At a time when many chefs are relying on 140-character Tweets or abbreviated Facebook posts to burnish their personal and corporate brands, some are using online multimedia tools to further bolster their image.
Such online digital initiatives are seen as a way to personalize consumers’ links to chefs in an era of near-continuous exposure to them on television networks such as Bravo or Food Network. And their popularity can only be helped by the growth in sales of video-capable smartphones and tablet computers, which make accessing instructional content in the kitchen easier than watching movies or game shows in the family room.
-restaurateur Michael Mina, co-founder and operational head of 20-restaurant Mina Group LLC of San Francisco, is among the latest big-name operators to serve up food education in contemporary digital dress.
Mina and Tanya Melillo, a business woman and California Culinary Academy graduate, teamed up to produce Cook Taste Eat, a website that debuted in late September. Cook Taste Eat offers consumers free daily videos that demonstrate food-preparation techniques and recipes.
Mina’s on-air co-host for the educational videos is Grammy Award-winning vocalist Michelle Branch, a self-described avid home cook.
“I really wanted to find a fun, easy and interactive way to share my passion with home cooks,” Mina told Nation’s Restaurant News about why he partnered with Melillo on Cook Taste Eat. “We did a Michael Mina cookbook and it was a lot of fun, but creating this online digital media site that takes people step by step through each dish, really teaching how to taste the dish and cook it from my perspective, is what really got me excited.”
The dishes prepared in the videos are offered as specials in Mina Group’s fine-dining and polished-casual venues nationwide, including Michelin one-star Michael Mina and RN74 in San Francisco, Stripsteak in Las Vegas, Pabu in Baltimore and Seablue in Atlantic City. That gives users of the series a chance to try the foods featured daily before or after they tackle them at home and also links the online effort to the company's core business, restaurants.
“Our goal, first and foremost, is to inspire and teach home cooks,” Mina explained when asked if his group considers Cook Taste Eat a potential revenue stream in its own right. “We want to be sure we create a great online experience for them. Our hope is that it leads us to have a relationship with our viewers inside and outside the restaurant. We have several ideas as to where we can take Cook Taste Eat down the road, but we’re solely focused on creating a great experience for our viewers.”
Weeks before the launch of Cook Taste Eat, veteran restaurant chef Laurent Gras launched his own multimedia effort that, like Mina's project, is aimed at connecting with home cooks. Gras, who most recently headed the kitchen at Chicago’s Michelin three-star L2O, teamed with writer Mitchell Davis to publish an digital, interactive cookbook, titled “Laurent Gras: My Provence,” from Alta Editions.
Users of the e-book pay $9.99 for online access to more than 40 recipes associated with Gras’ years growing up and working as a young chef in Antibes on the Côte d’Azur in France. Those users may also upload photos of their versions of the dishes, as well as comments about their experiences preparing the recipes and alterations, if any, they may have made — all of which can be viewed by other consumers.
But chef-driven, multimedia content for personal brand enhancement and customer relationship building purposes has not been limited strictly to nationally known players such as Mina and Gras. Savvy multi-unit operators also have used the approach to promote unit-level chefs and their organization’s overall food and cooking expertise, including San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.
Kimpton, beginning in March, began showcasing 16 of its chefs through the “Behind the Apron — Dishing with Kimpton Chefs” series and website. The web page houses videos of featured chefs addressing culinary topics, such as infusing flavors into foods and foraging for wild ingredients, along with recipes for dishes tied to the latest theme. Also featured are question-and-answer sessions with the profiled chefs and information about on-site events tied to the topic at hand, such as cooking demonstrations and special dinners.
Founded in 1981 by the late Bill Kimpton, Kimpton was among the first boutique hotel operating companies in America to develop contemporary, chef-driven restaurants with street entrances at its properties. Niki Leondakis, president and chief operating officer for Kimpton, which today operates more than 50 hotels and restaurants, said, “Behind the Apron is our way of honoring and sharing our chefs’ passions and personalities with our communities and guest nationwide.”
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story has been updated to include the correct spelling of Tanya Melillo's name and an incorrect statement that Melillo is a winery owner has been omitted.