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Americans' Insatiable Hunger for Celebrity Chefs

The cult of the TV celebrity chef is larger today than ever before. It is now possible for chefs to reach millions of people through a multimedia empire -- with books, restaurants, TV shows and even commercial endorsements.

Chefs have become so big that some -- like Emeril Lagasse, the current titan of TV chefs -- are recognizable by one word alone. Lagasse says he's amazed at how much things have changed just in the last 10 years.

"Chefs weren't really respected other than being in the kitchen," Lagasse says. "You rarely saw them in the dining room interacting with people… Now all of a sudden, people have started looking at chefs and saying, 'Wow! That person really is a craftsman, is really a business person, they can do publicity.'"

That publicity has helped some create cooking empires -- books, TV shows, cookware lines and restaurants that pack in the crowds.

Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine, says that in our celebrity-obsessed culture, many of these diners are seeking a personal connection as much as a good meal. "The more people can identify with these chefs, the more they want to go to their places, buy their books, have some kind of contact with them," Reichl says.

Linda Carucci, curator of food arts at COPIA, the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts in California's Napa Valley, says the rise of celebrity chefs has made people more aware of the foods they put into their bodies. It's also helped draw more men to her cooking classes -- and, she says, they talk about their favorite chefs the way other guys might talk about football stars.

"They're rabid about it," Carucci says. "I mean, they talk about them like they're on a first-name basis."

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.

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