New Chef Corps Aims to Re-Brand American Food

Anyone who has seen a few episodes of “No Reservations” or “Top Chef” knows that the United States boasts a very active and incredibly diverse culinary culture. Unfortunately, many of our overseas brethren think that American food begins and ends with Colonel Sanders and the golden arches.

The State Department and the James Beard Foundation would like to change all that, and last Friday they officially named more than 80 big chefs from across the US as members of the first “American Chef Corps.”

The team includes such food-world luminaries as Dan Barber of Blue Hill and April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig (sorry, we’re partial to New York), and their responsibilities will include preparing distinctly American meals for foreign dignitaries, conducting educational programs for audiences overseas, and inviting top chefs from around the world to cook in their stateside kitchens. Most importantly, they want to remind our overseas friends that American food is, in many cases, quite good. While they won’t get paid for the honor, they do get free uniforms.

This sounds like a fairly interesting idea!

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told The Washington Post, “Factoring in others’ tastes, ceremonies and values is an overlooked and powerful part of diplomacy.” We believe her when she says that meals shared between foreign leaders do indeed help “build stronger bonds between countries.”

But the key goal of the corps is convincing eaters overseas to buy American food products.

Yes, the details are a little fuzzy, and some opinionators like Noreen Malone of The New Republic remain skeptical. It’s true that most Americans could never afford to eat at these celebrities’ restaurants. Star chefs should probably spend more time educating the public on nutritional matters and spreading sunshine and rainbows like Jamie Oliver, and we do appreciate the irony of the fact that so many “American” foods were in fact borrowed from other cultures. But we still consider this a worthy exercise in large-scale diplomatic re-branding.

What do you think? No nation takes pride in the notoriously poor quality of its native cuisine (except, perhaps, the United Kingdom), so does American food need to show a new face to the world?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.