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The “How” of Becoming a Chef

Comments Off on The “How” of Becoming a Chef 16 April 2013

IMG_7778_LI am asked regularly “how do you become a chef”? So I thought I would take you on the fast forward version of the journey a young eager cook must travel before he or she becomes a chef. Ha, fast forward, like do you even remember the VCR??? Sorry got caught in a 80’s glitch for a second…  totally radical! As we set out on this expedition, I think it is important to understand the difference between a cook and a chef and along the way you may smell the how! Many people believe that you are a chef once you have graduated from an accredited Culinary Arts program and have received your bachelor’s degree in the Culinary Arts. This route is a good option for some but that makes you as much a chef as parking in your garage makes you a mechanic. Becoming a chef is so much more than a punch list of achievements, it is a position of responsibility not all can or want to handle. To be a cook you must obviously know how to cook, unfortunately, I have met plenty of lousy cooks in my career, but know how to cook they did. Albeit bad it was still cooking! These are often the individuals that have landed in this industry maybe by choice or by default and don’t really care what, who or how they are serving food, they are just doing what it takes to collect a paycheck. Unfortunately, this type of cook generally works in a system that does not expect more from them than they are already offering. I believe the root of being a chef starts with being a great cook, you have heard the saying “the cream rises to the top”, well it does, literally and figuratively. Not to say that every chef is a great cook, it is a generalization to believe that it takes a great cook to make a chef, the same, chef by default theory can apply here. When exploring the how of becoming a chef, we do need to factor in education, which can come in many forms, accredited programs or on the job training. I have the privilege of working with culinary students regularly these days at the Culinary Center of Monterey and one thing I am always reminding them of is that once they leave school the real education begins. Each and every one of them will still need to get into the work force and earn their position through the on the job training program employed by each kitchen. They will have to learn the requirements of that organization, the expectations of that chef and the demands of that system and all while earning much less than the cool guy server who rolls in for a few hours and skates out on his or her side work.  It is impossible to teach all the required flexibility a chef must endure within the structure of school. However, the best chefs are forever students of their industry and profession, constantly refining there technique and advancing themselves. A cook by definition, in fact cooks food, food that has been created by the chef, that is the menu the chef created. The chef is responsible for the training of the cooks and setting the expectation for which they perform. A cook prepares and manipulates the food the chef provides to him or her as the chef is responsible for the ordering and inventorying of the food product required for the menu created.  The chef is ultimately responsible for the guest’s satisfaction and return patronage when in fact he or she may not have even actually handled any part of the guest’s meal during their dining experience. A cook is held responsible for the station at which they work, the sanitation and cleanliness as well as the organization but the chef is responsible to be certain the equipment and fixtures are in working order and regular repairs and maintenance is preformed and the facility meets and exceeds the requirements of the health department. While the chef dictates the schedule based on the projected volume of each days sales and required work load, while evenly balanced with extracting maximum efficiency from each employee, it is the cook who must often work under extreme conditions and heavy work load completing the tasks set forth by the chef for each shift, all while cooking food for hundreds of people to enjoy. While a cook often works a shift ranging from 4-8 hours he or she will often work more than one job, while the chef usually begins and ends his day in the same kitchen. In most systems a cook is empowered and entrusted with the food products provided and responsible for helping control waste and theft, while the chef is liable for the end food cost and profitability of the restaurant or outlet. Now that I have painted the difference in the two roles perhaps I can explain the “How” of becoming a chef. You become a chef by working very hard at being a great cook, by practicing and perfecting your skills each and every day on each and every guest. You must be willing to accept responsibility and criticism, provide encouragement, direction, wisdom and authority. Be willing and ready to react at any time in any way to anything. You must be quick to survey the landscape of each situation, generate and execute a game plan, think quickly when the game plan changes and always keep the integrity of the food in the fore front of that plan. Becoming a chef requires you to maintain a positive and creative presence amidst, tough, demanding surroundings.  To become a chef you must really want to be a chef.  I do want to say, I truly believe that becoming a chef chose me! I was born to do what I do, I was made to create and entertain through food and I am a blessed as any man can be to do exactly what I love to do every day! Cheers!

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