It was a shock wave in the world of French cuisine.
Jean Imbert, best known for winning a reality TV show and rubbing shoulders with stars, has replaced the most decorated chef in the world, Alain Ducasse, at one of the most beautiful tables in Paris.
The announcement in June that 40-year-old Imbert would take over the illustrious Plaza Athénée was greeted with much growling and pursing of the lips in the dusty corners of the French culinary world.
“It’s like having a rocker play at the Paris Opera”, confides an “expert in great tables” to the magazine Challenges.
But for many great French chefs, this is hardly a surprise.
“A chef who stays in the kitchen, who is not ‘Instagrammable’, who reaches out to the public, is no longer in the race. Restaurants cannot survive without advertising. We are so much, ”Christian Le Squer, chef at the three Michelin star restaurant Le Cinq at the George V hotel in Paris, told AFP.
Le Squer, 58, learned this lesson from the best: he was tasked with training Imbert during his winning performance in Top Chef, the hugely successful television competition, in 2012.
He gave her tips and Imbert did the same for her by helping Le Squer create her Instagram account.
Ducasse may have had more Michelin stars than anyone in the world, “but he may not have found his audience on Instagram,” Le Squer said.
– ‘Test by TV’ –
Even more than social networks, Top Chef has changed the rules of the game.
First launched in the United States, the show arrived in France in 2010, pitting professional cooks against each other in a knockout competition.
It’s become more than just a fun side dish for chefs – it’s “a trampoline to success,” said Chef Mory Sacko, who attended last year.
He used the ad to help launch his restaurant MoSuke, bringing the flavors of French-speaking Africa to the French capital, and now presents his own TV show.
Le Squer said that before, chefs made a name for themselves in the industry by winning competitions and professional titles, such as “the best craftsman in France”.
“Now it’s the TV trial,” he added.
Hélène Darroze – a chef decorated with five Michelin stars – has also become a household name thanks to her regular appearances in Top Chef.
“The competition is attracting more and more very talented young people,” she told AFP.
“I’m surprised they all have an agent. I’ve never had an agent in my life, ”she added.
But Darroze sees this as a positive thing – to elevate chef work in the public eye.
And the social media presence has proven to be vital for many chefs during the difficult months of the pandemic-induced shutdowns.
– Story –
Imbert is the perfect illustration of the new trend, using his victory in 2012 to launch a restaurant in partnership with Pharrell Williams and garner over 400,000 followers on Instagram.
“Ducasse was a man of big ideas, but he lacked narration,” said Philippe Moreau Chevrolet, director of the MCBG Conseil public relations firm, in a recent editorial.
“Jean Imbert, on the other hand, always tells stories – about his grandmother, the moment he had dinner with Pharrell Williams – with words, pictures, videos, selfies…”
It marks a cultural shift, he added, as the significance of Michelin stars fades compared to the power of a selfie of model Bella Hadid in your restaurant kitchen.
– ‘A dangerous game’ –
When David Gallienne, from Jardin des Plumes in Giverny, won Top Chef in 2020, his Instagram followers jumped from 5,000 to 50,000.
“Social networks are part of how we are known and exist today,” he told AFP.
He held online masterclasses during France’s shutdowns last year, followed by a contest in which participants compared their culinary creations on Instagram – with a free lunch at Restaurant Gallienne for the winner.
It’s all part of the job, although everyone is well aware that a large online presence comes with risks.
“You have to play the game, even though it can be a very dangerous game,” said Gallienne.
“You have to carefully weigh your words. They can hurt you as well as help you. It’s a full-time job in and of itself, and in the future I’ll probably delegate it entirely to someone else. “
© 2021 AFP