New research suggests that many top chefs came to cooking later in life and often as the result of a chance event.
The research by Professor Yehuda Baruch, of the Southampton Business School, UK, and Professor Tamim Elbasha, of Audencia Business School, France, analysed the social media activity and TV interviews of 30 chefs from some of the world’s most renowned chefs.
The results indicate that far from having a lifelong dream of owning a restaurant or earning Michelin stars, many didn’t have an early calling to the culinary arts and even didn’t even see themselves cooking professionally until chance intervened.
"Unlike our expectations, only nine of 30 chefs had a career based on initial or early 'calling,'” said Professor Baruch.
"By initial calling we mean that they got into the restaurant business, as a cook, waiter or otherwise, early in their life with an intention to have a career in this field."
Massimo Bottura currently on top of the culinary world recounted how his rise to fame was predicated on a chance visit by one of Italy’s most important food credits to his Osteria Francescana.
"One night in April 2001, the most important food critic in Italy was driving from Milan to Florence, and there was an accident in Bologna, so there was a very long line. He decided to stop in Modena. He detoured and he had dinner in Osteria. Two days later, most important magazine, Espresso, came out with this [very favourable] article." - Massimo Bottura
Blue Hill’s Dan Barber bought too much asparagus and so decided to make a whole menu based on it, including asparagus ice-cream.
"Two hours later, Jonathan Gold, the most important, respected restaurant reviewer in the country, walks in the door. I had no goddamn clue what the man thought of the meal until the article hit. He loved it. He defined us before we really knew who we were. He named us the new epitome of farm-to-table, a restaurant that was not shy about advertising a product that was at the height of its flavour."
Jordi Roca, of El Cellar de Can Roca only got to helm the pastry section of the restaurant when the main chef broke his leg.
The research also found that all the chefs had in common a mastery of classic French technique, but that success found them once they then began to express themselves with cuisine closer to their roots.
Professors Elbasha suggests that chance, together with an individual drive to express their talent. "Chance event can play a significant role in it, but can sometimes be led by the individual, namely serendipity can be managed to a certain extent,” she said.
"Success is not limited to those who considered the aim of becoming a global celebrity as a calling, though this was the case for a significant minority of the participants."