Sunday, November 30, 2008

why a chef?

read an interesting op-ed piece in this weekend's ny times by author marcella hazan. a brief excerpt:

“My husband is such a great chef,” my hairdresser was saying.

“Oh,” I said. “What restaurant does he work in?”

“No, no, no, he doesn’t work in a restaurant. He is an electrician. But he does amazing things on the grill when we cook out during the weekend.”

This happens a lot. “Chef” has pretty much replaced “gourmet cook” to describe anyone who cooks well. How many times over the last few days, for instance, did you hear it used to refer to the person who prepared a Thanksgiving meal?

I'd concur. it seems that since the recent boom in television cooking shows has led to an oversaturation of the term, "chef". hazan again:

For starters, “chef” is a job description — a chef is someone who cooks professionally, usually in command of a restaurant’s kitchen brigade, and depending on the brigade’s size, he or she might not even be doing any of the actual cooking.

it could be argued that everything around us is becoming more and more instant. make an appearance on dancing with the stars, and you're a dancer. run a marathon and you're an athlete. steal from and leech off of everything decent around you and you're a lawyer. we're not a doctor, we say, but we played one on television.

I'm not a chef, at least not in the traditional sense. I didn't sweat out years at the cia then endure twenty hour days on a line being pushed beyond human limits. although in hindsight, I kinda wish I had. kinda.

if you want to get an idea of what that world's like, check out ritchie's line cook blog.

no, I'm the classic accidental chef, taking over the reins in the gypsy gal's first cafe because a) we had a kitchen available and 2) we couldn't afford to hire anyone else. from there, slinging focaccias and tossing salads, I learned how to cook professionally. I taught myself how to make things completely from scratch and learned the difference between preparing home meals and holding foods for service. I annoyed the shit out of 'real' chefs until they let me hang out in their kitchens, watching, learning, tasting and understanding. I stalked the various pro chef forums, asking silly questions like "how do you guys really hold a risotto for service so it can come out in ten minutes instead of the forty it takes me in my kitchen?".

by the way, whenever I'd ask that last question, I get as many as a dozen completely different answers. one thing most chefs agree on is they don't agree on much.

so even though I'm a 'chef' in the general sense, as in I am a professional cook, using my experience, talent and palate (and let's hope they don't let me down), I'm not a properly trained or qualified chef. does the distinction even matter?

in my opinion, not as long as the food's great.