When I was waiting to talk to Centerplate executive chef David Dekker about Safeco Field's new menu items, Dekker - who'd just finished a chef demo for FanFest attendees - was approached by an autograph seeker. "I'm not used to this," he told the fan.
Dekker told me he's frequently hit up for his paper chef's hat, which is imprinted with a Mariners logo, but he's only once before been asked for his signature in a non-contractual setting: When Mariners' Magazine last season ran a profile of the new hire, someone asked him to sign the article.
"It was a novelty," Dekker says. "I'm not used to having groupies."
While many eaters habitually ask chefs to sign their menus as souvenirs of incredible meals, few collectors have yet made a specialty of chef autographs, according to Steve Cyrkin of Autograph Magazine.
"It's not an exciting subject," Cyrkin says. "The people who watch food TV, they might love it, but it's not the Beatles or Marilyn Monroe."
Cyrkin generally equates excitement with monetary worth, and chef autographs aren't likely to ever become valuable. It's a classic case of supply and demand, Cyrkin says: "there's not a high demand for them, and the chefs sign all the time."
Every book signing reduces the value of a chef's autograph, and it's hard to find a celebrity chef whose calendar isn't crammed with such events. Julia Child scrawled her name in countless cookbooks, Cyrkin says.
Still, he adds, aspiring chef autograph collectors who aren't dissuaded by the promise of zero riches are right to focus on cookbooks.
"The best place for an autograph would be in a cookbook, because that's their medium, and cooking is so personal to them," he says.
By cookbook, Cyrkin doesn't mean a bookplate.
"Have them sign in the book itself," Cyrkin says. "That's extremely important. If there's ever a chance of value, don't sign the bookplate."
Cyrkin further cautions that collectors should be wary of potentially fraudulent autographs. "Forgeries abound," he warns.
Although Cyrkin doesn't know any chef autograph collectors, he considers it a legitimate hobby.