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Male Chefs Are So Hot Right Now

Today, many men are trading traditional pursuits for an amped-up role in the kitchen

Peter Durette is a senior executive at a multibillion-dollar company in Richmond, Virginia. On the cusp of 40, he’s got a smart, sylish wife, two kids and a gorgeous brick house in a tony suburb, with a pool and two German automobiles in the garage. He’s also a hell of a lot better with a chef’s knife than he is with a five-iron.

A generation ago, a guy in Durette’s situation might have limited his kitchen time to the seconds it took to saunter from the sofa to the fridge for another Heineken. But these days, more men are finding refuge from the demands of work and family not on the links or in a power-tool-strewn workshop, but in the kitchen. 

“Whenever I go over to friends’ houses for dinner, at least half the time a man is doing the cooking Adam Rapoport,” the editor in chief of Bon Appétit, says. Today, he notes, “It’s OK to cook and be a man. You can still be masculine and confident about it.”

Chef Marcus Samuelsson, who owns New York hotspot Red Rooster Harlem and founded the guy-friendly website Food Republic, agrees. “If you don’t know the latest beer or what wine to drink,” he says, “it’s like not knowing how to tie a bow tie or not knowing the latest sneakers.”

There are plenty of role models for guys headed toward the kitchen. Since the cultural norms presented by The Brady Bunch have been superseded by testosterone-fueled competitions like Top Chef and Iron Chef, being a chef is now “as cool as being a sports figure… or a musician,” says talent manager Scott Feldman. He should know, considering he helped turbo-charge the trend by steering chefs—including Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio—out from behind the stove and into the spotlight. 

“I don’t think it hurts that you have [host] Padma Lakshmi cracking the whip, in the form of a superhot woman who’s talking in a sexy way about food,” says Andy Cohen, a top programming exec at Bravo who helped grow Top Chef and its spin-offs into a juggernaut. But while no one’s going to quibble with the on-screen presence of Padma Lakshmi, what really motivates this new crew of home chefs are connoisseurship and craft, not titillation. Cooking well—like golfing well—takes practice, but the practicing a golf shot, in the kitchen it’s no big deal: Even an imperfect cassoulet tastes pretty damn good.

The impact of more guys tending the stove is resonating far and wide. Christopher Bastin, creative director of clothing label Gant, was so taken with the intermingling of food and fashion that he decided to position the company’s hip Gant Rugger line as an extension of the New York dining scene, in the same way that Ralph Lauren draws inspiration from WASP gentility or John Varvatos from ’70s rock and roll 

“Restaurants used to be all about fat guys in France running things, and all of a sudden you had all these young, cool entrepreneurs in their mid-20s,” Bastin says. “What was interesting to me was that all these guys who were starting things up were very stylish. It felt like a new lifestyle movement.”

Back in the ’90s, the Swedish label J.Lindeberg built awareness by dressing pro golfers. Tellingly, the Gant team has taken to dressing chefs: Bastin shot the fall 2012 Rugger look book with the photogenic staff of the New York farm-to-table restaurant the Fat Radish. And the crossover doesn’t end there.

“If you look at where fashion is in this country right now, everything is very artisan and handmade and real,” Rapoport says. “There’s a similar vibe in the cooking world. It’s not about the gadgets with six batteries in them. It’s more about the beautifully forged knives that you can spend $500 on.” 

Parting gifts at the dinner celebrating Gant Rugger’s entrée into the food scene included a selvage denim apron and a specially designed chef’s knife from the artisanal Portland brand Wildfire Cutlery. “I nerd out on everything that I’m interested in, whether it’s vintage watches or cooking,” Bastin says. “It’s the geek that exists in most guys.”

But as fun as it is geek out over all the gear required to become an accomplished home cook (trust me: golf gear is cheaper), there is more to the transition from the links to the kitchen than obsessing over paring knives instead of putters. “I don’t have a ton of creative outlets as a business guy,” Durette says. “For other people, they have music, or whatever else. For me, it’s cooking.”