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Question for Chefs

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
After watching the Chefography on Mario Batali on FN, I was shocked to discover that he never completed his culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu in London, yet he is a "chef." I was under the impression that a classical culinary education was a requirement for this title, but apparently that is not so. Would someone care to explain what makes a "chef"? Many thanks!:confused:
post #2 of 19
Sadly there is nothing to really measure it by. Today, its almost
as if its the same as a captains license. Chief would be the literal
translation. There are all levels of certification through many different
groups around the world. My definition of a Chef is as follows.
An expert in his or her specific area of the culinary field. One who continues to innovate while instructing others. One who strives to exceed the expectations of the recipients of his or her service. Honesty, integrity,
character, the ability to communicate with, assimilate into, form, and
lead at team or brigade. Its rare these days to have a well rounded
informed, innovative, professional chef. They just are not
trained like they used to be. Sometimes I wonder if chefs today experienced
the same discomfort as the old timers. You know what they say, "Its not
the destination, its the road you travelled". A certified chef is exactly what
it sounds like. Someone who has been certified. Could be good, could be
a Baboon. More than not, certification is a way to finesse more money in a
corporate atmosphere. Certainly not always but at times. Many will disagree
with my opinion I'm sure, but, thats the beauty of this post. IMOHO
post #3 of 19

What is a Chef?

:chef: Chef- Someone that can't think of anything else they would rather do than work 16-18 hour days, sometimes 7 days a week, lose most contact with people that they don't either live with or work with, and when they're off they might drive by or stop in to check on things. Like a priest gives up romantic relationships (no altar boy jokes :-) for the church. A chef gives up EVERYTHING for food. Sure, you still have to be a manager and role model and a good business man, but those are just hurdles to jump so that you can do what you love. After a 16 hour shift on the 85th hour of the week, I could sit with my coworkers and talk about food all night. It's the only thing I've ever really been in love with. I'm not getting mushy, just being honest :-)
Unfortunately there are WAY too many people out there with the talent and ability that are too distracted or lazy to make a real impact on the culinary world. The discipline and humility it requires to even get close to being there is something that i will strive for for the rest of my life. A chef that has all the answers and can't learn anymore should go ahead and retire or teach what he knows to someone else and move out of the way. You can never learn all there is to know about food!! After 14 yrs of being raised in a kitchen, I am at the point where I can really learn something. THe way food is these days with so many cultural and environmental influences, there's no time to be bored!! All i've been doing all day (while testing ovens at work) is thinking about the pig that I have in my smoker at home and how it's going to taste tonight and how I'm going to arrange the platter and crisp the skin to eat and blah blah blah blah balh
So I guess I will sum up my egomaniacle book that I just wrote with this. If there wasn't such thing as food, I would never know what love and sacrifice are. Discipline and pride (the good kind), respect and patience. And most of all, the feeling that nothing else on this earth matters while I'm behind a stove. I don't feel pain, fear god, have remorse, dont feel bombs in iraq or earthquakes in Japan while I'm behind a stove. It's the only thing that Ive ever found that turns my brain off from worry (not stress all the time, but real worry). And the thing that gives me the most joy is watching my 6 yr old daughter help her daddy make pasta and BBQ it's a trip. Anyway, if you read this far, thanks for letting me rant. I needed it.
" Never fry bacon naked!"

" Never fry bacon naked!"

post #4 of 19
Chef Batali did an apprenticeship with Chef Marco Pierre White in London and then apprenticed for 3 more years in Italy, before becoming a chef/cook in NYC. I think that might qualify as some education :)
post #5 of 19
Thread Starter 
Absolutely it does! I did not mean to imply or suggest that Mario Batali is not educated or experienced in the culinary arts. As I stated in my first post, I thought completion of a culinary program, such as the one he was enrolled in, was a prerequisite for earning the title of chef. Clearly I was mistaken in that belief, so now I have turned to the pros in this forum to find out if there is some sort of uniform criteria in the industry regarding that title.
post #6 of 19


According to ME:

If you have learned your trade and have enough culinary skills to be a chef.
If you have worked in more than 3 to 5 kitchen over 5 years.
If you are a good manager and people wnat to work for you.
If you can financially manage your kitchen budget.
Well if all those are in line - you are a chef!:beer:

School is a must, but some chef out there have done it without... but not so much anymore.

Now a culinary student should have a culinary diploma, a pastry diploma, a MBA in finance and a degre in management. That should get you a good job once you learn how to cook!

Martin Laprise
Author of "My daughter wants to Be a Chef!"

“A cook who invest a few bucks every week is a smart cook"
Martin Laprise
Author of "My daughter wants to Be a Chef!"

“A cook who invest a few bucks every week is a smart cook"
post #7 of 19
Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter......none went to culinary school.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #8 of 19

ACF Certification

The American Culinary Federation has 14 levels of certification. Their certifications are the only ones (to my knowledge) recognized by the Federal Dept. of Labor. For many years, (and still) the term "chef" has been used very loosely and does not indicate any level of knowledge or experience the way master electrician or master carpenter does. It is one of the few trades that is like this. I know people who worked their way up and learned on the job who I would not hesitate to call "Chef", and others who graduated from Cordon Bleu schools that don't know their a** from third base in a true kitchen environment. Most people in the field that I know seem to feel you should not call yourself a chef unless you have been solely in charge of at least one kitchen. There are people who will not fit that category either, such as Julia Child, so there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a chef. I for one would like to see that changed.
post #9 of 19

Greyeaglem...Just curious...

You stated that you'd like to see the fact changed that there are no 'hard and fast rules' about what the definition of a chef is. How would one "change" it to include people like Julia when she was clearly far more of a chef by passion than many are intellectually driven with a little piece of paper in hand? Are you proposing that people like Julia would be excluded?

A 'chef' shouldn't be defined by other's definitions of ... well ... a passion for food. So who is the ultimate "God" in this situation? Who lays down the final definitions? And more important...why are they the expert and not the one who is passionate about their cooking skills? Let the public decide.

A cook is a chef. A chef is a cook. Only the 'chef' gets paid more to cook more exotic dishes. (Oh, excuse me...prepare)

Boef en croute vs Beef pot pie. Go figure.


There IS a difference with carpentry, masonry or electricians...

When you plate a fillet and it's not the defined perfect it's not going to fall down on your head or catch fire.

"Perfect" in respect to cuisine is far different from making a slab that is absolutely level. There is no fudge factor or personal taste preference when it comes to concrete.

So, that said, when it comes to tastebuds, you have as many different variants as you have people.

If you excluded anyone under any circumstances in the food industry you'd miss out on a huge amount of talent.


post #10 of 19
Hey! We're in N.America here. "Chef" can mean whatever you want it to mean. There are no hard set rules, just a poofy white hat and an ego. A 6 mth course can give you a piece of paper that calls you "Chef", the school might even call itself a "Chef's school".

14 levels of certification? I wonder if all of them use the word "Chef" in them.... This being N.America and all, they'll probably have substituted the word "cook" with some double-plus-good newspeak word like, say, Culinarian? Seems to me you can't be a decent Chef without being a decent cook first, but nobody wants to be a cook, they are all "Chefs".

If N. America ever wants "out" of this "Chef" business, a real way separating the wannabees from the real thing, I suggest the the "4 T's" method: Trained Trainers Training the Trainees. It's kind of like monkey-see, monkey-do, but the monkeys have to know what they're doing before they can competantly train a new monkey. Which is why we have such a gawdawfull mess because the "Chefs" confuse "saute" with tossing overcooked pasta in ready-made pasta sauce. Nothing to do with quickly cooking in very hot oil in a pan. The trained trainer didn't know what "saute" means, so he couldn't possibly train the new guy either. "Pastry chefs" who can't make a creme anglaise to save their lives can't possibly train someone else to do it either, so we'll just reach for the cold-set pastry cream and thin it down with some half-and-half....

If the 4-T's method sounds familiar, it is. It's called the apprenticeship method. Been in use in Europe for centuries now, and in Europe, one who completes a three year apprenticeship is called a... (drum roll please...) COOK! Imagine that! Actually during the apprenceship the apprentice is called an...apprentice! Nobody's calling themselves "Chefs" but the real ones, and the real Chefs prefer to be called "Mr.", or "Herr" or "Monsieur" So-and so.

But wait folks, there's more. In order to train apprentices the trainer has to have completed an apprenticeship him/herself. Don't have that piece of paper, you can't train anyone. At least not train with some sort of recognition.

So we'll just keep on going with diplomas and Bachelor's degrees and egos and poofy white hats and rights to the title of "Chef" and forget all about cooking. Who'd want to competantly teach a bunch of cooks HOW to cook anyway?
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #11 of 19
In my book there is one chef that runs a kitchen.....they are the final word.
Many do not wear "tall white hats", nor have they participated in ACF.....gone through certification.....a huge majority of independant restaurantuer/chefs around here have not been to culinary school.

This has come up as an interesting and sometimes heated thread through the years on Cheftalk.....always interesting to see the thoughts of others.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #12 of 19
Thread Starter 
Ok, I think I get the picture, cloudy as it may be. Thank you all for taking the time to respond.
post #13 of 19
Correct me if I'm wrong... but doesn't the word "Chef" translate to "Chief", if this is so, the chef would be the chief of a professional foodservice operation. If your job title does not have chef in it (Executive CHEF, Sous CHEF, CHEF de cuisine, etc...) then how can one claim the title?

In today's food network society, chef can be applied to just about anybody that can cook halfway decent. Even the term Master Chef is applied to a publicly recognizable chef like Emeril or Bobby Flay, even though they are not CMC's.

Would I call myself a chef? No. I can cook halfway decent, but I am not the head of a foodservice operation, so I feel I cannot claim this title unearned.
post #14 of 19
Chef, Boss, Jefe, Sir. Whatever you call them, they are the top
of the triangle and usually, but, not always, work hand and hand
with the GM. Old style is the brigade system. Just like the military.
It used to be that every single chef, almost without exception started
out as a steward and dishwasher. They gradually worked up the ladder,
over a period of years and years to the top. There were no shortcuts,
short of being a prodigy. Captain of a small ship or Captain of a big ship.
Same word, completely different thing. These days Chef is defined as the
go to person on the kitchen side of things. Nothing more unless the ship
is very big. IMOHO.
post #15 of 19
>Captain of a small ship or Captain of a big ship.
Same word, completely different thing<

Maybe you better clarify what you mean here, Stephen. Otherwise I'm forced to conclude that you may know your way around a kitchen, but have no clue as to how things work on the oceans of the world.

First off, in terms of what they do, chefs and captains are exactly the same. The are the man in charge of their worlds. With a chef that world is the kitchen. With a captain, that world is a ship.

Size is irrelevent. Whether a fishing boat under charter; a bulk-break freighter; or a nuclear-powered super carrier, the captain has the same rights and responsibilities, and captains are treated as equals under the law.

This "captain is the man" philosophy is held so dearly that on a flagship you will see the admiral on the bridge only under the most unusual conditions, because his presence would suggest that he is usurping the captain's position.

So, maybe you think the man in charge of a small kitchen isn't a chef. Could be (although I disagree with that contention). When it comes to ships, however, there's no thinking about it at all. The man in charge is the captain, de facto and de jeure.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #16 of 19
Oh! I'm in agreement with you. Do I know my way around the kitchen?
Yes, I think so. Do I spend more time in the office. At times. Is a resort
with 5 different outlets different than a free standing 100 seat restaurant?
If you think no, then, perhaps you've never worked in one. Perhaps it was
a poor comparison, but, yes there is a difference in a nuclear powered
warship and a shrimp boat. Yes you are responsible, but, there is just a
little more going on, just a little more, on the warship. I respect any good
chef whether it be in at the Mandarin Hotel or a small local restaurant. They
truly are apples and oranges. Theres a vast amount of different things you
must know to run a large operation. It's not just cooking. Well thats my
thoughts on the matter.
post #17 of 19
That's why I suggested you clarify.

Of course they are different; with different levels of skill and experience required. That's why ensigns captain PT boats and captains captain carriers. But they are both captains, nontheless; equally deserving of the respect due their position.

Ditto in your example. The guy qualified to be chef of a 100-seat free standing restaurant may not (probably doesn't) have enough skills, yet, to balance the needs of a 5-outlet resort. But the man running both of them is a chef, nontheless, equally worthy of the respect that term implies.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #18 of 19
point taken, am in agreement.
post #19 of 19

Response to April

When I stated that many of my peers consider the title of chef to be applied only to someone who has been in complete charge of at least one commercial kitchen, I meant that this criteria would be unfair to someone like Julia Child, who I don't believe ever actually worked for any restaurant (I could be wrong in this assumption), but yet was such a trailblazer in many ways and certainly deserving of the title "chef". Yes, I would like to see some standardization as there is in other trades. A person who has gone to culinary school and worked many years in the industry should have a distinction from someone just out of school. It would be especially helpful when hiring to see on an ap. that applicant is level such and such which would indicate what level of knowlege or experience that person has attained.
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