Chef Collaborations for the Win in 2019

While chef competition continues to drive ratings of popular TV shows like Chopped and Top Chef, an altogether different dynamic is trending off-screen:  Chef Collaborations.

A quick online search of “chef collabs” nets a seemingly endless and intriguing menu of chef and cross-concept pairings. Perhaps the Dog Haus Chef Collaboration Series tagline captures the emerging trend best, No Such Thing as Too Many Chefs in the Kitchen.

Indeed, a new day is dawning in foodservice. Just as creative collaborations have generated “buzz” in the music industry over the years (from Aerosmith and Run DMC, to Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett), so too goes the culinary world. Chef collaboration, versus competition, is the name of the game in foodservice moving into 2019.

Opening Doors to Innovation

Across the country (and even globally), chefs are combining shared or even disparate backgrounds and cuisines to create new culinary innovations and experiences. Recent examples include Zagat’s 30-Under-30 Chef Matt Broussard’s pop-up at Marcus Samuelsson’s “Marcus B&P” in Newark, and a burger ideation session at Sizzler, featuring chefs representing Aussie Beef, Idaho Potatoes, Impossible Burger, and more. Social media magnets like Salt & Straw and Side Car Doughnuts regularly partner with celebrity guest chefs to offer trend-forward flavors and edgy epicurean delights.

“For some chefs, inviting colleagues from other restaurants is about camaraderie and building community. For others, it’s offering something new to the guests,” observes food and lifestyle writer Lesley Balla in her article, “Guest Chef Collaborations Do More Than Fill Seats for a Night,” on Skift Table. “All agree it’s a great marketing tool.”

The Sky’s the Limit

The collaboration trend is playing out in establishments ranging from edgy independents (see @KimskiChicago) to major chains like Shake Shack. Restaurateurs are hosting guest chefs, collaborating on menu items, and opening their doors to pop-ups (perhaps the ultimate LTO), sparking excitement for participating food and beverage pros and their customers alike.

Chef collaborations have even taken flight with a number of major airlines, as part of a commitment to elevating in-flight fare. According to USA Today, Jet Blue’s premium class passengers can now enjoy sweet treats from Milk Bar’s chef, Christina Tosi, while Delta’s luxury business class passengers en route from LAX to JFK can dine on meals created by high-profile LA chefs, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo.

Is Social Media Shaping the Future of our Kitchens?

Are these next-level culinary collaborations simply a flash in the pan, or part of the evolving landscape of food and beverage, propelled by chefs who have come of age in the shared internet economy? A talented chef friend, who is embracing the new paradigm, believes social media plays a big part in the collaboration trend. “Today’s newer generation of chefs seek to learn, share, and create together,” said Chef Ian Ramirez, of Michigan-based Creative Dining Services. “We see the value in cross-pollinating, and very little downside.”

Today’s platforms make collaboration possible, and even profitable. It’s a new day and a new mindset. Chefs and consumers alike are eating it up.

Chef Collaborations Present Opportunities for Marketers

This new era of chef and operator collaboration has exciting implications for foodservice marketers. With many of the former rules of engagement, politics, and protocols being tossed into the compost pile, marketers are turning up the heat on creativity and affiliations. They are helping connect the dots between chef, operators, and clients. The more out-of-the-box thinking, the better.

In the case of the Marcus B&P honey pop-up, for example, it all started with an Instagram direct message to Chef Matt Broussard. Our food PR team sought to partner with Chef Broussard on a National Honey Month initiative, based on his innovative recipes and gorgeous posts. Coincidentally, he already had a September pop-up in the works with Marcus Samuelsson, timed perfectly with National Honey Month. Chefs Broussard and Samuelsson embraced the idea of a honey-inspired event, and the three-way collaboration was born. The result was a win-win-win, and an open door to future collaborations.

Finding Your Own Perfect Match

Creativity and flexibility, as well as nimble negotiating and operating, are the key to successful marketing partnerships in this age of collaborations. One great starting point is to host a chef immersion event and observe the synergies that develop organically between chefs and operators. With a mind toward collaboration, you may be the curator of the next great industry mashup.

Thanks in a large part to social media, the food and beverage industry and marketing worlds are more connected than ever. Now is the time to leverage that stickiness to evolve your own food marketing programs and initiatives, with a spirit of collaboration.

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Andrea Schepke PR Director EvansHardy+Young
Andrea Schepke, PR Director

After serving as Managing Director in the Los Angeles and Chicago offices of Hill & Knowlton and supervising accounts like the Almond Board and Network For A Healthy California (5-A-Day) for Porter Novelli, Andrea joined us to take the reins of the National Honey Board foodservice account. Her strategically directed combination of events, media relations and advertising have helped create significant buzz in a very important market for our client.