Inside the celebrity chef craze sweeping NYC
Walk into Dale Talde’s Park Slope restaurant Talde on almost any night, and it’ll be jumping. Drinks flow, the chef’s interesting Asian-American dishes make their way to the 65 tables, and an energetic buzz engulfs the foodie hot spot, which opened last year.
Talde’s restaurant cred stems back to his days in hot spot Buddakan’s kitchen, but his fame came from being a contestant on season four of Bravo’s hit show “Top Chef,” leading him to open Talde in January 2012, and another Park Slope fast fave, appropriately called Pork Slope, less than eight months later.
With the influx of cooking competition shows in recent years, the TV-chef-turned-restaurateur craze has been gaining steam in New York City and around the country, with chefs such as Talde making major waves and the idea of the “celebrity” chef helping a restaurant gain initial buzz.
The celebrity factor “helps get people through the door — but not necessarily get them back,” said Alan Sytsma, senior editor of New York magazine’s Grubstreet blog.
On one end of the TV chef spectrum are the very established names — such as Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio, Geoffrey Zakarian and Alex Guarnaschelli — who all became successful before they landed TV gigs, but whose TV fame helped further their businesses.
“Any time you have national exposure, it has a positive effect on our type of business,” Zakarian said.
And then there are those chefs like Talde, virtual unknowns who used their newfound fame as a launchpad. But not everyone is as successful as Talde.
In the last few years, several TV chefs’ restaurants have shut down in the Big Apple — a notoriously tough market. Dave Martin’s Meatball Factory and Angelo Sosa’s Social Eatz are just two examples. Both Martin and Sosa are “Top Chef” alums.
“Becoming a somewhat notable personality won’t guarantee a successful restaurant or business,” said chef Marc Murphy (Landmarc), a New York staple who has appeared on the Food Network’s “Chopped.”
“At the end of the day, you have to be a good chef and a good businessperson because being on a TV show is totally different than running a business and you have to be able to decipher that.”
Sytsma said many people who’ve landed a spot on a competition show “think that they have a little bit more credibility or talent because they’ve been on TV” — even if they “wouldn’t necessarily be a major chef in the city.”
That’s especially true in a city that’s so competitive and has such savvy diners.
“You get one shot in New York,” Sytsma said. “New Yorkers will be harsh.”
In addition to the celebrity chef craze, more traditional stars own some great — and some of the city’s most forgotten — restaurants. On the successful side, there’s Robert De Niro’s Nobu, Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club and Justin Timberlake’s Southern Hospitality.
Meanwhile, quickly shuttered spots include Britney Spears’ NYLA, closed after only seven months about a decade ago, and Scott Disick’s Ryu, which shut after only six months last year.
Curt Gathje, lead editor at Zagat, said the most successful celebrity-owned restaurants often are those that “extend their brand” or have stars who find great partners, as De Niro did with Nobu.
Gathje cited Jay-Z’s Flatiron District 40/40 Club, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, as a huge success story, partly because the upscale sports bar fits in with the hip-hop mogul’s image. The 40/40 Club recently opened an outpost in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
“Sex and the City” star Chris Noth reopened his music venue/restaurant, the Cutting Room, on East 32nd Street last year after the original 24th Street location shuttered in 2009.
Noth said he isn’t in the business “to make money” but reopened the Cutting Room because of his love of music — and local New York establishments.
“My motivation was to bring music back to Manhattan because so many venues are disappearing,” he said.