The kind of food fight going on in kitchens and restaurants at some of the nation's top hotels doesn't necessarily involve projectile pies or airborne ambrosia.
What's being tossed around instead are big names. Or rather, Big Names - chefs who merit uppercase billing because of their celebrity status. We're living in an age when TV's Food Network has garnered almost as many culinary groupies as The Beatles once had, and chefs like Emeril and Wolfgang don't need surnames to be clearly identified as kitchen superstars.
And it seems guests, whether they are foodies or non-foodies, are eating it all up, voraciously.
In Philadelphia, the appetite for a good chef was filled some years ago by Jim Coleman at the Rittenhouse Hotel. As executive chef, Coleman's five-year tenure was very hands-on, said David G. Benton, vice president and general manager of the hotel.
Coleman's profile rose faster than a souffl?. He was soon hosting, "A Chef's Table," on Philadelphia public radio station WHYY, and became part of the PBS TV series, "The Flavors of America."
Closer to his home kitchen, Coleman kept up the hotel's honored tradition of the Chef's Table and made it even more theatrical, he said, particularly for Sunday brunch, which serves about 150 most of the year and about 300 on holidays.
"Our Sunday brunch is in the kitchen, about half of it anyway. So it is pretty interesting, with half the food in the dining room and half the entrees and a chocolate fountain in the kitchen," Benton said. "It gives guests a chance to interact with the chefs and cooks and see the preparation going on. It is like going backstage at the theater. It is a little big magical."
That sense of theater extended into the dining room "where people would recognize him," Benton said. "He had a very distinctive voice, and was a very gregarious fellow. People got a thrill interactive with him, asking questions and even commenting about some of his shows."
Not only were people thrilled to be interacting with a real celebrity but they got to eat some of the food he cooked. The hotel also got a chance to give copies of Coleman's books to VIP guests.
Coleman has since moved on, and is corporate chef at Normandy Farm Hotel & Conference Center in Pennsylvania.
But having a high profile chef at a hotel isn't a simple matter of having extra flavor and personality in and out of the kitchen. There have been social and economic forces driving the demand, and it's created an important turnaround in numerous hotel kitchens, from the St. Regis brand to the Ritz-Carlton.
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