Did you ever have a job that you absolutely hated? But you needed the job, so you held your nose and did the work? One summer, I worked for an ‘allergist’, or that’s what doctor called himself. He was a racist crackpot, who was probably scamming Medicaid. Every person who walked in to that office got the same diagnosis and treatment. Maybe something else was being sold behind his closed office door. I didn’t know, didn’t care, I just desperately needed that paycheck.
Chris Cosenting came to #MAD4 to tell us about his nose-holding job. Turns out making a deal with the devil that is 'reality' TV can almost kill you.
Chris Cosentino, first and foremost is a respected chef, from the recently closed Incanto to his about to open Cockscomb restaurant in San Francisco. He is a champion of seducing people to love offal. And a bona fide celebrity thanks to “Chef v. City” and “Top Chef Masters”.
In what sounds like a chef's wet dream, he won Top Chef Masters Season 4, and then signed on with the Food Network to do a season of Chef v. City.
[Disclaimer: I know nothing about “reality” food tv. I had to do a marathon watch to be able to write this post responsibly, and now I don’t know how to clear those images from my mind. People were wildly cheering as the four chef contestants choke down the most junk-laden hot dogs on the planet. Who wants to watch chefs eat like this? Clearly, there are plenty of people, and that’s their choice. It’s cooking as entertainment and that’s that.]
Cosentino’s motivation was simple: he needed to earn a living, or as he put it, “put braces on my kid’s teeth”. He’d had a taste of celebrity chefdom, so maybe this did seem like a good idea and a way to promote his restaurant and his style of cooking.
Cosentino hadn’t seen the finished show until it went on the air. To celebrate the airing, he invited some friends to watch along with him. As he watched, his heart sank. “This is not who I am.” He didn’t understand how he’d gotten himself into a situation where he was trashing other chefs. He didn’t understand how he wound up having disgusting food gorging races, where the food is not honored but is just a prop to revolt and entertain the audience. “I’m not a quitter. I had a contract. I had to fulfill the contract.” So, he kept going. Eating massive quantities of chilies until he finally collapsed with third degree alkaline burns in his colon.
He didn’t get rich from TV. He didn’t get more patrons to his restaurant. In fact, his restaurant lost customers because they thought he’d become a sellout. What did happen, is that he was very sick and it’s taken the better part of year just to be able to eat a tomato again. “I’m an Italian chef and I can’t eat a god damn tomato?”
It’s easy to understand why Cosentino is drawn to TV. He’s good at it. He’s charming, charismatic, enthusiastic, and quick with the comeback. He did a one episode wonder called “Time Machine Chef” that is so bad, it’s good in an Ed Wood sort of way. On one hand, you have to wonder; didn’t he read the pilot? Didn’t he have the sense to stay away from the project? But look who is standing there with him on stage…Dave Arnold, Nancy Silverton. These are serious, respected culinary people, so someone was a good a sales person. (Don’t’ get me started on the announcer girl’s outfits. Who dressed her? She looks like Barbie-Gone-Wild meets Annie Oakley.)
Then he made another pilot, called “Chef Unleashed”. It’s as real as it can be. Cosentino goes to Texas and the Broken Arrow Ranch to shoot, field dress and then cook his kill. Anyone who eats meat should watch this. But, it didn’t get picked up. This actually was reality TV and no one could handle it.
Cosentino’s talk at MAD was raw and emotional. He was telling his peers that he wasn’t a sellout, he’s still a chef, and the reaction was amazing. People were on their feet cheering him on and letting him know he is a very well respected member of the community.
Later that night, at the after-party, Cosentino and his gracious and down to earth wife, Tatiana Graf, sat at our table. He was warm, generous with his beer, and relieved. When I asked his wife how she held it together during that session, she replied that it’s what Chris needed to close that chapter in his life.
Well then. Good on you Chris Cosentino and Tatiana! Everyone is looking forward to the opening of Cockscomb in San Francisco sometime later this year. And I know he said, “Be careful what you wish for.” But I bet everyone is wishing this new restaurant will be successful and that’s nothing to be afraid of.
Thank you Chef Chris Cosentino for sharing your story at #MAD4.