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Do you believe using kitchenware with a celebrity chef's name on it will make you a better cook?

Manufacturers are betting you will.

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As that superstar among superstars, Emeril Lagasse, has put it in the past, "To prepare great food, you gotta have great cookware; and I know you'll kick your cooking up a notch with mine."

In fact, his Emerilware, manufactured by All-Clad Metalcrafters, has been so successful it's inspiring a whole raft of other chefs.

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Hip Brit chef Jamie Fowler has a deal in the works with T-Fal, and compatriot Nigella Lawson just introduced her Living Kitchen Collection, designed with Sebastian Conran. On a more upscale note, Manhattan chef Daniel Boulud's lines of enameled cast-iron pots and Sabatier knives are due out this month.

What's going on now is more than endorsing. Chefs who are regular guests in your living room -- well, at least your TV room -- are staking their reputations on a product by putting their name on it. They're saying that they had a hand in its design. If it doesn't perform, you can blame them.

It's a win-win situation. The chefs have a medium to keep their name in the public eye, and a kitchenware company looking for branding opportunities couldn't do better.

"I'm sure this is just the beginning," says Tina Ujlaki, executive food editor of Food & Wine magazine. She doesn't think people buy a pot because they believe they then will cook like Lagasse (or whatever chef they admire), but because they think they'll get a quality product.

"It's an element of confidence," she says. "TV chefs have become our friends."

Today's generation of cooks needs a friend. Michael Keighley, editorial director of the Gourmet Retailer Magazine, tells the story of an Akron, Ohio, storeowner who told him his grandmother spent eight hours a day cooking, his mother spent three hours a day in the kitchen, his wife cooks on the weekend and his daughter doesn't know where the kitchen is.

What he was implying, says Keighley, is that a whole generation of cooks didn't learn to cook at Mother's knee -- explaining at least in part the current explosion of interest in TV cooking shows.

"It's a societal change," he says. "The younger generation are looking for someone to say, 'That's a good product.' "

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Chefware as a phenomenon isn't new; it's just that trend trackers are taking note because Emerilware has done so well. The current stars in the gastronomical firmament are joining Wolfgang Puck of Spago (his Bistro Collection first came out on the Home Shopping Network in the mid '90s), French master chef Jacques Pepin, who has had his own line of copper cookware for years, and other, more specialized cooks like Joyce Chen, who until this year owned the company that manufactured her Asian kitchenware.

Manufacturers probably first noticed the power of a star chef to promote kitchenware with the introduction of Cuisinart to the American public in 1973. The new appliance was a hard sell because it was so expensive. Was it really any better than a good knife?

Then Cuisinart got rave reviews from Julia Child and James Beard, the most famous American chefs of their era, and suddenly everyone who considered him- or herself a gourmet cook had to have one. The name became synonymous with food processor.

That's different, of course, from taking money to endorse a product, and even further removed from actually having a hand in its design -- although you might ask yourself how much design input, even from a great chef, really matters when you're talking pots and pans.

In fact, one reason manufacturers are falling over themselves to enlist celebrity chefs to their cause is the fact that, well, a pot is a pot is a pot. How do you differentiate your pot?

"It's challenging to come up with a new design in cookware," says Hugh Rushing of the Birmingham, Ala.-based Cookware Manufacturers Association. "If you're stirring something, it's hard to come up with something better than a round shape."

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All-Clad's involvement with Lagasse started small.

Four years ago, the company decided to tuck one of the chef's cookbooks, Emeril's TV Dinners, inside a 2 1/2 -quart stainless-steel saucier pan (calling it the Emeril Everyday Pan). The company sold the two for $89.99. The pan came out that fall -- late in the year -- but it was still the single best-selling stainless-steel cookware item of 1999.

"Then we decided we'd talk," says Catherine Fischer, senior vice president of sales and marketing at All-Clad.

The result was Emerilware, which is still doing phenomenally well. Sales are up 30 percent to 40 percent from last year, and this summer a new bakeware line and kitchen tools have been added to the collection.

To be fair, chef-branded cookware has gotten good marks when Consumer Reports has tested it. In December 2002, the magazine rated Emerilware (a 10-piece set for $350) third among the nonstick cookware that was tested. In the uncoated category, the Wolgang Puck Bistro Collection (a 20-piece set for $150) was ranked first, while the Emerilware (a seven-piece set for $150) was sixth, but still "very good." (None of the other cookware sets tested was chefware.)

Emerilware, of course, is still an All-Clad product. You can buy other All-Clad lines that don't have Lagasse's name on them but are still highly respected. Differences seem to be pretty much cosmetic, although Lagasse would probably disagree.

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If you're looking for big-name kitchen products, you're most likely to find them in department stores and places like Bed Bath & Beyond and on shopping channels.

The idea is that the celebrity chef is bringing great pots, pans and utensils to the masses, at a price they can afford. But that's going to change as chefware goes upscale, with the names of chichi restaurateurs attached to them.

A Cook's Table, the cooking school that sells gourmet kitchenware in Federal Hill, doesn't carry Emerilware, although it does sell a line of All-Clad products. But you can find items like the Silpat baking sheet mat, endorsed by New York pastry chef Francois Payard; and Daniel Boulud's knives and enamelware would be at home there.

Boulud, owner/chef of New York's Daniel, Cafe Boulud and DB Bistro Moderne, was approached by Sabatier to endorse its knives. He, however, had design ideas of his own and decided to develop his own line for Sabatier under the Daniel Boulud Kitchen label.

"It was like creating a new recipe," says Boulud. "I tweaked and tested each and every aspect of the design from weight to balance and from grip to blade, just as though I were cooking a new dish for the menu at Daniel."

It sounds like a knife every cook would want to own. Still, as Morris Vatz of A Cook's Table, warns, "If a chef has his name on a product, it's probably pretty decent. But it's not for everyone."

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That's certainly true of New York restaurateur Alain Ducasse's entry into the chefware field. He commissioned the French design house Goyard to create eight limited-edition "chef's trunks." Each one contains a variety of linens and utensils, from marble pestle and mortar to an olive oil flask to kitchen scissors. And everything in between. The trunk's canvas exterior is hand-stenciled in a herringbone pattern.

A call to Goyard's showroom in Paris reveals that only one is still left for sale, although the trunks can be special-ordered.

Cost?

Twelve thousand euros, or about $13,800.

If you want what the chefs are selling ...

Wondering where to buy your favorite chef's cookware? Here are some suggestions to get you started, although they are by no means the only places this chefware is or will be for sale.

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Emerilware is available locally at Hecht's and Bed, Bath & Beyond, among other stores. You can buy the nonstick and stainless-steel pots and pans and the new bakeware and utensils online at www.emeril store.com. (To give you some idea of pricing, the 10-piece nonstick set costs $349.)

Jamie Oliver's dinnerware (which is oven-, dishwasher-, freezer- and microwave-safe), roasters and casseroles can be found at Macy's and www .macys.com. His retro roaster ($74.95) is sold on the Food Network's Web site (www .foodnetwork.com). His T-Fal line of pots and pans is still in the works.

The Wolfgang Puck Bistro Collection is available through the Home Shopping Network at www.hsn.com (800-933-2887) and at wolfgangpuck-kitchen ware.com.

Right now the Nigella Lawson Living Kitchen Collection of cake pans, graters, measuring cups and the like is available in the United States only at the Terence Conran Shop in New York (866-755-9079), although other retailers will be added. Prices range from $6 for a whisk to $110 for a walnut cutting board.

An eight-piece Jacques Pepin copper cookware set by Bourgeat sells for $773.99 at www.buychoice.com.

Daniel Boulud's DBK knives (10-piece set for $299-$399) and enameled cast-iron cookware will be available at the end of August at Bloomingdale's and Bed Bath & Beyond, from the Chef's Catalog and at Amazon.com.

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Alain Ducasse's chef's trunk can be purchased by calling Goyard in Paris directly (011-331-4260-5704).

- Elizabeth Large

For the record

In an article about chef's cookware in yesterday's Taste section, chef Jamie Oliver was misidentified as Jamie Fowler. The Sun regrets the error.


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