What’s in a name? If we look to the world of gastronomy, this question is as important as “What’s in a recipe?”. And what we tend to find behind the name (be it a restaurant or particular product) is a lot of the chef’s personal brand; his or her passion, vision, personality, inspirations, creativity and talent. Equally important, we can also see that what and where we choose to eat can be a huge reflection of our own personal brands!
This month’s guest blogger is Hulya Erdal, chef, educator, marketeer and culinary consultant extraordinaire. Here, Hulya gives us some insight into the fascinating world of gourmet branding, and reminds us of the importance of allowing yourself the freedom to be true to yourself and letting your authentic personal brand shine through.
Chef Hulya Erdal gets down to business
Every chef’s dream is to acquire the eponymous Michelin stars (yes, the ones from that tyre company). Actually, it seems not every chef is that desperate. In fact, some give them back. The world of hospitality exploded recently with the story of French chef Sebastian Bras of Le Suquet a Laguiole, who with his father, Michel Bras, held three stars for two decades. After years of perfection, Sebastian asked Michelin to take the stars back, saying, “Today we want to proceed with a free spirit and without stress.” What this proves is that you can either allow your brand to control you, or you can allow your brand the freedom to evolve while still retaining your true intentions and most importantly, not forgetting why you started this journey in the first place. For Sebastian, the opportunity to break free of what seemed to be the shackles of Michelin, now affords him the fortune to experiment and make food true to his heart and nation. Better still, he gave the stars back rather than seeing them brutally stripped from his establishment as can be the case.
Take MacDonald’s, the polar opposite. They grew from fast food outlet with a fun image to a backlash from some who saw McD’s as being pivotal in the contribution to America’s obesity problem, to now a fast food restaurant with a concern for charity, children’s health, incorporating ingredients from locally sourced producers and a menu that features salads and wraps. Possibly not where they originally thought they would be but looking at their brand from where it was to where it is now, they’ve recognised that in order to keep the customer happy and buying their products, this is exactly where they should be. I’m sure that jolly Ronald McDonald clown still lies within the heart of everything they do.
A food brand and its beliefs can influence our decisions as a diner, a shopper and a consumer. If you’re a vegan with strong beliefs for animal welfare then the likelihood is you’ll be more conscientious about your food choices and would likely shop somewhere such as The Wholefoods Market chain, with a wide range of ethical foods and alternatives to the mainstream. Likewise, if you’re concerned over price then Asda, Tesco, Lidl and Aldi have it all wrapped up for you.
Coming back to that tyre company, well case in point, they continue making the tyres and I’m sure some folk still haven’t quite connected the dots. One company but two very different brands although quality personifies both. Michelin tyres are top of the range as far as rubber goes. Eating at a Michelin starred restaurant denotes fine dining, the best of the best, food beyond all imagination if you can afford to eat there. For a chef, it’s being top of their tree, the ultimate accolade for years of hard work and strive. However, for some, shunning the Michelin infamy is a chance to keep freedom of expression and truly shine in their own right within their sector.
There’s no harm in being different, whether it’s having a star or not. It’s all about knowing who you are and what you want to tell the world. As a chef and educator, I’m developing a culinary arts programme for a new gastronomic institute that will have many strings to it’s bow. This is a chance to create a brand from scratch and gently navigate it’s growth, developing an image that both moves with the times but also understands their target audience. When you have the chance to start from the beginning, as Chef Sebastian knows too well, allow yourself the freedom to move forward, be your authentic self and others will admire you for it.
©Hulya Erdal 2017
Hulya works as a chef, educator, marketeer and culinary consultant, developing cookery courses and training others to be chefs. From charity organisations to private institutions, Hulya utilises over 20 years of food knowledge and experience within the catering and hospitality sector to benefit educational establishments looking to grow their brand and advance in the world of gastronomy. Hulya is currently working with Docklands Academy, London and the Tas group of restaurants to market their new range of higher education hospitality programmes and develop an exciting new gastronomic institute.