The Tweet Smell of Success

Chefs leverage social media to whip up cachet and community.
In foodie cities like San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Minneapolis, renowned chefs are every bit as revered as movie stars and professional athletes. Need proof? Consider the Twitter tallies of a couple of Minnesota boys.

You’d expect Timberwolves center Kevin Love — a two-time NBA All-Star — to have hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, right? Well, he does: 444,505, at press time. But chef and TV personality Andrew Zimmern, star of “Bizarre Foods,” claims even more: 457,430.

While culinary TV shows are largely responsible for bringing these chefs to our attention, it’s the chefs’ own forays into social media that help keep them front and center, allowing us not just a peek but often a full-on gawk into their kitchens. These days, it seems, everybody’s doing it: Jamie Oliver (@jamieoliver) has more than 2 and a half million followers, Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) and Gordon Ramsay (@GordonRamsay01) each have over a million and a half, and Giada De Laurentiis (@GDeLaurentiis) and Paula Deen (@Paula_Deen) are fast approaching a million.

But those are pretty heavy hitters. What about the rank-and-file chefs who toil over hot stoves with nary a camera in sight? Erik Thoresen of food industry research and consulting firm Technomic says even those chefs are flocking to Twitter, and not necessarily just to fill a four-top.

“Chefs don’t need to be on TV or a household name to be big in the social media sphere. In fact, one of the most compelling aspects of the trend is the localization that occurs,” he says. “Chefs from the same city who begin interacting with one another on social platforms may sometimes collaborate in the real world as well.”

Chefs leverage social media to whip up cachet and community

In Chicago, Stephanie Izard (@StephAndTheGoat), “Top Chef” Season 4 winner and owner of Girl and the Goat, is a prolific tweeter who keeps in touch with her followers while she’s cooking. “I tweet from the kitchen,” she says. “That’s the fun part. How else are people going to see what we do behind the scenes?”

Though nearly 30,000 followers now keep tabs on her, Izard initially used Twitter as a way to keep in touch with just one. When a friend told her that he could never reach her at work, she encouraged him to tweet her, promising that she could respond and cook at the same time.

Her first attempt at tweeting to the public, however, didn’t go so well: When she sent a half-hearted tweet about the weather, Time Out Chicago took notice and called it one of the “lamest tweets from a chef.”

Since then, she’s become so skilled at wielding posts and pans that The Braiser, a site devoted to celebrity chefs, recognized her in the “Likeability” category of its “Ultimate Guide to the Best and Worst of Celebrity Chefs on Twitter.” “Stephanie’s tweets have the same goofy charm that won her the ‘Fan Favorite’ title on Season 4 of ‘Top Chef,’” the site’s editors wrote.

“It’s a way to let fans into my life, and into the kitchen as much as I feel like it,” Izard says. “I love giving them recipes, information about dishes. I’ll tweet about my outside life, too, like pictures of my dog. It’s a great communication tool.”

Whether they tweet for business or pleasure, you can add a taste for Twitter to the long list of skills now required of standout chefs ― and the shy need not apply.

“We find that many of the chefs who develop sizable followings are actively posting on a daily basis and allow their passion to come through in the posts that they make,” says Thoresen. “We also find that many of these chefs have genuine opinions about things, and they don’t hold back in terms of letting folks know what they think.”

So rising chefs, be warned: If you can’t stand the tweet, get out of the kitchen.