Admit it. You personally know at least one chef or professional cook. At least have come across a professional cook significant enough to warrant a second look. Or know of someone who recently graduated from a culinary or hotel management school. Maybe 10 or more years ago many people looked down on the lowly cook. Thinking they were criminals, half-lifes, never amounting to anything. Ironically, it is the spirit that keeps professional cooks going, chugging out thousands of identical plates every week, working in near-submarine conditions, at very low pay. Because we love it.
Recently though, it has been very difficult to weed out the posers from the professional cooks. Every technical, vocational and fly-by-night schools sport culinary programs, making diploma mills spit out more culinary certification. Is it the ‘in’ thing? Are more and more people considering a career in the culinary arts? For what reason? These should not be one of those reasons:
For the glamour – a chef, by definition, is a cook that leads other cooks. The personalities you see on TV? They are called chefs because they earned that title, not bestowed upon themselves. Anthony Bourdain documented his rise in the ranks. Eric Ripert made a name for himself. Gordon Ramsay got michelin stars. But Rachel ray? She’s not a chef. She is just another Martha Stewart wannabe. If you want your 15 minutes of fame, you have to travel a long and winding road before you get there. Earn your battle scars.
For the money – this is an attainable dream. We all dream of a high salary, royalties and product endorsements. But one gets into this profession with more spirit than a ready checking account. In fact, most start out as stagiares earning next to nothing. For years on end. As an apprentice, or someone lower than an apprentice. A pot scrubber, a peeler. Yet they trudge on, because they learn something new every day, every year, working on their craft.
Because everybody is doing it – Keeping up with the Joneses is very bad at the get go. If you think following the trend will turn you into the mindset of a chef, much less an actual chef, then the line cooks will skin you alive and sear your working hand with a hot iron pan. This is a sign of a finicky mind, only learning how to cook because somebody told them to. Where is the passion there?
Because I cook at home – A professional cook is very different from a home cook. Even if you could make the best BBQ sauce in your small town, or make a mean casserole, that does not make a chef. There are a lot of things to learn. Because whatever you learned at home will be obliterated from you mind as inefficient, redundant and a waste of space. Professional cooking is an art. In some cases, it’s a discipline, a way of life.
Be a chef, a professional cook, because you love cooking the same thing over and over again with no difference from one plate to another. Because you have gone through the burns, the cuts, the bruises, humiliation, and other such forms of rite of passage to earn the title. Earn it. Don’t call yourself a chef. hear it from someone else’s lips. Someone that matters. Not from your culinary school instructor.