What is a Chef?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by chefhow, Jul 6, 2012.

  1. chefhow

    chefhow

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    I dont mean to be rude but how can you be a Chef if you are decently new to the Culinary Game.  I worked for 14 years before I became the Chef and was at the helm of my first kitchen. 
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 17, 2012
  2. chefdave11

    chefdave11 Banned

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    Having a "specialty" implies that you're REALLY good at that ONE thing, maybe even known for that singular thing.  Maybe it's a single dish, or a specific cuisine.  Well, what does that say about everything else you make?  Eh, not so good?

    Being a Chef and having a Specialty are contradictions in terms.

    Cooks on the line - guys who are that same station for decades - and home cooks have specialties.

    Chefs, however, are trained and continue learn to excel at a lot of things, all cuisines, all foods.

    Food is our life.  Not a specific food; ALL food.

    "Great Food!" followed by this has been my basic answer for a while now  - instead of just feigning annoyance - and people have "gotten it".

    But then they ask what my favorite thing to make is...and again, for me, it's the same concept.  If I'm making 500 things, and only 1 of those is my "favorite", that implies I'm not really really enjoying making those 499 other things.  I might  have a least favorite thing to make, but all-in-all I LOVE it all.

    Scroll up through all the responses so far and you'll see a finite disparity between the answers the Chefs gave, and the home cooks' responses.
     
  3. siduri

    siduri

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    Chef Dave,

    You're saying that if someone says something is "my favorite" implies that they don't like anything that is not their favorite?????  Are you serious? 

    And home cooks vs chefs.  May i point out that the word "amateur" means "lover" - one who loves something.  I can't attest to the quality of what i make, though personally i like my own food better than that of any restaurant that I've been in (i can;t afford high end restaurants though) and my friends say the same, but you can't say anything about how, as a home cook, i may love cooking any less.   

    In terms of things i like to cook - yeah if you ask me my "favorite" that implies i have to choose something.  one thing.  the others are not so far behind. 

    I start planning every meal from the desert - i love to eat desert, and don;t generally make desert for every day meals.  So i think, what desert am i craving, and i make that

    I do slightly more enjoy cooking sweet things. 

    But do i have other specialties?  yes.  Pastas and  soups, first courses in general - i have a very wide range of recipes i've developed - dozens and dozens. 
    Meat courses? yes, i do like them too, especially some very nice roasts, nice and browned outside and juicy inside, plus some others like chicken pot pie and some others, maybe meat is the least developed of my repertory though it's pretty wide nonetheless. 

    vegetable dishes?  i think i have probably dozens and dozens of specialty vegetable dishes. 

    I even have some really interesting appetizers. 

    Breakfast food?  oh wow, don't get me started, on my buttermilk pancakes with homemade blueberry sauce.  Banana french toast with caramelized banana sauce?  English muffins, bagels, muffins, special citrus salad with boiled syrup, cinnamon raisin rolls... shall i go on? 
     
  4. ishbel

    ishbel

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    No, don't, Siduri - you're making me hungry!

    There's nothing like a patronising 'professional' to try to make us enthusiastic amateurs feel inadequate, eh?!
     
  5. kaneohegirlinaz

    kaneohegirlinaz

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    ouch ... dude... geez...it's just a general question ...  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/peace.gif
     
  6. chefhow

    chefhow

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    Siduri and Ishbel,

    The OP has claimed to be a Professional Chef and called themself "decently new to the culinary game", really?!?!  You cant be both and both of you have been here long enough to know that.  ChefDave wasnt being patronizing nor was I or any of the other Chef's that have spent a career building and learning to the point where we could be called a Chef.  There is a distinct difference between somebody who loves to cook, is a good/great cook and a Chef and most people here know that as well.  A Chef is a cook, a leader, a manager of personalities, a wheeler and dealer on the phones with vendors, a creative strategist, a teacher and a babysitter.  A cook is just that, a cook, dont take this the wrong way but they are not one in the same and cant be compared. 

    When I was "decently new to the culinary game" I would have never considered myself a Chef, NEVER, yet you have people today who have no idea what it takes to be that person.  The sacrifice, the pain and suffering, the hours, and LITERALLY the BLOOD, SWEAT and TEARS shed to be at the helm of a kitchen/restaurant. 
     

    Dont get me wrong, I am not trying to trivialize your love, skill or abilities to cook, but its different when you do it for a living vs doing it at home.
     
  7. Iceman

    Iceman

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    My response was basically a wisecrack; "IceWater" (get the idea?).   Where does that put me in position between "Chefs" and "Home Cooks"?
    Now whereas I claim to be a "Pro Chef", there are for certain things I like to do, and do better than other things. Wouldn't those things I do the best sorta be my "specialties"?   I don't see that at all being a bad thing.   That's why, I think, there are different styles of restaurants, and each has it's own menu.   I don't think people go to Chinese places to order BBQ brisket, and I don't think anyone goes to a Mexican place to order Peking Duck.   I would guess that the guys running the kitchens are all "Pro Chefs" though. 

    * What do you call a guy three(3) days after graduating last in his class at medical school? ... (You call him "DOCTOR")

    It still cracks me up that some of you are all so hung up on the vocabulary word "chef".
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2012
  8. kaneohegirlinaz

    kaneohegirlinaz

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    with all of the respect that you are due and have earned as a chef, chefhow, I think you just described a Mother
     
  9. chefdave11

    chefdave11 Banned

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    Siduri - when asked your specialty, you replied "desserts".  While I'm sure you make a lot of other things well, and enjoy making them, you yourself don't consider them to be your specialty.  The other home cooks had similar responses, which was very disparate to the responses the professional chefs gave.  Never have I been dismissive of a home cook - When I'm asked why I became a chef, I answer that I missed my mom's food when I moved away from home.  I grew up with really good food, and my mom is certainly not a chef.  This was never a chef versus home cook issue - home cooks can be Phenomenal cooks, and make tons of stuff really deliciously!  It was a question about "specialty", and that is where the attitude of a chef differs, as you can see from all the responses.  
    I chose my words very carefully, Siduri.  I said "not really really enjoying" and that "I LOVE it all".  The emphasis was there to be understood.  as I'm still really enjoying it...just not really really!

    Also, please: My response above was intended to be read as a whole thought with a number of components - not to be taken apart and read singularly.
     
  10. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    I think we're coming down too hard on the word chef.  All it means is chief and if the OP is the head cook in the restaurant where he works, regardless of how long he's been doing it, then what do you expect him to be called? 

    I have to change my answer from eggs and salad.  It's been pointed out to me by several people that my specialty is spaghetti with meat sauce. 
     
  11. chefhow

    chefhow

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    So based on this if you walked into the local greasy spoon for your first job or even your second and got hired to be the top dog cook would you call yourself the Chef?  I wouldnt consider you to be one and I would be non of the Chef's here that have worked to earn the title would either.  Based on your logic if I can draw a stick figure on a napkin I am an artist.

    There was a time not that long ago that the term Chef held some weight and meant something, today its thrown around like nothing and that is sickening. Do you know what it takes to get certified as an Executive Chef?  How about a Chef de Cuisine or even a Sous Chef? Forget becoming a Master Chef, that may take decades behind the stove.  If you dont know maybe you should look it up sometime to get a better understanding, here is the link

    http://www.acfchefs.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Levels&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=24617

    
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2012
  12. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    Head cook. There is the semantical, strict, dictionary definition of chef; and there is the blood sweat tears, in the trenchs, respectful definition of chef.

    Years of hard work, long hours, and thankless shifts can make a person possessive of the term chef when it is applied in the latter terms.

    I play basketball, so does Michael Jordan.
     
  13. ordo

    ordo

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    It's not just quality, preparation, knowledge, expertise, experience, etc. what separates chefs from home cooks. It's the skill to cook for many people, one two, sometimes three services, and yet keep a high standard of quality.
     
  14. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    And Thomas Keller cooks.  What's your point?

    It seems to me that this thread has strayed very far away from what the OP asked and for very little actual purpose -- other than to say some consider themselves better a housewife who is known for a few particular dishes which she takes to potlucks.   Otherwise, the big takeaway is that the better you cook, the better technique you have, and the better range of dishes which means the less likely you are to have a particular specialty. 

    "Chef" is a word, not a state of grace.  It's definition was not written with a flaming finger on a stone lintel, but -- like any definition -- is created by usage.

    I don't cook professionally anymore, but I worked on the line in very good fine-dining kitchens for a few years, and had a fine-dining catering company for a few more.  Even though I have solid technique, and do a lot of things very well thank you, I'm better at doing some things than others, and that's probably true for most professional chefs as well. 

    If you cook Mexican cuisine equally as well as you cook French, Indian, Chinese, Greek and Cajun, you might be tremendously flexible, but it's far more likely you're not that great at any of them.

    I joked about desserts but it's true that I don't have the interest, the skills, the flair for presentation, etc., that make for a good pastry chef (or pastry cook, if you will).  I can do a good job on a few items, but don't have much of a repertoire nor much ability to vamp.  Maybe those few things are specialties. 

    My strengths are hot pan, grill, "Q," saucing, and -- perhaps -- bread making.  My interests in particular dishes and styles constantly evolves, although my so-called "culinary viewpoint" has remained constant since Moses wore shorts.  I'm "ingredient driven," which means I usually try to highlight certain ingredient in each dish and on each plate and use a combination of palate, technique, and other ingredients to enhance the "stars" so they taste very much what they are.

    My catering business was a lot like what people now call "personal chef," I had a stable, limited clientele, and usually did small groups (lunch and dinner parties) as opposed to big events (hate them).  My clients had their favorite dishes from my repertoire.  Maybe those were my specialties.

    For the past few years, my primary interest has been "retro" and regional American.  I think I do "California Barbecue" as well as anyone -- pro or home -- so maybe that's my specialty.

    If I went to a lot of potlucks, I'd probably end up mostly bringing the same things both because they were well received and expected, and because they went well in potlucks.  Maybe those are my specialties.

    Maybe tantrums,

    BDL
     
  15. chefdave11

    chefdave11 Banned

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    I agree with a lot of what you just said, Boar_d_laze.

    Adding to it, though, and I think part of the reason why professional chefs are ever-so-reluctant to specify a specialty, is that we know that we have the capability and potential to have a relatively limitless number of "specialties", depending on the time and place, and requirements of that particular job or business.

    We're rarely stagnant, always taking on new things, which for a period of time may become our specialty; but we recognize the temporary nature of that, and then as we move on it gets added to our bucket O' specialties.

    Work in a Mexican restaurant for 2 years, then Spanish, then French, then Southwestern, Seafood, Pan-Asian, etc. Be involved in pastry and baking , too.  Cater large events while at those places. Then go and start a catering business, where, depending on the client requests, we'll be drawing on our collective experiences.  Our specialty now is?  Really good food.  Whether cooking for 4, 50, or 400.

    I can more easily list what are not my specialties (sugar work, chocolate work, classic Chinese restaurant food). However, I know that given the need, I have the capability of excelling in those, too.

    I think it's a mindset of what we CAN do, not necessarily what we've done to this point, and calling something in particular our "specialty" feels like we're leaving all of other strengths and potential out of it.  Or maybe we're just a fragile bunch - but I'm not gonna go all Anthony Bourdain on you.
     
  16. siduri

    siduri

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    Dave, I wasn't offended or anything, just it seemed illogical to imply that having a specialty is not liking other things very much.  And it was also a joke to say ":deserts" "that was a complement" because bdl had just said "not deserts" and I said complEment and not compl-i-ment, playing on words. 

    Also i know what a hellish pathway chefs have to become what they are, learning their profession, and the difficult working conditions etc and don;t have any pretense of comparing myself to them. 

    But perhaps you were talking about "specialty" like those restaurants that have a "specialty" that is their main showcase dish and they keep doing it over and over and over.  I wonder sometimes how some cooks can cook the same exact menu week after week, year after year.  This is the typical situation in most italian restaurants here.  People want the same thing, but i can;t imagine a chef cooking the same thing and not itching to do something different, creative, new.  There are restaurants here that have the exact same menu they had when i came here 37 years ago, and the same as a hundred other restaurants!   And i certainly am fed up eating those things here, and while i used to love to eat out, i'm completely sick of the usual menu. But this is an italian thing, and perhaps a mid-to low-end restaurant thing,. 

    Anyway, I think it's possible to do a lot of things well, and i really think at this point that i can do any dish i set out to do, and have done some extremely complicated ones, using a good cookbook and good intuition, but i've been cooking for over 40 years.  I'm limited only by what i enjoy eating, and how much time i want to and can dedicate to one dish.  My specialty is what i like to eat, in this case. 
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2012
  17. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    Sounds petty to me.  My husband is an illustrator and artist, been published in every publication you can name and still he laughs if someone calls him an artist because you're right about my logic... everyone is an artist and if they cared to pick up pencil and paper they'd make art.  I do believe that.  Perhaps being a chef is important to you, rightly so but whatever you think that word meant "not that long ago" means something different now, so get over it.  The word "gay" used to mean something different not too long ago but can't be used with its original intent anymore can it?  So maybe it's time that you "chefs" think up of some other word to specifically identify your decades of knowledge.  Like the military.

    If chef = chief of the kitchen then who ever is in charge is running the show, even if it's your first job at a greasy spoon.
     
  18. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    A change of view?

    A "tradesperson" may have a specialty, i.e. a specific application of their trade skills resulting in a particular superior product, whether they be a cook, baker, pastry maker.

    A "manager" specializes in seeing to it that everything gets done on time, in the most efficient manner, at the least cost, and with the same results every time.

    For me, a chef and a housewife are managers as well as being competent cooks, bakers, and pastry makers as the case may be. They have a common specialty, seeing to it that what has to be done gets done, even if they have to do it themselves.

    IMHO, the success of a chef has little to do with their cooking ability and a tremendous amount to do with their management ability.

    So, my cooking specialties include selected classics inter alia Osso Buco, Chicken Cacciatore.

    My specialty as a chef is seeing to it that good food is provided at an attractive price with the minimum cost to generate a positive bottom line. Whether I cook it or not is incidental.
     
  19. chefdave11

    chefdave11 Banned

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    Agreed.  And overcooked unsalted spaghetti is still food, "cooked" by someone.

    Making "art" and being an artist...Huge distinctions that even your husband should agree with.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2012
  20. chefdave11

    chefdave11 Banned

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    It's called pride.
    Medical students are called "Doctor", but they themselves - and every single person around them from the patients to the nurses to the DOCTORS know that they ain't no friggin' DOCTOR.

    The kids who walk out of culinary school thinking they're a chef will, without exception, be put in their place every single time.

    The word "chef" may have a straight definition, but the title of "Chef" has many implications and understandings attached to it.  That's not semantics; that's real world.

    And yes, there are many many (way too many) restaurants, caterers and food establishments who's head "chef" is really nothing more than a glorified cook - someone who has none of the skill, talent or qualifications of an actual chef.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2012