"I bet you cook all the time right?"
"What is your favorite thing to make?"
"Your wife\girlfriend\husband must love you."
We as chefs get questions like these all of the time. At best we smile ruefully, knowing that the person asking the question will never understand, and give a polite response. At worst we seethe to ourselves at how stupid the average non professional can be. Maybe we even show it a little bit. Having worked in food and beverage for 12+ years I have my own answers to these questions and their ilk. It would probably surprise none of you to know those answers have changed over the years depending on my situation. Four years ago I would have said I never cook at home unless I am using my fellow man as a guinea pig or getting paid for it (sex counts). My favorite thing to make has generally been a mess, so long as someone else was being paid to clean it up for me, but I have dabbled in vegetarian dishes (for my girlfriend), tried my hand at pastry work (unsuccessfully), and had a brief love affair with grilling meats (a classic to be sure). At different times I would have had to say "No, My girlfriend does in fact not love me. Thank you for asking." and Yes she thinks the world of me." but neither of those answers had anything to do with my being a Chef or what I was cooking at the time. Chances are each of you have your own answers as well.
Many people in many different professions get caught up in what they do and not who they are. When someone asks us what we do we associate that with who we are. I have read that men do this more than women but in my experience it happens to all of us. With the long hours that chefs work and the way many of us take our work home, either in our heads or by holding ourselves to our strict culinary standards when we prepare dinner it is even harder for us to separate ourselves from our jobs. Enough has been said (by better writers and chefs than me) about what the rise of foodie culture has done to us as a society of chefs but it bears saying here that the average person has their own distorted view of what it means to be a chef, a cook, a baker. Because we are chefs we must spend all of our free time voraciously keeping up with the latest cooking reality show. We must eat better than the average person because we have the skill and knowledge necessary to out cook the laymen. All of us secretly wish to go toe to toe with Gordon Ramsey (and each other) for a chance to earn our own restaurant. The truth to all all of these and other misconceptions is...Sometimes, maybe, when the mood takes us.
Like any other profession the food and beverage world is made up of a diverse culture and sometimes subculture of individuals who have their own minds. We as chefs need to learn that when we are asked questions like this the correct response is not to smile and be polite. The correct response is to be honest. Be honest with each other, ourselves, our friends and families. Many of us wish to change the way the average person looks at those of us in the food industry. If that is ever to occur we need to change ourselves first. Strip away the egos and the lay bare the truths behind the myths. We are all different. Different in the same way everyone else is (wrap your heads around that one), and we are not defined solely by being a chef anymore than an engineer, or a lawyer a doctor is. Do we say to a Doctor "I bet you operate on your family all the time."? No. In order to change the way people look at us we chefs need to change the way we look at ourselves and each other.
I am a chef. I am also a father, brother, boyfriend, gamer, cyclist, writer, reader thirty four year old man who is more than the sum of his parts. Chefs...What else are you?