August 20th, 2012
I balk any time someone calls me “Chef”.
I graduated from “George Brown Chef School” (it’s actually in the title) and have worked in some of the best kitchens, for some of the best Chefs in the city.
As “Chef” means boss, it generally refers to someone who runs a kitchen. I am not a Chef, and likely never will be. I am a cook.
I have been a “Chef-de-Partie”; meaning I have run a station. I believe I earned that title being senior cook on a 3 man garde-manger station. I am still not a “Chef” in the common use of the word and I still call myself a cook.
This past Friday, Chow.com posted a great article on the resurgence of the title “Chef” amongst both cooks and the general populace. It was brought to my attention by a twitter post made by a former Chef Instructor of mine. Funny enough, she has told me in the past that because I’m no longer her student, I can address her by her first name. Yet, I still call her “Chef”.
Yes, the word means “boss” in French, and she is no longer my boss (well, teacher). But she is someone who worked through the ranks to become the head of the French Culinary Arts post-grad program at George Brown.
To me, that deserves respect.
Kitchens are hard places to work. If it isn’t abusive superiors (yes, they still exist), it’s the long hours, the constant speed and level of consistency required, picky customers, inept front-of-house staff, low pay, lackadaisical attitude of other cooks, language issues, stresses on the body from heat, no breaks, lack of a normal life, etc. It can really get to you over time, and people don’t always deal with it well. There’s a high level of drug and alcohol abuse amongst cooks. I have personally seen a cook leave the line mid-shift to go snort some cocaine. I even know a Chef or two with coke issues. While I believe the drug and alcohol abuses in professional kitchens are lesser than they used to be in the past, they are still quite prevalent.
So, when someone survives the kitchen life long enough to earn the title Chef, I believe they should be called it, and those who don’t earn it, don’t deserve it.
I know of one person in particular, who began calling themselves a “chef” straight out of culinary school. Their argument was because it’s a “chef school”, those who graduate are chefs. The logic astounds me, as those who take Executive MBA classes are not called “executives” and entitled to all the perks of being an executive, simply because of their choice of educational stream. This person however, had felt that their mere 2-years of schooling entitled them to be referred to as something that (regardless of schooling or not) can take decades to achieve in the real world. I too took the same schooling, ended up with better marks and have learned such an immense amount about cooking post-college that in a just a few years later I feel that what I learned in school was minuscule compared to the real world. And I still wouldn’t consider myself worthy of the title.
So, if you ever call me Chef and I correct you, don’t take it as an insult. Just call me something else. Mouth Filler? Accurate but kinda boring. Culinary artist? It’s hyperbolic and perhaps too close to “sandwich artist”. Tummy-teaser? Sounds like a term Rachel Ray would use. Just anything but “Chef”,
You know, Gastronaut is pretty cool. Call me that.