Just weeks before Christmas, with the restaurant industry reeling again from the omicron variant, chef Tom Colicchio was tweeting about penetrating the metaverse. In a series of tweets, he announced CHFTY Pizzas, a new NFT (non-fungible token) venture with Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn. The company’s website promises that owners of the NFTs — a “minting,” or release, of 8,888 unique pizza designs onto secure digital tokens — will enjoy “one-of-a-kind physical and virtual experiences” and “future integration into the expanding metaverse.” Colicchio’s pies are still in the virtual oven, but according to CHFTY’s Discord channel, a pre-sale will be offered to its “Slicelist” members on March 23 and to the public shortly thereafter with an initial supply of 2,777 NFTs priced at .07 ethereum each (at publication time, the equivalent of around $200). On paper, the total proceeds from these sales would surpass a half million dollars, which, any way you slice it, is a lot of extra cheese.
On a basic level, NFTs are a record on the blockchain, the rapidly expanding web of decentralized digital ledgers where cryptocurrency transactions are recorded. Each record is an irreplicable digital receipt that can be issued for almost anything. And in recent months, non-fungible tokens have emerged as a new way to define ownership in a digital world — buyers have been snapping up NFTs of everything from specific clips of NBA basketball dunks to silly renderings of bored apes. In simple terms, an NFT signifies that its holder has exclusive ownership of something in the virtual world — a digital image to place in their Twitter avatars, for example. (In this case, Colicchio’s pizza designs are like limited-edition digital trading cards where no two cards are exactly the same.)
For the creators, the current value proposition of NFTs is that they are engineered with “smart contracts,” meaning that they’re coded with built-in terms and conditions that can generate commissions on secondary sales. So if someone buys and then resells an NFT you made, you would receive a cut each time it changes hands. This is partly why NFTs were originally created — to give artists more financial control over their work and ensure that they would benefit from the resale value of their art.
Despite these earnest intentions, NFTs have morphed into speculative assets fueled by fame and FOMO, and as with most baffling trends, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Justin Bieber, Reese Witherspoon, and Kevin Hart are cashing in. Amanda Mull wrote recently for The Atlantic about the embarrassing spectacle of Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon “uninterestedly cooing” about their Bored Ape NFTs on Fallon’s late-night talk show. “With NFTs,” Mull writes, “America may have reached the logical extreme of celebrity endorsements.”
The relationship between restaurants and celebrities has always been symbiotic, so it’s unsurprising to see chefs join the NFT circus. When food writer Geraldine DeRuiter’s recent piece describing her tragicomic experience in the Michelin-starred Bros’ Restaurant in Lecce went viral,