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A recipe to make a high net worth celebrity chef

For kicking off fame for chefs, Masterchef has a winning formulae. For building revenues, the traditional path is mapped in this article, first published in October 2006. Masterchef graduates confirm the path with their cookbooks, advertising appearances, and TV series.

Pepper and other spices were highly valued in pre-modern times. Fortunes were made by traders who transported them from distant lands to the privileged in Europe. Today spices are a commodity, they are readily available for a few dollars at the supermarket. What we highly value today are the traders of information, entertainment and fashion ideas about cooking. Prominent among these traders are celebrity chefs. What they can earn is astonishing.

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Celebrity chefs provide perspectives on food. Their popularity has come with increasing economic prosperity in developed nations resulting is more disposable income. Food has become a "lifestyle statement".

Supported by collaborators the celebrity chefs build their net worth by using the same business models and legal tools as apply for musicians, actors, and radio or television personalities.

Like these other celebrities they have business affairs managers, agents, publicity consultants, and legal advisers. All are in some degree in the same game - leisure, entertainment and fashion.

Celebrities help consumers make easier buying decisions. The celebrity builds recognition or trust, just as the face of Paul Newman does on salad dressing and pasta sauce and The Wiggles do on yogurt in Australia and the US. There's a bonus if the celebrity is perceived to also add health, excitement, fashion, kudos or sophistication. These produce tradable brand equity.

And so it is that food law is copying ideas from areas of entertainment law. Food law is normally about food standards, food advertising and labelling, and compliance with food testing, food quality and food safety regulations. I have dealt with these topics in advice for clients over many years.chef_hiroyuki_sakai.jpg

But an increasing number of food law projects, like entertainment law, encompass working with concepts, talent and promotional opportunities. Here my variety of legal work includes:

  • advising chef authors on book publishing contracts,
  • advising winery CEOs and marketing managers on "legal design" considerations for new wine labels,
  • developing the names, concepts, and formats of TV cooking programs to protect them,
  • improving finance and IP licensing deal points for food program proposals prepared by TV producers,
  • advising chefs licensing their names to appear on jars of spiced sauces sold by national manufacturers,
  • preparing contracts for food manufacturers to secure celebrity endorsements for better margins or sales, and
  • providing branding legal advice to seafood marketers who have added their registered trade marks above generic product descriptions like "prawns".

Reflecting on this food law experience I stumbled in recent days on the astonishing high net worth of today's celebrity chefs. The first sign was 'Food with personality', an article in the 6 October 2006 issue of AdNews. Then 'Britain's Richest Chefs', published on 16 August 2006 in The Independent Online.

As an intellectual property lawyer who has worked with food clients for years it was easy to understand the business models that produced the celebrity chefs. I thought it best to capture that experience in a quick recipe on how to make a high net worth celebrity chef. Here it is.

1. Select the cookware and tools

a. Register a domain name for the celebrity chef

b. Register trade marks for the celebrity chef - as Paul McCartney's company (MPL Communications Ltd) did this year for "McCARTNEY" trade mark applications in the UK and the EU. They are in numerous classes of the registers, including class 29chef_neil_perry_fresh.jpg for "vegetarian foods" among other things.

c. Build the celebrity chef website - do a blog, or a website. Here's a shortlist for inspiration:

  • Stephanie Alexander
  • Paul Bocuse
  • Hiroyuki Sakai
  • Neil Perry
  • Gary Thodes
  • Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
  • Keith Floyd
  • Lloyd Grossman
  • Nigella Lawson

d. Build credibility - start a restaurant or extend into food after establishing celebritity status in other areas (eg sport or film). The big break may come on My Restaurant Rules
(an Australian TV program which may run to a third series), but to be a celebrity chef you don't have to have a restaurant. Donna Hay does not have one, nor does Curtis Stone.

e. Negotiate licensing arrangements - write a book or get someone to ghost write it for you, find a television producer and brainstorm ideas, distribute DVDs of the TV program

f. Grow publicity - participate in food festivals, private parties, trade shows, radio interviews, book signing events, product endorsements, television appearances, and corporate events.

g. Clean up - merchandise like a rock star, cookware is obvious but there are few limits.

2. Work with the key ingredient - the personality

Donna Hay stands for simplicity, she is the honest local; Kylie Kwong is the fifth generation Australian with a Chinese soul; Gordon Ramsay is culinary perfection with a foul mouth and he plays this up all the way to the bank; Jamie Oliver is the energetic and keep-it-simple 'Naked Chef' and the no pretension 'Pukka Tukka' guy; and Nigella Lawson is intimate but homely.

3. Pour in the oil - sizzle the personality

Put up your hand if you have a Donna Hay book, have read about Neil Perry's association with the business class and first class menus for Qantas, have watched Jamie Oliver on TV in Jamie's Kitchen, or coveted Nigella Lawson's curvaceous cookware. Keep your hand up if you believe there is a strong connection between the names and identify of celebrity chefs and their food. Yes, food is a very personal product. In food franchising surnames or a personality are common in the identity of the brand, eg McDonald's and Colonel Sanders for KFC. The same pattern of name or identity association appears in the names of the books, television shows and restaurants of the famous chefs. Here's a short list:chef_kylie_kwong.jpg

  • Books: bills Sydney Food (Author: Bill Granger), Donna Hay Christmas, Kylie Kwong Heart and Soul (pictured right is Kylie at a book signing event), Nigella Bites (by 2002 Nigella Lawson had sold 1.5 million books), Jamie's Dinners (Author: Jamie Oliver), and Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Heaven.
  • Television: bills food (Bill Granger, The Lifestyle Channel), Kylie Kwong Simply Magic (The Lifestyle Channel), Gordon Ramsay's Sunday Lunch, Jamie's Kitchen Australia, Nigella Bites Christmas. Jamie's Kitchen Australia, showing on Network Ten is enjoying success: 1.34 million people tuned into the premiere, with repeat ratings over the one million mark.
  • Restaurants: bills, bills 2, Billy Kwong (all associated with Bill Granger); and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

4. Add and stir - merchandise and more promotions

Bill Granger (proprietor of bills) has commercial interests in Poliform Kitchens. Jamie Oliver's commercial interests include Tefal Cookware, Gadget Candy and Jamie Oliver Cookware. 'Gordon Ramsay by Royal Doulton' brings you a tableware and cookware collection. Neil Perry brings you a collection of sauces as pictured above.

Jamie Oliver is a household name in the US, something assisted by regular appearances on Oprah. He is prominent in celebrity endorsements, eg in Australia for Yalumba wines. In the UK his endorsements are in favour of Sainsbury's (an endorsement estimated to be worth £1m) and an Italian food range of artichokes, anchovies, capers, pesto, pasta sauces and infused olive oils.

Magazine writing is a very common commercial interest of celebrity chefs, eg Nigella Lawson and Bill Granger both write for the ABC's Delicious magazine.

5. Clean up

The final step of the recipe for making a high net worth celebrity chef is to clean up. Here are profiles of three UK chefs that have cleaned up.

  • Jamie Oliver, 31, is estimated by The Independent to be worth £58m in August 2006. He has been involved in more than seven series of TV programs and eight books. Oliver invented and sells the Flavour Shaker, a modern version of the pestle and mortar, which crushes herbs and spices.
  • Gordon Ramsey, 39, is estimated by The Independent to be worth £67m. It notes: 'He now has nine restaurants in London, with four chef patrons (Angela Hartnett, Marcus Wareing, Bjorn van der Horst and Mark Sergeant) and two abroad, in Japan and Dubai - though they are operated by franchisees. A major expansion is planned in the US, with openings in New York and Florida in October.' In the UK Ramsey has had five TV programs and has published 13 books. The Independent also reports that: 'The last available accounts [of Gordon Ramsey Holdings] for the year to August 2004 show turnover of £30m - steeply up from £21m the previous year. Profit after tax was £2.7m, against a £1m loss last time. Directors' fees were £512,000.
  • Rick Stein, 58, is estimated by The Independent to be worth £36m. Stein has built a seafood empire in the Cornish port of Padstow. It incorporates the £115-a-head Seafood Restaurant, a 33-bed hotel, cookery school, St Petroc's Bistro, Rick Stein's Café, Stein's Fish and Chips shop and a patisserie - all in Padstow. Stein is credited with 11 books and 12 TV series. He has interests in Australia, where his company The Seafood Restaurant (Padstow) has a 1 per cent holding in Tower Lodge winery and resort and a cake company, Palm Beach Cupcakes, run by his partner, the publicist Sarah Burns, in New South Wales. The Independent reports that 'Money from the Padstow empire and media work is funnelled through The Seafood Restaurant (Padstow), which, according to the latest accounts, employs 293 people. ... In the year to April 2005, gross profit rose by 10 per cent, from £2.5m to £2.8m. Dividends and directors' fees totalling £1.5m were paid to the Steins.'

Alaric I, the Gothic king and conqueror, appeared with his hordes before the walls of Rome in September 408. His deal to avoid sacking Rome including 30,000 pounds of silver and 3,000 pounds of pepper. Pepper was worth its weight in silver. If today Alaric I returned to do business with Rome, I doubt he would get excited about pepper or include it in his dispute resolution points for settlement. Recognising that pepper today is a commodity and the spoils have gone to purveyors of food leisure, entertainment and fashion, Alaric I may well make the celebrity chefs of Rome an offer they won't be able to refuse for a cut of their trade network.


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