More than a Chef

By sachef665, Oct 12, 2014 | | |
  1. "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?

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  1. emulsifiedfam
    Well said.  While I'm not a chef, but married to one, we as spouses get similar questions.  I bet he cooks for you all the time.  You must eat so well at home.  What's his favorite thing to make?  (Top Ramen actually because he's so tired when he gets home.)  People don't seem to get that if he's cooking in the restaurant, it's not possible for him to be cooking for us every night.   My husband is not only a chef, but a father and husband as well.  Thank you.  :)  
  2. jim berman
    "...many of us take our work home, either in our heads or by holding ourselves to our strict culinary standards..."
    Well said. I would only offer that "in our heads" extends to many aspects of our lives; so very much revolves around the way we conduct ourselves because we are cooks and that mentality crosses over into myriad actions. Maybe the separation is not easy. 
    I utterly agree with your desire to not cook when off the clock. Going out for a meal that somebody else prepared is a much better alternative than making my own food. Sometimes, you need a break. And, that break comes more frequently than not. 
    "The truth to all all of these and other misconceptions is...Sometimes, maybe, when the mood takes us." Yes! An itch! A notion! Maybe that spark comes from the little Ramsay toe-to-toe is enough to be the catalyst to get in the kitchen to work on Wellington or whatever. And then, properly squelched, the itch is relieved and we can go back to ordering from the corner Chinese place.
    Thank you for sharing!
  3. joy is cooking
  4. cheffred
    Again,great article.
    When I get home from a busy night I come thru the door hoping that something was cooked,(wishful thinking,my wife does not cook for me anymore) When my shift is done I am hungry. People just don't get it because they are not exposed to the rigors of the kitchen.
    I try not to bring home my work,sometimes it's comic relief I laugh at certain aspects of the service but nowdays I just shut it down once I am finished with the shift. I work as a chef/cook but I am not defined by it.
  5. nicko
    Great Article chef thanks for taking time to share your experience with something we all struggle with.
  6. soesje
    oh yes. I'm a mother, sister, friend, knitter, character, reader, sourdough baker, fourty eight year old woman.
    but yes, I never tire of cooking, my head is always focussing on food even when not appropiate, when not cooking I read about it….talk about it……LOL
  7. feinauer
       I created an account (finally) just to be able to tell you that I enjoyed reading this as I'm at home, winding down from my shift, trying to keep the work/life balance in order.    It's well written, interesting, and gave food for thought.
      Sometimes I think about how those not in the industry (friends and family included), have no idea what we actually do as cooks/chefs.
    Or what it's like behind the scuffed, sauce spattered swinging door.
    Or how it feels to be a part of it.
    Or why we find it just so damn satisfying.
    I've never (until now) -really- thought about how I myself respond to some of those questions or how it makes me (and others in the craft) look.
    So, cheers and thanks.
  8. chefmannydlm
    A very good read.  I had to share it on my twitter account.  You have some very good points here.  I especially agree with your point on comparing ourselves to each other.  Lord knows at the end of my shift all I want is to go home and sit down.  My wife is always telling me how her coworkers always make the same comment to her about never having to cook.  When she does make dinner (which she does quite often and very well) they always ask her it it is something I prepared.  She has gotten used to this by now and simply replies, "No, I made this. I can cook too."
  9. sachef665
    All done. Feel free to comment. I would love the feedback.