25. Feb, 2016

Part 3: The Seductresses

"A real woman never lets her man leave the house hungry or horny." - Queen Latifah.

The current crop of female celebrity chefs unashamedly capitalise on their looks and sex appeal to attract and retain viewers. Some go to extremes: presenter’s names like “The Sexy Chef” and “Sugar” remind me of the cast of a T & A movie! This does not mean that all women who cook on TV are bimbos, though. Most are highly competent chefs and astute businesswomen who happen to understand the value of titillation and mild controversy. The advent of Reality TV “celebrities” like the Kardashians and Hiltons has forced real celebrities to pander to baser tastes, and it is no longer scandalous for a famous chef to pose for FHM or even Penthouse. Here are some examples of the latter-day kitchen goddesses:    

Giada De Laurentiis might irritate viewers with her eternal grin and exaggerated pronunciation of terms like “Mass-car-poh-nay”, but she is undoubtedly a favourite among both the paparazzi and readers of gossip columns. She is the graddaughter of the famous film producer Dino De Laurentiis, and founder of the catering business GDL Foods. She has won three Daytime Emmy Awards, and was inducted into America’s Culinary Hall of Fame in 2012. De Laurentiis owns the “Target” range of products, consisting of stainless steel cookware, a wide range of utensils, cooking tools and some food items including sauces and pastas. Based on disclosures during her divorce in 2015, she has a net worth of over $20m.

As a child, Giada often found herself in the family's kitchen and spent a great deal of time at her grandfather's restaurant, DDL Foodshow. She grew up in Southern California, and earned a bachelor's degree in Social Anthropology from UCLA in 1996. After graduating, she studied at the Cordon Bleu academy in Paris, with the aim of becoming a top pastry chef. After returning to the United States, she became a professional chef working in several Los Angeles restaurants, notably the Ritz Carlton’s Fine Dining Room and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. She later worked as a food stylist and was contracted by The Food Network after styling a piece in Food & Wine Magazine in 2002.

Her first daytime cooking show, Everyday Italian, premiered in April 2003. When the program first aired, the Food Network received mail accusing the network of hiring a model or actress pretending to cook instead of a real chef. To this day she is slated mercilessly for her brazen display of cleavage, heavy make-up, seemingly forced smile and over-the-top pronunciation of Italian terms. She clearly has way more fans than critics, though. Her ratings over the years have remained stellar. Over the years she has hosted other popular series like Behind the Bash, Giada's Weekend Getaways, Giada in Paradise and Giada at Home.

In July 2014, De Laurentiis opened her first restaurant, called GIADA, in the Cromwell Hotel in Las Vegas. The restaurant offers seating in the dining room, lounge, or outdoor patio with views of the Bellagio fountains and Caesars Palace. Its menu features “Italian cuisine with Californian influences”, including lemon spaghetti, chicken cacciatore, Marsala herb chicken meatballs, rosemary focaccia and lemon flatbread.  Restaurant guests can watch chefs prepare food from the open kitchen.

She has written prolifically and successfully on food and lifestyle. Some of her best-known books include Everyday Italian, Giada's Family Dinners, Everyday Pasta, Giada's Kitchen, Giada at Home, Weeknights with Giada, Giada's Feel Good Food and Happy Cooking. Both Giada at Home and Weeknights with Giada reached the number one position on The New York Times Best Seller list.

Catherine Ann (Cat) Cora has almost universal appeal among foodies: although she is openly lesbian and was married to another woman the FHM edition featuring her in a number of suggestive poses was snapped up by the guys like hotcakes. She is best known for being the first woman to become the "Iron Chef" on Iron Chef America, and as co-host of Around the World in 80 Plates. She is an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, and owns a number of successful restaurants.

Cat Cora was raised in a small Greek community in Jackson, Mississippi. Her grandfather, father and godfather were all restaurateurs and, by the time she was fifteen, she had already presented a business plan to them for her own restaurant. During college, she cooked at an Italian bistro and a private dining club, where she served classical French cuisine. After graduating from college with a Bachelor's degree in Physical Education, Cat backpacked through Europe for four months, in search of good food and wine. On her return she enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Upstate New York. 

While in New York, she apprenticed with and then worked for Chef Anne Rozenweig at Arcadia and worked at the Beekman Tavern under Chef Larry Forgione. Her culinary education continued in Europe with apprenticeships with two of France's three-star Michelin chefs: Georges Blanc and Roger Verge. After another spell in New York, as sous-chef at The Old Chatham Shepherding Company, she headed west to Northern California. Here she was soon offered the position of Chef de Cuisine in Napa Valley's Bistro Don Giovanni.

She opened the eponymous Cat Cora bar-and-lounge style restaurant in Terminal 2 of San Francisco International Airport in 2011. Later that year, Cat Cora's Kitchen opened in Terminal E of the Bush International Airport in Houston. Cora also owns The Ocean Restaurant at the South East Asia Aquarium off Singapore in 2013. The 63-seat restaurant is inside the world's largest oceanarium and has stunning views of deep-sea fauna and flora from every table.

Cat made her TV debut in 1999, as co-host of Food Network's Melting Pot with Rocco Di Spirito. She went on to host My Country My Kitchen: Greece, Date Plate and Simplify Your Life. A documentary, Cat's In The Kitchen, was also made about her first James Beard dinner in 2002. Prior to Iron Chef America, Cat was co-host of the Food Network show, Kitchen Accomplished, where she worked with a design expert and contractor to surprise a homeowner with a 3-day kitchen makeover. She has written four best-selling books: Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist, Cooking from the Hip, Cat Cora’s Kitchen and Cooking as fast as I can.

Outside of the kitchen, Cat is known for her philanthropy. She is the founding president of Chefs for Humanity, an organization which was founded in response to the 2004 tsunami disaster. Modelled after Doctors Without Borders, this non-profit organisation raises funds resources from the restaurant industry for important emergency, educational and hunger-related causes. In addition to this, she recently became the nutritional spokesperson for UNICEF.

Ingrid Hoffmann possesses a number of qualities that would excite most straight middle-aged men (and even younger ones). She is a ravishing Latina beauty, extremely wealthy, single with no children and – last but not least – she can cook up a storm! Unlike some of her peers, she is a relatively private person who has studiously avoided the high life.

She was born in Colombia, the daughter of an American pilot and a Colombian mother, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who worked in restaurants and catering. Ingrid began cooking at a young age with her mother. She worked in modelling and acting, appearing in 16 telenovelas (soapies)by the age of 20. She moved to Miami in 1985, where she opened La Capricieuse, a high-fashion luxury boutique in Miami's Coconut Grove. The store grew into a chain of four boutiques, with a flagship on the island of Aruba, as well as a men's shop in Miami.

In 1993, Hoffmann opened a Miami restaurant with her mother and two business partners. Called Rocca, it was the first restaurant in Miami to feature table-top cooking on heated lava rock. Within weeks, Rocca was touted as one of the hottest destinations for Miami's movers and shakers - it was even featured on Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous. Ingrid also became one of Miami's premier live event planners with a corporate client list that included Bottega Veneta, Gucci and Escada.

As her businesses thrived, she took the opportunity to host a cooking segment on a local Miami-area TV show. Executives at Univision were so impressed that they offered her a bi-weekly cooking and style segment on Despierta America (Wake Up, America), the most popular morning show in the US Hispanic market, and the number two morning show in the US (after The Today Show).

Ingrid launched her own show, Delicioso with Ingrid Hoffmann, on Latin America's Cosmopolitan Network in 2004, and this propelled her popularity to new heights. Each episode revolves around a theme that Ingrid uses to connect segments on menu planning, shopping, cooking and decorating. The show's light-hearted, interactive style draws in viewers for both Ingrid's talents as well as her vibrant personality. After an appearance with Martha Stewart on Martha, she was approached by The Food Network and contracted to present a similarly-themed English-language show called Simply Delicioso, which has been running since 2007. More recently, she hosted of Top Chef Estrellas for Telemundo.

She has published two cookbooks: Simply Delicioso: A Collection of Everyday Recipes with a Latin Twist, and Latin d'Lite: Delicious Latin Recipes with a Healthy Twist. Hoffmann contributes a monthly culinary column to the Spanish edition of People. She also writes a column for Delta Sky Magazine and is a frequent guest of shows like Despierta America, Ellen, Oprah, Martha Stewart, Regis & Kelly, The Today Show, The Early Show, and Good Morning America. She has her own cookware line, Simply Delicioso with Ingrid Hoffmann, made by T-Fal, as well as a cutlery and kitchen accessories line by Gibson. She recently (2015) launched a range of foods and condiments called Cocina by Ingrid Hoffmann.

Believe it or not, but Sara La Fountain is not a model-turned-cook; she has excellent professional credentials. Nor is she French – she is Finnish. She was born to a French-American father and a Finnish mother, who met during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. When her parents separated, La Fountain moved to Finland with her mother. To this day she divides her time between homes in New York and Helsinki.

After completing her high school education at the Waldorf School in Helsinki, she started her career as a trainee chef at Sokerileipuri Alenius, a traditional local confectioner.  She then went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America, and worked in a restaurant in her spare time. After returning to Finland from the Culinary Institute, La Fountain started her own catering business and was soon noticed by the Finnish media. In 2005, La Fountain starred in her own lifestyle television series called Avec Sara in Finland. Each of the 10 episodes covered how to cater for events as diverse as brunches, birthday parties, karaoke evenings and Indian cultural evenings.

In 2008, La Fountain became known internationally as a presenter on Perfect Day, which is a lifestyle television series shown in to around 60 countries. Perfect Day includes four well-known Scandinavian chefs (Tina Nordstrom, Andreas Viestad, Claus Meyer and Sara herself) introducing the traditional foods, customs and culture of their respective countries - Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

The presenters again collaborated on New Scandinavian Cooking, which has been running since 2009. Apart from New Scandinavian Cooking, La Fountain stars in her new cooking show 24Kitchen: Sara La Fountain, which has been broadcast in 35 countries. In 2012, La Fountain teamed up her friend Meri-Tuuli Lindström in her new television show for Finnish TV called Saran ja Meri-Tuulin Metropolit (“Sara and Meri-Tuuli's Metropolises”). The show follows the hostesses' culinary journey around the world, including Cape Town, Istanbul, Madrid, New York city and Singapore. 

La Fountain is very active in live demonstrations, often on behalf of charities. She became a sensation in the United States, when she toured the country as part of the Slow Food USA charity programme and performed in numerous big cities. She created various new dishes for the Finlandia dinners at Fairmont Hotels, and proceeds were donated to Slow Food USA. La Fountain also presents advanced cooking courses, does food styling and still has her own catering service. She has also done product development for producers of food, beverages and cookware on both sides of the Atlantic.

La Fountain won the Best First Cookbook award at the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for her debut book à la Sara in 2006. Her book version of the Perfect Day television series was published in 2008, and includes recipes from all of the chefs and information on the various locations they visited in the course of the series. Her third book, Passion for Food, published n 2010, deals with seasonal cooking. Each month has its own chapter, which includes 10 relevant recipes. In 2013, La Fountain published her latest book Healthy Kitchen, which is aimed at fans of lighter cuisine and a health-conscious lifestyle. She has her own food columns in a number of Finnish fashion and lifestyle magazines, as well as in Elle and Men's Health.

Given her stunning Scandinavian looks, it is not surprising that La Fountain was a sought-after fashion model as a teenager. She is still involved in fashion, acting as a brand ambassador for the Finnish fashion brand Marimekko and the Puma Women collection. In 2014 she was named the Supertalent off the Month by fashion brand Supertrash. La Fountain has designed various series of tableware, textiles and glassware for the Finnish brand Luhta Home, and designed patterns for shoes of kitchen professionals by the Finnish Jalas footwearcompany.

Padma Lakshmi is probably the reigning Queen of Cooks. The Indian-born author, actress, model, television host and businesswoman not only holds her own among her fellow celebrity chefs; she is widely regarded as one of the most desirable women on Earth. Originally known as the first internationally successful Indian supermodel, Lakshmi has been featured as People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People and 25 Most Intriguing People, AOL's Top 20 Style Influencers and part of The Elle 25. While not a formally trained chef, Chef Tom Colicchio, top judge of Top Chef, rates her highly. According to him, she has her own style, which comes from embracing foods from around the globe--something any culinary school student, in any city, can do. It also helps that she is a Supertaster – someone borne with exceptionally well-developed senses of smell and taste. 

She was born in Chenai (formerly Madras) in Southern India, where her father was a Pfizer executive, and her mother a nursing sister who specialised in oncology. Her parents divorced when she was 2, and her mother moved to the United States to escape the stigma of divorce in India. She grew up shuttling between her grandparents in Chennai and her mother in New York. Apart from being famous in her own right, she is also well-known for having been married to the novelist Salman Rushdie between 2004 – 2007.

Lakshmi is a graduate of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts,  where she received a BA with Honours, in Theatre Arts. Her modelling career began at the age of 21, while a post-graduate student in Madrid. She was discovered by an agent one afternoon while sitting in a café, and went on to become the first Indian model to have a career in Paris, Milan and New York. Lakshmi was able to pay off her college loans by working as a model and actress. She has appeared on the covers of  Vogue, FHM, Cosmopolitan, Asian Woman, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar and Newsweek, and posed nude for both Playboy and Allure magazines.

Unsurprisingly, Lakshmi is in demand as actress and presenter. After two roles in Italian thrillers, she had a comical supporting role as the lip synching disco singer Sylk in the 2001 American movie Glitter, starring Mariah Carey. She then starred in the 2003 film Boom as one of a trio of supermodels accused of stealing diamonds, and played the role of Geeta in The Mistress of Spices. Lakshmi has also made guest appearances on the comedy series 30 Rock, Whose Line Is It Anyway? and ABC's TV remake of The Ten Commandments. She hosted two one-hour specials on South India and Spain for the British culinary tourism show Planet Food. She has been the host and one of the judges of Top Chef  since 2006. The show won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program in 2010.

Her first cookbook Easy Exotic, a compilation of international recipes and short essays, was awarded Best First Book at the 1999 Gourmand Cookbook Awards in Versailles. Her second cookbook, Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet, was released in 2007. Her memoir, entitled "Love, Loss and What We Ate," is scheduled for release on International's Women's Day, March 8, 2016. 

Lakshmi has been very successful at marketing branded goods. She launched her first line of “Padma”-branded jewellery in 2009. Since then she has introduced two tableware collections: "The Padma Collection” (elegant dinnerware composed of Moroccan ceramics and Turkish glass) and “Easy Exotic” (a line of more casual kitchenware). Under the Easy Exotic brand, Padma also has a line of specialty spices and teas, and a range of organic rice varieties.

Lakshmi is a co-founder of The Endometriosis Foundation of America, which is a non-profit organisation focused on increasing awareness, education, research, and legislative advocacy against the disease. She is also a global ambassador for Keep A Child Alive, and since 2007 has travelled widely on their behalf. She also a vocal advocate for women's rights.

Despite her lack of formal cookery credentials, Padma is an excellent presenter and I would much rather watch her in action than classically-trained Mario Batali… 

"When men reach their sixties and retire, they go to pieces. Women go right on cooking." - Gail Sheehy.