What do you think of when you hear the word chef? Do you think of a chef run kitchen in which everything is made from scratch and given layer after layer of flavor? Do you think about a fine dining experience you had either at a restaurant or catered event? Or maybe you are more likely to think of one of your favorite stars from The Food Network.
Whatever your immediate memories are, I am sure you are thinking of a person who has studied food for years and has the magic ability to make any food into something absolutely amazing. When describing a chef you might say. “A chef has an intricate knowledge of food and flavor and uses them to create perfect plates–every time.”
A chef has a lot of expectations to live up to. Maybe that is why I haven’t really liked being called a chef. To me a chef is someone who demands perfection and won’t settle for anything less, a type A personality who controls every aspect of his kitchen.
But all my perceptions were wrong. Just like any profession chefs all have their own personalities and habits. There are chefs that are controlling and overbearing, and there are chefs that are empowering and uplifting. There are chefs that are showy and there are chefs that prefer to be away from the spot light.
I don’t want to be little the job tittle of Chef, or The American Culinary Federations work in certifying chefs. But if you look up the word chef you will find that it is the French word for cook, and a cook is someone who prepares food (usually with heat, but it can apply to other preparations)
I am often asked whether I am a chef or just a cook. Now I know that I am chef. But what kind of chef am I? I do think that if I want to call myself a chef I better demonstrate at least a degree of mastery. I have gone to culinary school, worked as a cook for 13 plus years, and have been cooking at home since I was ten.
To further my point I would like to introduce you to the classic brigade system, popularized by the French chef August Escoffier. In this system the kitchen was staffed with chefs who each focused on one aspect of cooking. Today we think of a chef as someone who has to master every aspect of cooking, but at one time there were so many different chefs you just had to focus on your own area.
This brings up a great point for me, and for you, if you want to be a chef. All you have to do is be a master or expert (better than most) in one area and you are a chef.
I am sure there are other people with the job tittle of chef that are worse cooks that I am, and I know there are home cooks who have never steped foot in an industrial kitchen who are better cooks than I am. If you can cook eggs well you are an egg chef, if you can cook pot roast well, you are a pot roast chef.
I am a whole chef because I am an expert in the art of cooking with whole foods and strive to work on my whole person. Being a chef is a journey of trying new things and learning new ways of cooking. I am not done, but I am a whole chef.
What kind of Chef are you?