When he emerged five years ago as the winner of The Food Network’s Superstar Chef Challenge II, Vancouver’s Anthony Sedlak looked more boy-next-door than beefcake.
As his image matured in front of the camera – the hair got spikier, there appeared to be more ink on his forearms – Mr. Sedlak gained a following who were drawn to his genuine enthusiasm and boyish charm. He cultivated that fan base through social media, and what seemed like a non-stop schedule of special appearances and promotional deals. Accessibility was the name of the game (in a video posted to YouTube last month, Mr. Sedlak made magic out of white bread and melted cheese. “I know what you’re thinking,” he says, “How exciting could a grilled cheese really be?! ”)
He hadn’t yet, however, cracked the upper echelon of the food world. While he worked under chef Olivier Couillaud in London, and as sous-chef at the Observatory in Grouse Mountain, he had yet to run his own kitchen. (He co-founded the American Cheesesteak Co. in downtown Vancouver last year.)
He may not have reached “top chef” status as defined in the country’s top culinary circles, but the droves of fans who collectively mourned the death of the 29-year-old is a testament to how pervasive the title of “celebrity chef” has become.
It’s only been recently – and largely owing to chef Jamie Oliver – that the celebrity chef machine has started to smile upon the young. Emeril, Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsay were all awarded television shows because, for better or worse, they had an imprimatur of authority – they also came to small-screen fame after proving themselves. Mr. Sedlak, by comparison, was fresh – not even 25 when his show, The Main, appeared on the Food Network in 2007, the grand prize for winning the Superstar Challenge.
The Food Network continues to corral and crown its next stars, churning out a new tier of food celebrities whose fame is based as much on likeability and marketability than classic training. Their road to fame is akin to eating dessert first – something Mr. Sedlak did not take for granted.
Alison Fryer of Toronto’s Cookbook Store remembers Mr. Sedlak returning a few days after a book signing with a bottle of wine and a thank-you note. “That someone so young and caught up in the food world and media would do something like that,” she says, her voice trailing off.
He was an expert at spreading the joy of cooking, even at the grilled-cheese level.