One of the problems in discussing issues of self-worth is that we cannot view them objectively when it comes to our own situation. Our own self worth is so important that, for our psychological well being, we have to defend it.
Concerning your analogy. Wouldn’t the driving force behind the great chef be pride? And pride manifests itself as a feeling? And isn’t pride closely related to self worth?
I agree with you that we can point to motives of pure self interest for helping others. In fact, gaining feelings of pride or self-esteem from helping other people are also motives of pure self interest. The problem is that if we truly recognize that our motives for helping others are pure self interest, it destroys the very feelings of self esteem that we were trying to achieve. The difference between altruism and “feel-goodism” rests in self-deception.
When a chef prepares a great meal, that food is just a means to satisfy a need for his/her self esteem. Likewise, when we do our good works, the people we help are just a means to satisfy our self esteem.
I think I understand where you are coming from, but I am honestly not sure what the ultimate point is. I suppose one could look at any sane, voluntary human action and find a way to say that it ultimately was motivated by a desire to feel good. But this exercise, so far as I can see, really tells us nothing and may in fact be deceptive in that we cannot truly get into the minds of others. It also may tend to devalue what we would label altruistic actions, and that could have significant social cost.
I disagree with your statement that recognizing self interest destroys feelings of self esteem. My personal ethics are derived from self interest, but I get satisfaction from knowing that I live as philosophically consistent a life as possible.