Culinary Vanguard: The Emergence of Critically Acclaimed Chefs in Asia

Culinary Vanguard: The Emergence of Critically Acclaimed Chefs in Asia

Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, and Nigella Lawson are widely recognised as iconic celebrity chefs on television. However, the idea of chef stardom extends beyond television screens, owing much to word-of-mouth recommendations, critical acclaim, and the emergence of social media, which has revolutionised the chef-diner relationship, allowing chefs to connect with their audience in unprecedented ways.

When it comes down to it, the primary focus should always be on the dining experience, characterised by exceptional food and service that lives up to its reputation. In Asia, there has been a surge of emerging local chefs who have garnered cult followings, alongside internationally renowned chefs venturing into the region to showcase their culinary expertise. This influx has not only attracted a new fanbase, but has also led to the opening of exciting new restaurants.

We explore how chefs in Asia continue to grow massive fanbases in their respective regions.

The Rise of Food Television Shows and Celebrity Chefs
While food television has been around since the 1950s, its popularity has surged over the past decade. Renowned chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Matt Moran, and Tom Colicchio have become household names, bringing cooking techniques, such as sous vide, into everyday kitchens. This trend has been further propelled by hit shows like Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef, Final Table, and Iron Chef, to name a few.

These shows not only showcase culinary skills, but also offer entertainment value, drawing in audiences from around the globe. Through their televised competitions, cooking demonstrations, and culinary adventures, celebrity chefs have captivated viewers and inspired home cooks to explore new flavours and techniques in their own kitchens. As food television continues to evolve, it serves as a platform for chefs to showcase their talents and expand their influence beyond the confines of traditional restaurant kitchens.

Influence of Celebrity Chefs on Home-cooking
From teaching home-cooks the secrets of the kitchen to introducing innovative cooking methods and inspiring creative recipes, celebrity chefs have had a profound impact on home cooking. Through their television shows, cookbooks, and online platforms, these culinary icons have demystified cooking techniques, encouraged experimentation, and instilled a passion for food among audiences worldwide.

Celebrity chefs not only provide step-by-step guidance but also serve as role models, showcasing the joy and creativity that can be found in the kitchen. Their ability to make cooking accessible and enjoyable has empowered countless individuals to explore new ingredients, flavours, and cuisines – transforming ordinary home kitchens into vibrant culinary laboratories.

Furthermore, the influence of celebrity chefs extend beyond mere recipes, shaping broader food trends, and dining habits. Their emphasis on fresh, locally sourced ingredients, sustainable cooking practices, and global flavours has prompted a shift towards healthier, more diverse meals at home.

In essence, celebrity chefs have revolutionised the way people approach cooking, turning it from a mundane chore into a source of pleasure, creativity, and community. As they continue to share their passion for food and cooking with audiences worldwide, their influence on home cooking is likely to endure and evolve in the years to come.

Notable Celebrity Chefs with Big Influence in Asia
In Asia, celebrity chefs are rapidly expanding their fanbases through television appearances. One notable example is Thailand’s Chef Ian Kittichai (Pongtawat Chalermkittichai), who aims to promote the appreciation of Thai cuisine and culture on a global scale through his work. “Through my restaurants and media work outside of Thailand, I have tried to push people’s preconceptions of Thai food as only things like green curry and pad thai,” he said.

Ian Kittichai

After being appointed as the executive chef of the former Four Seasons Hotel (previously The Regent), Ian Kittichai made history as the first Thai national to hold this prestigious position at the young age of 30. It was during this time that he ventured into television, starring in the early 2000s show, Chef Sue Thong (The Golden Hand Chef) produced by a Thai production company.

“It became so popular that people would start recognising me on the street, which was not a bad feeling, but a bit strange. Usually as chefs, we are away from the public in the kitchen. It was a new and exciting experience,” he shared.

He has since appeared in shows all over the world, starring in Iron Chef America and Somebody Feed Phil, and serves as a host or guest judge on multiple Thai language shows such as Masterchef, Hell’s Kitchen, Bid Coin Chef, and Iron Chef Thailand. He is one of the few Iron Chefs who had the opportunity to compete internationally across the Iron Chef franchise, appearing also on Iron Chef America and Iron Chef Japan.

“As a child, when I started working with my mother and her food cart in Bangkok, I could not in my wildest dreams have envisioned my life today and how far Thai cuisine and Thailand has come. I did not start out thinking I would be an accomplished chef, I wanted to do what I came to love – cooking – and be able to support myself and my family,” said Kittichai.

International chefs coming to Asia have also amassed large fanbases. British chef and restauranteur, Simon Rogan, is known as one of the pioneers of the farm-to-fork movement in the United Kingdom, and has since come to Asia to launch Aulis Phuket, Roganic, The Baker & The Bottleman, and Aulis Hong Kong.

Simon Rogan

“Opening restaurants overseas presents new sets of challenges we hadn’t faced before, and so it’s incredibly gratifying to see how well they’ve been received,” said Rogan. “It’s obviously nice to be recognised for the hard work you put into something, but equally that increased visibility comes with more public scrutiny. But the positive side of this is, it allows us to demonstrate what we do and our beliefs about food and sustainability more widely.”

Rogan has appeared as both a contestant on Great British Menu, and subsequently as a mentor on MasterChef as well. “It has been a great experience, and definitely brought me to the attention of a wider audience,” he said. Rogan has also appeared on Saturday Kitchen, a popular Saturday morning programme on the BBC in the UK and on This Morning on CBS.

“There is no doubt that TV has had an impact and can be a really powerful tool to drive bookings directly to the restaurants,” said Simon.

Anne-Sophie Pic

French chef Anne-Sophie Pic has also been bringing her culinary finesse to Asia, with restaurants like La Dame de Pic in Singapore and Dubai, and the recently opened Cristal Room by Anne-Sophie Pic in Hong Kong. “I was delighted to learn that only four months after opening, Cristal Room by Anne-Sophie Pic was awarded with one Michelin star in the 2024 Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau, and received the ‘Best New Interior Design’ award by the South China Morning Post in its 2024 Top 100 Tables list,” she shared of the latter’s success. “It results from an exceptional collaboration with Baccarat and Leading Nation Hospitality.”

Pic has enjoyed various TV show appearances over the years. “I have always greatly appreciated the sincerity of the interactions I’ve had with young chefs on the TV programmes I’ve participated in,” she shared. “Mentorship is an important element in cooking, and being able to help this new generation to progress is both exciting and a source of motivation for me.”

Julien Royer

Chef Julien Royer, the person behind Odette and Claudine in Singapore, and Louise in Hong Kong, has made appearances on Food Heroes and MICHELIN Guide Asia. “Appearing on TV has been both incredibly rewarding and exciting for me and my team. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share out culinary philosophy with the wider community,” said Royer.

Renowned as the youngest female chef to achieve the dual distinction of Michelin Star and Opening of the Year accolades from the prestigious Michelin Guide, Chef Pam Pichaya Soontornyanakij has swiftly ascended through the culinary ranks. Prior to launching Potong, her culinary masterpiece in Bangkok, Chef Pam captivated audiences with her culinary prowess through numerous television appearances. “I think fame hit long ago since I was one of the first few to start the Chef Table concept in Thailand years back when I got back from Jean-Georges, New York, then moved on to Top Chef Thailand, before opening Patong,” she explained.

In Thailand, she was also the judge for Iron Chef and Bid Coin Chef. Internationally, she was a judge for various shows, including Top Chef Arab World (Middle East), The World Cook Competition, and The Maverick Academy. “I think it helps me promote Thai food internationally, and also give inspiration to younger generations that aspire to be chefs, also particularly female chefs,” added Soontornyanakij.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-born Canadian-based Chef Susur Lee, who’s often dubbed “the father of fusion food,” has continued to grow his fanbase through his cooking and with the support of TV appearances. “TV appearances gave me the opportunity to utilise a new platform, allowing me to engage with a wider audience,” he said. “When I was a judge on MasterChef Asia, I was able to share my knowledge and expertise by introducing my fusion cuisine to households across the globe. It was a way of offering entertainment and education all in one.”

Social Media and Chef
In today’s culinary landscape, the influence of social media cannot be overstated, particularly in Asia, where a burgeoning community of food enthusiasts seek meaningful connections with chefs. Social media platforms serve as invaluable tools for chefs, allowing them to cultivate their presence, share their culinary journeys, and engage directly with their audience, fostering a deeper connection that transcends the confines of the kitchen.

The most famous chefs in the world can boast millions of followers on the platform – as of writing, Gordon Ramsay has 17.4M followers, Jamie Oliver has 10.4M followers, and Nigella Lawson has 3M followers – but chefs in Asia, Asian chefs, and chefs with restaurants in Asia have also amassed huge followings.

Susur Lee

Susur Lee, for example, has 633K followers on Instagram and even more fans on TikTok. “Times have changed, but thanks to my son, Jet, I have been able to stay current and connect with the newer generation through our 6 million TikTok followers,” he shared. “This has played a huge role in bridging the gap between the new and the old, allowing me to experiment with a different style of entertainment. I’ve experienced a lot of success.” Lee says he’s grateful to still have loyal customers from earlier ventures like Lotus, as well as a new generation who recognise him from TikTok.

Anne-Sophie Pic has also drawn in plenty of fans, with 662K followers on Instagram and counting. “I believe social media has enabled more spontaneous expression and the sharing of one’s world with a certain sensitivity,” she said. “Instagram, especially with its visual nature, really highlights the aesthetic appeal of dishes. The elegance I have always advocated for has become as important as the tasting experience.”

Simon Rogan regularly shares his cooking ventures and sustainability advocacy to his 109K followers on the platform. “People want to be able to see pictures of dishes they will get to try when they come to our restaurants and obviously social media is the perfect platform for this,” he said. “I also love that it enables us to showcase the beautiful locations where our restaurants are based, whether that’s Hong Kong or the Lake District – it helps to create a sense of place.”

Ricardo Chaneton

MONO’s chef co-owner Ricardo Chaneton said that being in the 2022 MICHELIN Guide helped put them on the map. “It was a big moment when I got the Michelin star, making me the first Venezuelan chef-owner to get this kind of recognition for my country,” he said. “The role of social media, specifically Instagram, is incredibly important,” he added, “It not only allows you to serve as an example to younger generations, future chefs, and Latino-American chefs living abroad, but it also enables you to stay updated on the latest fashion and trends in the world of gastronomy through social media.” On his Instagram, he boasts over 60,000 followers to date. 

Filipino chef Margarita Forés, who has over 37 years in the industry, bringing varieties of Italian cuisine, has amassed 86,100 followers on Instagram, and says that social media has allowed her to share her life’s journey with people who are interested in her work. “Social media allows me to share the work of other chefs who promote and advocate for what we are doing in the Philippines, showcasing the best of what we do to the rest of the world,” she said.  

Matthias and Thomas Sühring

Matthias Sühring, co-leading the acclaimed two-MICHELIN-starred Sühring restaurant in Bangkok alongside his twin brother Thomas, draws inspiration from cherished family recipes and nostalgic childhood memories. Rooted in a rich German heritage, their culinary vision is to imbue their cuisine with the warmth and authenticity of their upbringing. Harnessing the power of social media, Matthias and Thomas aim to share not only their gastronomic creations but also the heartfelt stories behind them, inviting diners to embark on a sensory journey that celebrates tradition, innovation, and the bonds of family. “It definitely increases visibility within our community and globally,” Matthias, who has 12,500 followers on the platform, shared.  

Royer says it’s also a fun way to get involved with diners. “Social media is a fantastic way for me to engage with friends and followers,” he said, “It’s both a fun and an engaging way to share our team and all of our kitchen adventures!” 

Marco Xodo

Chef Marco Xodo from Testina in Hong Kong also notes the importance of social media in today’s day and age – as a business tool too, but with risks.Nowadays, it is unthinkable to open a business without considering investing in marketing and social media,” he shared, “The freedom of being able to judge the hard work of a restaurant simply with a click can be positive and dangerous at the same time, it is no longer a question of expressing one’s opinions, sometimes these comments are taken as absolute sentences and they can really help or destroy a restaurant’s reputation and business.” Testina recently collaborated with Forés. “Sharing recipes, anecdotes, and ingredients across borders is a continual source of enrichment and growth, making for an endlessly evolving culinary journey,” said Xodo. 

Racines, recently awarded its first MICHELIN star in the 2024 guide, is a collaboration between two renowned chefs in Hong Kong: Adrien Castillo from Caprice at Four Seasons Hotel and Romain Dupeyre from Petrus at Island Shangri-La. “I think that the start of my fan base began when I left France for Asia and arrived at Caprice at the Four Seasons Hotel as the sous chef,” said Castillo, “I would share my creations on Instagram and naturally developed a following because of the reputation of Caprice and chef Guillaume Gaillot. Since we opened Racines, we love sharing what we do on social media and realized we have a lot of supporters following us and encouraging us to keep doing what we do so we can continue to evolve.” 

“I believe it was at Petrus where I began to feel recognized for my cooking. With more years of experience behind me and more courage, I was able to express myself and make a difference in the kitchen and for the guest experience,” shared Dupeyre.  

Castillo added, “Social media can be a quick way to become well-known and gain popularity among local and global audiences.” 

André Chiang

Chef Tam Kwok Fung, executive chef at Chef Tam’s Seasons, has been gaining a fan base since the year 2000. “It all started when I worked in Thailand, where I joined two of the most prestigious hotels in the capital – Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and The Peninsula Bangkok in the 1990s,” he said, “Social media makes people know me, my restaurant and my work better. And through all the sharing and re-postings that tag our restaurant and myself, these show that people appreciate our service, menu and the dining experience we provide, which again reaffirms our effort that we have put into work is right.” 

For Taipei-born chef André Chiang, who serves as a culinary ambassador for Wynn and gained international acclaim with his renowned Restaurant André in Singapore, social media doesn’t hold significant importance in his chef’s role. “Although it is a channel to communicate with my diners, most of our guests has been with us for countless years, we had built a bonding or trust throughout the years,” he shared. 

Future of Celebrity Chef & Cooking Influencers
Although the term “celebrity chef” is commonly associated with culinary personalities featured on TV shows and competitions, not all chefs embrace this label. Many prefer to maintain a humble demeanour and prioritise spotlighting their culinary creations rather than themselves. 

“I actually really do not like the term ‘celebrity chef’” explained Kittichai, “I always say I am more chef, not a celebrity.” He added, “Obviously social media, TV and books are all channels to introduce me and my work to a wider audience of people as well as engage with people. It broadens the reach of my businesses and myself to be heard and seen.” He added, “I can reach people who may not be able to dine at my restaurants.” 

“With today’s technology, chefs can easily share techniques globally, bridging East-West culinary  traditions. Take Canada for instance, we have such a diverse culinary scene, with the  option of exploring so many cultures. Canadians go out to eat and have endless options and opportunity to experience something new, whether it be Japanese, French, Italian, you name it. It’s this vibrant diversity and freedom of choice that make the culinary world so exciting and dynamic.” said Susur Lee. 

Absolutely, chefs have a profound influence not only on devoted diners but also on aspiring chefs who admire their skills, creativity, and dedication. Through various platforms such as social media, cookbooks, and culinary events, chefs can inspire and mentor the next generation of culinary talent, sharing their knowledge, techniques, and passion for the craft. 

Chef Anne-Sophie Pic advises aspiring chefs to embrace their cultural background, strive for excellence, and remain open to new experiences and influences. “It is essential to cultivate the emotion of taste, as it’s the common thread among all cuisines worldwide,” she said. 

Chef Soontornyanakij hopes to inspire others. “I truly believe that I can inspire the younger generations to know that we can do it, also when I can help make a difference to the global community that’s the initiatives I want. I want to take Thai food to the global stage, I want to be able to empower female chefs,” she said. 

Chef Rogan, who is renowned for his sustainable dining initiatives wants to share his ideas with the world too. “Sustainability is at the heart of everything the group does, and so it’s very important for me to promote this to the next generation of chefs,” he said, “We want to encourage them to look to their region and make use of the fantastic produce that is grown locally, and learn to use it in a sustainable, and delicious, way.” He added, “It’s also very satisfying to inspire the next generation of chefs and see them grow and develop in their own style, and hopefully we’ve been able to help guide them in that.” 

Chef Chaneton advises, “For the young chefs in the region, like myself, who may have backgrounds in Latin America or other parts of the world, it’s common to explore different cuisines such as French or Italian.” He added, “However, it is through embracing their own heritage and incorporating it into their culinary creations that they can truly shine and make a meaningful impact in the culinary world.” 

Chef Xodo is delighted to keep collaborating with fellow chefs in the region and beyond. “Furthermore, the thing I love about F&B is the community of chefs which is very united. Wherever you travel you meet a chef, friend or friend of a friend, who is also ready to tell you their story, their land and their passion.” 

“Being able to feed and nurture people in a creative way makes me the happiest. As a woman and a mother, the maternal instinct to want to take care of people comes naturally. But to do what is a basic function in life in such a unique way is an absolute joy,” said Chef Forés. 

The future of celebrity chefs and culinary icons with massive fan bases, particularly those who showcase regional cuisines in Asia, is undeniably poised for growth. As globalisation continues to shrink culinary boundaries and digital platforms provide unprecedented reach, these chefs have an unparalleled opportunity to captivate audiences worldwide. By celebrating their cultural heritage, embracing innovation, and engaging with their fans, these culinary luminaries are not just shaping the future of gastronomy but also inspiring a new generation of chefs to follow in their footsteps. 



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Faye Bradley

Contributor

Faye Bradley
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