Any chef with a media profile is likely to find food and equipment companies knocking at his door. The offer of thousands of pounds to endorse or license a product is tempting - and you need only trawl the aisles of any supermarket or kitchenware shop to see how many chefs have been enticed to link their name to a product for financial gain. Antony Worrall Thompson, Nick Nairn and Paul Heathcote have all found themselves lucrative income streams via commercial interests, as has Gary Rhodes, who has long been the high-profile public face of sugar refiner Tate & Lyle.
While some chefs are only too happy to endorse an existing product - as in the case of Rhodes - others have personal rules about being connected only to products that are manufactured under licence in their name. Worrall Thompson is probably the leading chef in this field, with 10 different products - all manufactured by specialist companies to his tight specifications - being produced under licence.
Whatever the relationship between chef and manufacturer, the involvement of a "named" chef not only helps to make a product more visible, but gives reassurance to the consumer that what they are buying is authentic and of high quality.
No one has been more successful in this respect than Jamie Oliver, who has undoubtedly helped to raise the street credibility of supermarket chain Sainsbury, particularly among the so-important younger generation. As well as his high-profile TV advertisements, he has also been involved behind the scenes, introducing and devising new products.
Recent press reports named Oliver, who is believed to have a £1m-a-year contract, as the saviour of the supermarket giant, contributing significantly to the turnaround of the company's profits after two years of decline.
While Sainsbury itself will not substantiate Oliver's contribution to the improved figures for its UK supermarkets - operating profit was up for the fourth consecutive half-year in October 2002, by 14.9% to £286m (against £249m in 2001) - it recognises that his connection with the company has had a major impact. "We are extremely pleased with the success of the Jamie Oliver advertising campaign," a Sainsbury spokesman says. "It has helped to boost loyalty and the perception of Sainsbury as pioneering better quality, everyday food."
While no other chef yet rivals the extent of Oliver's commercial success, others have undoubtedly had an impact on various products. Rhodes has been working with Tate & Lyle since 1995, appearing in TV and press advertisements, as well as being involved in PR and marketing activities and making personal appearances.
Rhodes emphasises his commitment to the product. "I believe Tate & Lyle's cane sugar offers the best results, so I'm happy to be seen and heard to say that," he says. "We feel we've achieved a lot over the years, encouraging people, in particular children, to discover the joy of cooking."
Tate & Lyle is equally happy with its relationship with Rhodes. "Gary Rhodes has been of enormous value to us in helping to secure and build our brand's reputation as the choice of people who care about cooking," marketing manager Adrian Mooney says.
Breville, too, is full of praise for the chef who has his name emblazoned over his own range of kitchen appliances manufactured by the company - Worrall Thompson. Sue Sharp, head of marketing at Pulse, the umbrella company that incorporates Breville, believes the success of the two-year-old Antony Worrall Thompson range of equipment - including blenders, mixers, food processor, "healthy" grill, coffee maker and juice extractor - is almost certainly due to the degree of trust consumers place in professional chefs. "Antony's work with Breville is more than just an endorsement," she says. "It involves him in new product development meetings, working closely on design, product launches, photography, interviews, recipe booklets and product demonstrations."
Worrall Thompson himself has very strong views about chefs and product endorsements. "Many chefs sell their names, but I only want to get involved if I feel that I can make an improvement to a product," he says. For instance, his work with Breville has included involvement in designing a kettle that keeps water at a constant 86.4°C, so it can be brought back to the boil in less than 10 seconds.
Breville is Worrall Thompson's most lucrative contract, worth around £150,000 a year, but there are many more. On the product side, he works with saucepan manufacturer Manor Mills, the Japanese Knife Company and kitchen utensil maker Eddingtons, while his new range of food products are beginning to appear in the supermarkets.
He's been developing biscuits with Simmers, fruit cakes with Anthony Stephens, pickles and chutneys with Martlet, soups with Saxons, goats' milk yogurt with Delamere Dairy, and ready meals with Abbey Vale Bakery. Sceptics may point out that Worrall Thompson has been a frequent critic of ready meals but, as always, he has a ready answer. "What I've said is that there are a lot of poor meals out there," he says. "For instance, some shepherd's pie dishes contain a disgraceful 13% meat. I'm producing something far better than that."
One chef who refuses to get involved with the manufacture of ready meals is Nick Nairn. "I've been asked, but I've declined," says Nairn, who does, however, promote a range of ambient sauces for Baxters of Speyside. "It's my aim to encourage people to cook, and the sauces still require people to take a piece of fresh meat or fish and use their skill to cook it before adding the sauce," he says.
Like Worrall Thompson, Nairn will now put his name only to products he has been involved in manufacturing. He helped to source the ingredients, write the recipes, and test the product while developing the range of seven sauces for Baxters. He went on to market them in supermarkets, with flavours such as caramelised onion and red wine gravy, creamy peppercorn and whisky, and hot and sour red pepper.
Nairn has had an equally intimate involvement with the Nick Nairn five-piece range of stainless steel cookware, including a pressure cooker that he has designed for Tower, and he is now in the process of developing a steamer and bread maker for the company. He uses the range of saucepans in the Nairn Cook School, near Port of Monteith, Stirlingshire.
"It is important for my credibility that, as well as being involved with products that I develop, my name is linked only to commodities that I believe in," Nairn says. "I admit now that, purely for financial reasons, I wrote some recipes and had my name on a new product that was launched about five years ago. But afterwards it made me think, 'What's the connection between Nick Nairn and this product?' - and there wasn't any."
For this reason, he says, he has turned down significant amounts of money to promote some products, including a deep-fat fryer. "Given my strong views on improving the poor dietary habits that exist in Scotland, endorsing a deep-fat fryer was definitely out of the question," he says.
Paul Heathcote, too, considers very carefully any product he endorses, but doesn't see anything wrong with promoting British products that he uses both at home and in his five restaurants, as well as his outside catering interests at Preston North End and Liverpool football clubs. "If I was asked to promote Danish bacon, for instance, obviously I wouldn't feel too comfortable about that and it wouldn't really be credible," he says.
Although Heathcote isn't involved in developing the two products that he endorses - Delamere goats' cheese and Country Life butter - he uses the products when writing recipes that appear on sales literature. He uses both himself, and always has done.
Besides the fee he receives from his endorsement work, Heathcote also benefits from the extra business it brings to his restaurants. "You can't underestimate the value of having your face and name being put in front of millions of people," he says.
Some chefs, though, steer clear of product endorsement. Rick Stein, to date, has avoided it, and has publicly said: "It is not my policy to endorse anything."
Richard Corrigan, chef-proprietor of Lindsay House restaurant, London, is of a similar opinion. "For chefs with no retail experience, to endorse products is really rather gimmicky," he says, having turned down such offers.
John Campbell, head chef at the Vineyard at Stockcross, Berkshire, is another chef who's not yet endorsed a product. And he says that he never would, if it were purely for financial gain. However, he would do so if he felt that the product was one which he strongly supported ethically, or there was an opportunity to further the good of the industry. "For instance, if I was asked to promote meat from rare breeds, it is something I would do, as I totally believe in the product," he says. "But there would be no point in me endorsing frozen chips, as that would harm my long-term career goals."
The Partnership (020 7731 3233) is a licensing agency specialising in working with high-profile celebrities who have developed lifestyle products which are manufactured in their name. Clients include Catherine Zeta Jones and Antony Worrall Thompson.
While a chef could set up a licensing agreement himself, he is unlikely to have the time or the knowledge to do so.
A company such as The Partnership will match a chef to the most appropriate manufacturer and negotiate the fee.
It will develop an image for the chef and work out a strategy for developing the product, from writing the initial recipes, through to its manufacture, sales, distribution, marketing and promotion. The Partnership gives the following advice to chefs who would like to manufacture products under licence:
Major retailers believe that a celebrity chef will sell even the most basic product - the sandwich. Allders and Marks & Spencer are two stores that have sold sandwiches devised by chefs.
Gary Rhodes's range of sandwiches for Allders includes smoked chicken and avocado guacamole with chargrilled red peppers, and peppered goats' cheese with pesto, cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Both are on malted wheat bread and sell at £3.60 (£3.75 in London's Oxford Street store).
Last year, Marks & Spencer worked with six chefs to produce a range of sandwiches called Chef Specials. Among them were Sam Clarke of Moro, London (slices of pork loin marinated with fennel seeds, quince jam and watercress in a soft olive oil ciabatta, £3), and Mark Hix of the Ivy, London (honey-roast salmon, pickled cucumber with cumin seeds, lettuce and mayonnaise served on a potato and dill bloomer, £3).
A new range of Chef Special sandwiches is expected to be introduced by Marks & Spencer later this year.