The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Brandon Baltzley's Details Profile Shows Dark Side of the Kitchen, Celebrity Chef Culture

By Anthony Todd in Food on Oct 26, 2011 4:00PM

Photo by Andrew Hetherington for Details.
Chef Brandon Baltzley's career as a media darling continues. The chef, who has had drug problems over the past year and has lost jobs in consequence, is the subject of a profile in this month's Details Magazine. While we've worked with Brandon in the past (and have always wished him well) it begs the question - is he becoming a celebrity because of his food or because of his willingness to talk about his addiction problems? And, should we care?

Author Ivan Solotaroff chronicles Baltzley's recent job problems. "In less than a year, Baltzley lost or left dream jobs at four top restaurants in Chicago...After winning the executive-chef job at Tribute, Baltzley didn't make it to the opening, winding up instead in rehab after a particularly vicious five-day free fall of near-nonstop coke snorting." After that incident, Baltzley went into rehab - a time chronicled by Kevin Pang of the Tribune.

As a meditation on drug problems in the food industry, the piece has potential. Solotaroff quotes Chef Jared Wentworth (Longman & Eagle). "[F]or those of us in the industry who know that it's nothing but toil and misery, when we hear about Brandon, we think: 'Who hasn't been there?' I know I was and that a lot of the celebrated chefs I looked up to as a line cook were stoned out of their minds on coke. It's what you do after that counts." Drug problems in the food industry are rampant, and as chefs become more like celebrities, they also begin to encounter the downsides of the spotlight - attention on their flaws, as well as their qualities.

The rest of the article is focused on Baltzley's recent "Crux" pop up dinners. Which begs the question that has been whispered amongst food writers for month - why should we care about Baltzley yet? True, he's had some great jobs and his food is gorgeous, but his currency in Chicago is much more derived from sensation than it is from his proven experience. His rock star persona, his tattoos and his willingness to be obscene on the record unfortunately overshadow his intelligence and creativity whenever the media gets ahold of him. His most recent pop-up had to be rescheduled because of a logistical error (it is unclear whose fault it was), and his management skills (as opposed to his cooking skills) have yet to be proven.

On the other hand, Baltzley has pulled back the curtain on one of the endemic and oft-ignored issues in the food industry. He has spoken candidly and eloquently about his problems and the problems he sees around him, and has (we hope) found a home at Pensiero that will allow him to grow as a chef. After this profile, we hope that the media will finally stop focusing on the personality, the drugs and the sensation and allow Baltzley to do what he was trained to do - cook, and cook well.