When is a chef a chef?

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File:Blank chefpedia logo.jpgYou can take any dummy off the street who wishes to be a cook and train them for six weeks and what do you have? A trained dummy!

This article debates the technical and esoteric meaning of the term “Chef” in an attempt to identify modern usage, core attitudes, competencies, values and necessary ethics,

When is a chef a Chef as perceived by a cook.

I acknowledge the contribution and wisdom of John Miller in developing the philosophies is this article.Given that cookery is supposed to be a “profession” there appears to be a number of ambiguous situations that arise in the discipline and one of them is the use of the term “chef". The question of the expression and the title “chef “and when it is appropriate that one should one be called a chef is a vexing one.

With the exception of a few multinational properties who have followed the conventional kitchen titles , the title is one of the most abused words in today's trade, daily papers, media and community at large and even by some who are in the cookery industry who increasingly use the title “chef” without an understanding of the actual station and particularly the ethics required by the title or position.

The misrepresentation of the term is fuelled by a lot of peripheral cookery practitioners who pretend to be chefs and consider the designation provides them with some form of status, these include:

• Cooks who call themselves chefs  • Chef Instructors who are in reality professional cookery teachers  

• Restaurant reviewers who imply they are chefs and are food media writers  

• Hospitality V.E.T teachers, some who are home economists or secondary school cookery teachers

• Television cookery program demonstrators who are really entertainers 

• Writer of cookery books by suggestion are chefs and actually authors 

• Amid there are others who demonstrate products in various activities sometimes wearing white poofy hats and selling something food related to real chefs

• And how about apprentice chefs! Next we will see adverts for apprentice Executive chefs.

This misrepresentation is unfortunately fuelled by many employers who really seek a qualified cook and believe that to attract the right person they need to glorify their advertisement.

Additionally there are numerous derivatives that rely upon an indisputable base meaning, including: Master Chef, Executive Chef, Chef de Cuisine, Head Chef, Chef In Charge and many more identities that are losing their original significance and intent.

We have long passed the technical and simplistic meaning of the term. We know the term originated from “Chief” and the term can be technically be used to describe many “chiefs”. For example a tram conductor is a “chef conducteur de tram”, or a Orchestra Conductor is “Chef d’ Orchestre”.

We know that the head of a commercial kitchen is by technical definition a Chef de Cuisine. However, industry practice and terminology has dramatically changed and we need to question the term to establish some clear contemporary definitions and distinctions.

There are some people who are called by their peers a "Chef", mainly as a result of their past professional endeavours. This is professionally appropriate, provided, they still advocate the fundamental principles and ethics of the role.

I suggest that we need to explore the contemporary industry meaning of the word in an attempt to set agreed boundaries and then using this mainstream attitude, with an unambiguous voice attempt to re-educate the public, media and if necessary those who may need to be brought down to reality to understand modern usage of the term better. Initially, we need to attempt to identify the core competencies, attitudes and values of a chef and if possible identify an absolute set of criteria that must be met before one can consider him or herself a chef or be entitled to be called chef.

I would argue that if we cannot identify the essential elements that make up a chef, then such a person, job, role, position, identity does not exist and chefs are in fact a figment of our imagination.

It may be time that the Australia cookery industry has sufficient genuine chefs who have crossed the border into the professional arena by understanding, accepting and self regulating themselves to follow an agreed industry code of ethics.

Then be willing to accept censure from their peers if the code is clearly not followed, while at the same time ridiculing those who do not understand that a “cook” has and should have, just as much standing in the industry as any other responsible position.

Do you have the right to call yourself a chef? Or be called a chef by your colleagues, which beg the question, what is cook? And what’s wrong with calling someone a cook, or calling oneself a cook. Is it, politically incorrect, bigoted, insulting or even demeaning? 

For example, if someone were to describe you as cook, would it bother you that they chose the term cook, rather than chef? I'm curious for any opinions on this, as it appears that word “cook" has become a dreadful four lettered word, and “Chef" signifies glamour and authority.

It may even be that we need to revolutionise the word chef to something else and agree on new titles such as: Kitchen Director, Chef Director or Kitchen Manager ? And leave those who believe that they are chefs to their own delusions.

So I ask what is a chef?.  In my opinion, a cook becomes a chef when they have achieved every core competencies, attitude and value as below and until all are achieved, they should be contented to call themselves a cook, because in my opinion they are still a cook: and there is absolutely nothing demeaning or wrong being a cook

Minimum core competencies:

• They have practised cookery skills over a minimum number of years (a minimum of eight, including formal training or 12 years without formal training) to reach a sophisticated level of skill in commercial food preparation and presentation.

• If they are not currently in command of a brigade as a Chef de Cuisine or employed in a higher commercial kitchen responsibility, they must have previously held at least a position as a Chef de Cuisine during their career. ( there are exceptions where all other attributes have been achieved however the chef has elected to remain at the station).

• They have an empathic bond and awareness of the products they use and consistently seek to expand this knowledge.

• They are capable of consistently, proficiently and correctly preparing and presenting wholesome, tasty food in large quantities within the constraints of the available resources and timelines. 

• They are talented to be able to extend their skills and knowledge to produce contemporary food styles

• They are people friendly, administrators or leaders, especially focused on training, guiding and encouraging others who may or may not be on their staff to reach higher potential. 

• They are considered by their peers to have made or are making a positive contribution to the profession.

• They are suitably trained and or in extremely rare cases untrained but professional, well read and practised the culinary arts.

Minimum core attitudes: 

• Always be willing to advance and defend the trade of cookery.

• Understand that learning is a lifelong journey.

• Passionate and positive about their daily responsibilities.

• Accept that they are accountable for their actions to their peers. 

• Affiliated through associations and networks with others in the profession.

Minimum core values:

• They are ethical in the day to day practice of the business and profession of cookery

• They are honest, reliable and loyal to their employer and employees

• They realise that there are occupational conventions to be followed when and where appropriate.

• They are self disciplined as they pursue the values, standards and conventions of the trade of profession cookery.

The profession of cookery in under threat as never before, as we see diminishing standards in training, flagging passions to be a cook, artistic licenses in some cases even past responsible sensibility.


Subsequently it has become more important now than ever before for chefs to have an agreed statement of ethical principles. We need to guide each other and especially the next generation of cooks and chefs to move the discipline forward into the next decade and beyond.

Functioning as a cook or chef should be more then simple employment, genuine cooks and chefs who have moved above “just a job” have realised their responsibilities to the community and industry and have joined the profession.

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George Hill 06:40, 6 March 2012 (EST)  Reprinted from original on salonculinaire.com