Chefs or celebrities? The new wave of restaurant marketing beyond food

Dining has reached the peak of its Instagram era when a camera is as central to the experience as a fork and anyone with a decent eye is making magazine-quality photos of food. There are more than 178 million photos tagged #food on Instagram and 770K tagged #FoodTalkIndia. People are ridiculously obsessed with photographing what they eat, something professional chefs are catering to—and themselves diving into now.

Gone are the days when chefs banned cameras in their restaurants and dining halls – fast forward 2018, they now are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of social media, and fully embracing it with open arms.

Chefs today are no longer restricted to the four walls of the heated kitchen in their stained coats – they are now becoming Instagram celebrities and driving sales through this visual playground. A whole new brigade of chefs and food personalities today are cashing on to Instagram to market themselves, and the restaurants they work for. They are increasing aiming at creating Instagram friendly dishes, and presentations. A shot of a new dish posted to their own accounts, or a diner’s, can cause reservations to spike. (Go figure)

Stunning dishes, daring ingredients and thoughtful presentations add to the experience and encourage people to post photos on their social media accounts. Which, in turn, makes chefs food celebrities, and their dishes an object of culinary desire for the online trolls and prospect customers!

But is it all style over substance?

What about the other end of the spectrum? The diners, ie.
This trend involves big risk for the poor (Instagram enamoured) souls. The art of plating has surely surpassed the ethos of good tasting and scrumptious food. What looks beautiful on Instagram may not be delicious to put in your mouth? Michelin level chefs are giving more importance to “lesser cooking areas” and “more plating space” in their creations. This can also be a major concern since chefs have also started staying away from “browning food” and are leaning into more minimal plates. Whereas, browning and caramelizing food is what brings out the flavour complexities of many vegetables and meats. I mean who doesn’t love caramelized onions on a pizza or the fragrance of a slow cooked lamb curry? What happened to the concept of ugly delicious? Well, in actuality the most delicious and flavoursome things don’t look picture perfect. A good mushroom soup is a wonderful thing, but not absolutely attractive. So we usually stay away from Instagramming that stuff. Want to accelerate #FoodPorn followers? It’s quite simple: Just go batshit crazy with avocado, egg yolks, chocolate! Oh well, don’t forget to throw in some vegan chunks for a better hipster mileage!

Chef Instagrammers is one of the biggest food trends of 2018!

Some say cauliflower, some say vegan, and of course the many rants of locally produced dishes, in my opinion, the biggest food trend of 2018 is “The Instagram Effect” and most chefs are under the spell of this. Chefs world over have taken Instagram very serious to promote their cuisine and creations. Instagram and social media are word-of-mouth marketing for the digital era and can help build a chef’s reputation and clientele—as long as the photos don’t suck (it’s not so hard, after all).

Not convinced that culinary greatness isn’t always conferred in professional kitchens but sometimes learned online? Instagram is a treasure trove of inspiration for foodies. From amateur cooks to Michelin-star chefs – visual platforms have also changed the way professionals are able to promote and share their talents with the world. Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn conceded in an interview “Instagram came to give a voice to chefs and to the food they serve.” In other news, even though Gordon Ramsay has a separate Instagram channel for his chain of 33 global restaurants, the chef also uses a personal one to effectively cross-promote his fine dining outlets. And while he’s best-known for his tough-talking, no-nonsense personality – Ramsay’s serious dedication to good food is what contributes to most of his success on social media.

Here’s my pick of some of the best chef Instagram accounts from India who also cook soulful food

Chef Zach, Bombay Canteen & Opedro, Mumbai

• He makes sure his own personality shines through by with the storytelling style of captions he adopts
• As well as appealing to people who love food, Thomas also engages users who are interested in nature and travel, using Instagram to convey his restaurant’s dedication to natural and organic produce.
• Indian produce, seasonal produce, forgotten vegetables and ugly delicious – he uses his Instagram to impart legit food knowledge to his followers about a generous variety of “exotic” Indian never-heard-before vegetables – he uses his personalized hashtags and Instagram highlights to curate stories
• So much so he also includes images of staff food inspiration from his restaurant
• His Insta is a testament to his immense talent – and a constant source of inspiration for ambitious home cooks and young chefs alike

Chef Kelvin Cheung, Bastian and One Street Over, Mumbai

• He’s the perfect example of how to infuse humour and wit
• The man behind the stellar plates at Bastian, his Instagram account epitomizes orgasmic food porn updates!
• Not just his own Instagram – Kelvin is an enthusiastic Instagrammer who keeps in touch with other industry experts, Bollywood stars and his customers on Instagram with regular replies and comments

Chef Prateek Sadhu – Masque, Mumbai

• Pushing his limits with food trends and restaurant revolution in India – his international outlook and approach makes his Instagram account look stunning
• While the world might be still stuck in hunting truffles from Alba, Italy, he makes his own foraging rules and plunges himself into nose-to-ground hunting of Indian morels from the hills of Kashmir
• With a heavy bent on minimal plating and a very Nordic approach to food; Chef Prateek could clearly be classified as a food artist
• He draws a good balance between Indian and International food content on his Instagram feed and doesn’t radically push anything specific

Anahita Dhondy, Soda Bottle Opener Wala

• The undisputed face of the Parsi favourite – Soba Bottle Opener Wala
• Constantly shares homegrown Parsi secrets and her family’s treasured recipes
• She makes every recipe look easy to make and in turn ends up connecting with a whole lot of his fans and customers
• She has been fairly consistent with her Instagram endeavours and has been great at it

And while we have these stellar Insta Chefs in the business, there are a few that you should probably stay off social media for their own (restaurant’s) good. Mediocre food of even more mediocrely presented food, selfies that you do not want to receive updates for.