Sunday, June 1, 2003

Chef finds ad 'demeaning'

No one can accuse John Kinsella, the head of Cincinnati State's chef-technology program, of keeping his opinions to himself. And now the feisty chef is rattling pans about a light-hearted advertisement for a well-meaning Cincinnati charity.

Kinsella is furious about an ad and poster that ran as part of this year's Fine Arts Fund campaign - even though the campaign ended more than a month ago. The ad shows a cook in a restaurant kitchen, who has sculpted a facsimile of Rodin's "The Thinker" using mashed potatoes. Guess who's been to the museum? the ad reads.

The comical photo illustration has upset Kinsella so much, he is talking to other chefs in town about refusing to work at future Fine Arts Fund events.

"I think it's demeaning to my profession," says Kinsella, who will discuss his complaint with chefs at an August meeting.

He is mostly bothered by how the cook is depicted: He looks disheveled and unshaven. His shirt and apron are smeared with mashed potatoes. And while some might argue the man is meant to be a "lowly" short order cook - not a chef - Kinsella doesn't draw that distinction.

"I was infuriated when I saw it because it was trying to teach everything we're not supposed to do," Kinsella says.

At Cincinnati State, other culinary schools and restaurants (even diners), cleanliness is no joking matter. If a student comes to class dressed inappropriately or wearing dirty clothes or shoes, Kinsella dismisses him or her.

Feeling betrayed

He and other culinary professionals are trying to debunk the stereotype of the filthy, hash-slinging cook, which is why Kinsella is so angry. He also feels betrayed because he and many Cincinnati chefs volunteer their services for arts events in town.

Not all chefs share his fervor. Jean-Robert de Cavel, owner of Jean-Robert at Pigall's, downtown, thinks the ad is "humorous." Jimmy Gherardi, chef-owner of J's Fresh Seafood in Hyde Park, agrees the ad is demeaning to his profession, but doesn't think the Fine Arts Fund produced it maliciously.

"I think it was just poor judgment," Gherardi says. "But would they have done the same thing with a doctor, dentist or a lawyer? I don't think so."

The campaign featured three similar photos: One showed a young man contemplating a human skull, Hamlet-like, in an examining room; another depicted a woman, apparently an office worker, acting as if she were conducting a symphony; and yet another photo showed a garbage worker making an impressive ballet leap. (For the record, the garbage guy and the office worker look cleaner, more fit and better dressed than the mashed potato-sculpting cook.)

Common-man approach

Those who created the ads explain the photos were meant to simply send the message that the arts are for everyone to enjoy.

"We were appealing to the common man," says Dale Tesmond, managing director of Benchmark, the Cincinnati ad agency that created the campaign.

Fine Arts Fund campaign director Suzy Dorward says she would have done "nothing different."

And in terms of achieving the campaign's monetary goal, it's difficult to argue with her. The Fine Arts Fund received a record $10 million in pledges this year - money that goes to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and other worthy organizations. But in its efforts to pull in the plebian class, did the campaign go too far?

From experience, I know it's sometimes difficult not to offend someone. But some might detect a patronizing tone in this campaign, perhaps more unsettling than the sloppy depiction of a cook. The hook of the ads seems to be the novelty of people in these occupations having an interest in the arts. Kind of like: A cook who admires Rodin? Can you believe that?

So in its attempt to reach the "common man," the Fine Arts Fund may have unwittingly ridiculed him.

I can't speak for garbage collectors or office workers, but I know chefs and cooks who support and participate in the arts. In fact, chef Kinsella is a big fan of Shakespeare and his son is studying classical piano at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Maybe that's another stereotype we can debunk: Cooks and chefs aren't ignorant because they work in the service sector. They can be just as enlightened as the rest of us.


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