What’s in a Name?
Chef. The word gets thrown around a lot lately. The advent of the Food Network has done much to further this phenomenon, and has even catapulted some chefs to celebrity status. Something that wasn't even thought possible just 20 years ago. There is much debate among us as to whether or not this is a good thing, but it is what it is. Most of us prefer to be sequestered away in our kitchen, far from the prying eyes of the public at large. Toiling in our secluded little universe so you can enjoy your night out, date, anniversary, -insert special occasion here-. Quite happy to not have to deal with you face to face. Toiling quite hard, in most cases, might I add. Understaffed, underpaid, overworked. This is a condition that is industry wide. We've worked very hard for the title of "chef", so it get's under my skin a little when non-professionals try to take on that moniker. In the classic French use for the word (derived from "chief", by the way), it refers specifically to the leader of a professional kitchen. Not even the other cooks in the same kitchen fit this title, only the boss. The other cooks (again, in the classic French brigade system) all have their own titles. Garde manger, saucier, patisier, ect.. Time has changed the meaning, however. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. I do think the definition could be expanded to include dedicated professionals. Those of us that consciously try to become better at what we do everyday, and have been doing it for longer than 10 years or so. Formal education, i.e. college/culinary school, doesn't always help, either. I've met more than a couple kids right outa culinary school that were nearly worthless in a restaurant kitchen. This seems to be a person to person occurrence, however. Everyone takes away something different from schooling, and some that go to culinary school only go because they think it'll be, pardon the pun, a cakewalk. The industry shakes these people off pretty quickly, however, when they get into the real world and are confronted with the stress, working conditions, hours, and the band of not-so-merry mercenaries they have to work with. Regardless, this is a title that I have worked very hard to attain. I've earned my stripes, done my time, paid my dues, and it wasn't easy. Several times I was ready to walk away from professional cooking and not look back, but this is all I know. Anyway, I could never survive the regular 9-5 Officespace world. That would end very poorly, to say the least... In my mind (and this might just be me, but I doubt it) "chef" is a title that is earned through hard work, dedication, blood, sweat, tears, and countless burns. I get shivers, and somewhat agitated, when I hear someone say they are a chef that doesn't even work in a kitchen. It also makes me want to slap the piss out of someone that calls them self a chef and follows it with "I work at Red Lobster". You're not a chef, dude, your a cook.... and there's nothing wrong with that! Just accept it! You're a cook! Don't try to make yourself feel better by pasting a title on yourself that you didn't earn. I find it demeaning to my efforts and hard work when the word chef is thrown around lightly. I don't go around calling myself a doctor just because I have a decent knowledge of human anatomy, and you're not a chef! I HAVE encountered a few that I let slide on this issue, however. The rest of the guys here at R.E. for instance. Currently there are only two of us that cook professionally. The others get a pass, and not just because I can tolerate being in the same room with them for longer than 10 minutes, but because they are very dedicated and have great intuition regarding food and drink. My knee-jerk reaction is still to cringe when I hear it, though. So, maybe the term could stand to be re-defined, but it's still gonna be a touchy subject with me. Then again, there are a lot of those... Jack