At the end of this introduction you’ll find a short article that I wrote on the subject—it’s a topic that young cooks like to ask about, debate, and raise with me all the time.
For young cooks, there are posts that are really fun to write, there are posts that are important for me to write, and there are those for which I throw everything else aside in order to write, because I believe that I need to give cooks food for thought that will help them formulate their own paths—and of which they’ll use what is right for them alone.
Completely by coincidence, a few days ago I read a claim by a professional colleague of mine stating that the role of the chef is largely managerial. In other words: building and planning plates, explanation, putting things into practice, causing the people to become one united staff…but that the chef does not really cook—even people at home know how to do that.
I admit that it was very sad for me to read that.
If not for the concern that I have for the younger generation in the industry I would not immediately trouble myself with posting what came into my head as a result.
Everything that I write here is my personal opinion and no one has to agree with me. But I wanted to share with you, the younger generation, and you don’t have to accept or agree.
the following paragraph relates more the to country i am working now which is Israel but i am sure many young chef can find this situation in their country.
In the last few years, we’ve advanced exceptionally in the industry—magazines, cooking programs, awareness, professionals of the first degree, but…in one thing we have not progressed at all, and we’re even regressing (except for a few chefs that I really love and whose holy work I cherish in fostering a brilliant young generation). We have no sort of framework, mix, or way to educate the new generation of cooks, and one of the reasons is that many chefs or kitchen managers don’t have the ability or knowledge because they are busy building plates and giving orders instead of standing in the kitchen to cook, teach, explain, correct mistakes, or provide a solid foundation!!!!
Here are a few things to think about:
- I don’t know any chefs on the national circuit that do not cook; although it is true that the job is filled more with administrative and communication tasks and the frequency decreases, but everyone cooks.
- There is no connection in the approach between your grandfather’s, grandmother’s, mother’s, or father’s kitchen and a professional kitchen. Without insulting anyone, leave those at home. Any connection between a home kitchen and a professional one is purely coincidental. (yes , maybe they inspired us but that as far as it goes unless you grandfather was a chef and raised you in the professional kitchen)
- A chef who wants people to follow him has to lead by example, he needs to direct people, and he needs to know to correct mistakes by his cooks, and it is impossible for him to do that if he does not cook himself.
- To me, a chef also needs to clean, organize, teach, support, and be present for the staff, and more…I am sharing with you here an article that I wrote about a couple years ago that I hope will organize your thoughts a little bit on what it means to be a chef.
Again, no one has to agree with me but I will be sad if the young generation strives to be chefs who only stand around giving orders without touching the pots and pans.
Who and What is a Chef?
Always, I see, hear, and read remarks from the wider public and professionals in the field, commenting on or positing sentences like:
“What, that’s a chef?”
“Every idiot who wears white clothes calls himself a chef”
“He’s always on television, so when does he cook?”
“The guy didn’t even finish high school, and he calls himself a chef?”
And even more sentences of the same type!!
Let’s make some order out of the madness and indulge those who need it and those who don’t.
First of all, I take upon myself full responsibility to write as one who can call himself a chef. I think that you will all agree with me, at least according to my culinary path, that I’m a chef. I won’t necessarily write well, or badly, but that’s according to your judgment. At the very least, I’m allowed to write this article.
I graduated from the “Infobo” culinary school in Brussels in 1993.
I worked in four restaurants over five years in Belgium, all of which at the time were awarded two or three Michelin stars.
I taught for three years at the prestigious “Le Cordon Blue” school in London full-time.
I was owner of a restaurant by the name of “Michael Andrew” for five years in Jerusalem; in 2005 I received a degree from the Belgian Chef Association.
Right now after serving as head chef and executive chef of several establishments in Israel and around the world , I am the executive a chef of the Trattoria Haba in Jerusalem .
The goal of this list is not to brag, since that is the opposite of my nature, but so that you understand that I am very knowledgeable about what I am about to write.
First a few definitions:
“Chef”—the word chef in French derives from the Latin CAPUT, whose direct translation is “head.” The word “chef” is used for the following titles: Chef de police (head of police), Chef d’orchestre (leader of the orchestra), and more. In English, the definition still includes a professional who is a cook but not the head of a restaurant, thus many good people tend very quickly after the end of their studies to call themselves “chefs,” people who know how to cook and finished a culinary degree.
The title “chef” as we understand it today, acquired its definition in the 19th century when kitchen laws were instituted: the chef Augustus Escoffier, established the kitchen hierarchy that accompanies us until today.
This table depicts the kitchen hierarchy, from the chef (head) until the last apprentice cook. The word chef appears many times in the table in a number of categories, and here are a few of them:
Kitchen chef (chef de cuisine)
Saucier (chef saucier)
Pastry chef (chef patisierre)
And many more.
It should be noted that generally in the “proper world,” the kitchen chef passed through most of the units of the kitchen until he reached the level of chef. In the hotel world in Israel, this path is relatively common, while in the restaurant world in Israel, it can be said that this path is very rare, and I’ll explain further why that is.
In the hospitality industry, there is generally not much movement amongst the junior staff. This staff entered the hotel in order to have stable, consistent work, with the goal of reaching the job with the highest responsibility that can be attained.
In the restaurant world many cook has no patience. He rushes and thinks that he already knows everything and wants to progress to the next phase, and FAST. In most cases, we’re talking about middling cooks and worse who think that their time has come to lead a kitchen, while at other times there are people with great skill that can lead a kitchen, even if they don’t have a lot of experience.
There is no global body or school that confers the title “chef.” Leading schools try to convey the message that they are conferring a culinary education, cookery studies and workshops to become more professional, but there are a number of global organizations that give the title “master chef,” or unions that unite chefs, generally based upon the achievements of the cook.
For example, in France, Germany, the United States, and more, there are organizations that are generally established by local chefs, which meet every year and decide whether to accept new members (a limited number each year).
A good cook who leads a good kitchen is generally called a “chef” by the community of chefs and the community of customers who appreciate his work.
I note here a few examples of types of cooks whom I explicitly allow myself to call “chefs,” and their cooking skill is not necessarily what leads me to call them such.
I knew one chef whose cooking skill, if I have to be honest, was not the best, but…he ran a very highly rated hotel kitchen, cared for his staff (of the sort you only see in the movies), from his sous chef to the last of the cooks, the kitchen ran like a swiss watch (like clockwork) and put out amazing dishes. Is he a chef? Definitely yes.
I knew a cook with enormous technical ability; not only was he an awesome cook, but he also had lots of knowledge about the history of the kitchen, technical ability above and beyond the regular, but…he did not know how to run a kitchen, he did not succeed in managing a restaurant, but he knew how to teach and knew how to prepare wonderful meals for small numbers of diners. Is he a chef? The answer is yes.
many of you i am sure know chefs that did not learn in a formal way at all but , their route through a variety of kitchens endless curiosity and the journey they made until they received a kitchen for them self. A place where he did not find an end to his path, but where they knew their limitations and knew how to overcome them. a great example Heston Blumenthal Is he a chef? Of course all of you would agree with me that he is a chef.
In the army, during my basic training , I would always wait for lunch. At that time they called him an “army cook” and if only I could remember his name, but what amazing food he prepared, and three times a day in large quantities! He had a sparkling-clean kitchen, and great team, Is he a chef? The answer is yes and even Escoffier would not disagree with me.
Is a television chef a chef?
Here the question again arises, what is his background and where does he come from—where did he begin? All of you will agree that Gordon Ramsay and Wolfgang Puck are chefs of the first order. The two reached the world of television after years of hard work in the restaurant world and possess deep wells of knowledge. Today, many chefs want to get on television, thinking it will bring them fame and money, which is a flawed way of thinking. The result is that many cooks (all over the world), with middling cooking skills or worse (not always) but the ability to enchant the audience and to pass along certain information in a short period of time to the audience, reach the television screen and give a good “show.” However, are they chefs in my opinion? No! But what is true is that I appreciate them a lot for their ability to maintain a program that the public enjoys.
Personally, it doesn’t bother me that everyone who wears a white jacket calls himself a “chef.” At the end of the day, success speaks, and if the food is tastes good and you left the restaurant satisfied and happy from a culinary perspective—then that person is a chef.
Thank you for reading