As someone who only recently began to take an interest in the culinary arts I must admit that, upon reflection, I had noticed a trend in the emergence of celebrity chefs over the past several years. The idea of the celebrity chef makes sense because so many of us like to cook and no entertainer can provide something more practical. So cooking shows have developed along with the history of television as the media’s history stretches out over almost sixty years. For example, since the rise of cable television, we now have the Food Network. This latest trend goes beyond even a network entirely devoted to cooking instruction and includes the element of “reality” in the dramatic television definition of the word. The combination of the two seem a natural fit. Food Network’s “Iron Chef” turns culinary art into culinary sport; whereas, Bravo’s “Top Chef” or Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” appears more along the lines of “The Apprentice.” Either way, millions agree, add the pressure of competition and everything becomes much more interesting.
If it works for television, what about your typical dinner party? That’s the question answered by Chef Geoff Johnson and Chef Michael Scipione on Friday, December 3 in Cape May, NJ. While fine dining restaurants have been hosting dinner parties for centuries, competition adds a dramatic, or at least comedic, twist when you add two chefs, close friends, with distinct styles.
Each are no stranger to performing as celebrity chef. Living in the Philadelphia, South Jersey area, the two are part of larger circle of local chefs who regularly work together, conducting cooking demonstrations at one of their restaurants, at the Philadelphia Food and Wine Festival, The Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival or at any number of private catering events throughout the region and beyond.
Johnson must have developed some flair for dramatic performance while working for Bon Jovi; he now is regularly asked to participate in Food Network segments with the likes of Ted Allen and Guy Fierri. Chef Geoff also appears, along with author Rocky Fino, on the weekly radio show Stripped Down on the LA Talk Radio network. Geoff is part owner and Executive Chef at Copper Fish On Broadway where this event took place.
Just this past April Mike Scipione found himself finishing in the top four on “The NBC 10 Local TV Chef.” Mike, however, has been motiving athletes as a personal trainer and nutritionist for almost thirty years which contributes not only to his competitive nature but also to his unique ability to create healthy and delicious culinary creations. Chef Michael owns Sano Catering out of Philadelphia.
Friday’s event at Chef Johnson’s Copper Fish Restaurant in Cape May included four courses from each chef for a total of eight new and exciting recipes for guests to enjoy. About twenty-five guests were instructed to try a little of everything; even if it is something that wouldn’t normally suit their taste.
The event, which was titled “Scipione v Johnson – My Food Will Kick Your Food’s Ass,” proved to be a disappointment in that there were no asses kicked. While two impartial judges took copious notes on each dish, the decision was only slightly in favor of Scipione. As judge Gary Monterosso (a nationally known beer connoisseur) remarked, each chef exhibited a style uniquely his own. The tension between the two competitors served no hard feelings and actually provided the guests with a night full of laughs at each chef’s expense. I realized a some point during the evening that my experience differed so greatly from that of the guests because, as my photos here show, while Mike and Geoff pulled no punches while informing their guests of the superiority of his personal cuisine, back stage, in the kitchen, each worked together along with the rest of the kitchen staff to prepare and make sure each individual serving was perfect.
Often times on reality cooking television the dramatic tension is entertaining to us but intensely emotional and personal to the chefs involved. In this case the guests were entertained by comedic tension but the only thing personal to these chefs what the creation of eight fantastically delicious courses. You can view all the images from this event at my Photoshelter page. Also be sure to check out my portfolio.