitchen.
Hung Huynh, on the other hand, has since done the opposite and has demonstrated that first impressions are not always right. He’s proven himself as a fun food expert with his cooking demos on national TV programs like the Today Show and his engaging social media presence sharing his foodie travels, which shows viewers he knows his game face should be reserved only for competitions.
Whether it’s a negative review gone viral or a warped perception from a TV appearance, chefs must find a balance between being notorious and noteworthy. Although he was sadly eliminated in last night’s episode, Ron Eyester, of restaurants Rosebud, Timone’s, and The Family Dog, appeared have found that balance in his reality TV persona. He’s known as “The Angry Chef” on Twitter, but not because he loses his temper. During stressful challenges on the show, he offered his opinions without being overtly confrontational and wasn’t afraid to call out behavior he observed as “unprofessional”.
The need to manage the public’s perception of a chef’s persona isn’t limited to those who appear on TV, though. All restaurant owners and chefs need to be aware of how their interactions with their restaurant employees and any media can impact a diners’ experience and their opinions of the restaurant. This is why it’s critical to always have direct access to customer sentiments through surveys, ratings, and reviews, and to have a comment management system in place that not only allows you to analyze the feedback, but to respond directly to customers as well.
The bottom line is that customers pay attention to personalities, even if it’s not aired on national television. Therefore, restaurateurs need to pay attention to what those customers think of them. Balance a strong personality with strong people skills, and make sure you know how well your customers think it’s working.