Oh, so you're a chef...
“What’s your favorite thing to cook?”. As a professional chef, this is a question I hear often. It is also one of the questions I hate being asked. Some of the others include, “What’s your specialty?”. Or, “Do you cook gourmet meals at home for your family all the time?”. And of course, there is the, “oh, you’re a chef? Well I’m a bit of a chef too”. So, let me take this opportunity to answer these dreaded questions so they don’t come up again.
When someone learns I am a chef they automatically assume I love to cook. But there is so much more to working as a chef than just cooking. There is the adrenaline rush of dinner service; The everyday challenge of working your way through the prep list; continually learning and evolving as a cook; creating new dishes and concepts; building a team; and the instant gratification of serving a top-notch meal. So, when someone asks if I love to cook, the answer is no, I love being a chef. And when they ask, “What’s your favorite thing to cook?”, the answer is whatever I’m cooking at that moment.
“What’s your specialty?”. I was schooled at the Culinary Institute of America which, at the time, was rooted in classical European technique, taught by mostly European Chefs. My career has been spent in French restaurants, “Continental” restaurants, wedding and banquet halls, and country clubs. So, my answer to the question “what’s your specialty?”, is the same as above- whatever I’m cooking now.
“Do you cook gourmet meals at home for your family all the time?”. For much of my career the answer was, “Haha. I’m rarely at home with my family, I’m usually working”. The past 8 years, since moving into the realm of a corporate R&D chef, I am home more with my family, but do I cook gourmet meals all the time? Again, haha. Both my wife and I work full time, and have 3 active teenaged children, so while we try to eat often as a family, time certainly does not permit ‘gourmet meals’.
Last, but certainly not least, is the ol’, “I’m a bit of a chef too,”. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I believe the growth of The Food Network, Top Chef, and the subsequent rise of the “Celebrity Chef” have done wonders for the perception of the culinary trade. In the past 25 years or so, chefs have become rock stars. We’ve gone from hidden behind the swinging kitchen doors, to front and center on stages. And just as I always dreamed of being a rock star, many people now dream of being a chef. And as mentioned earlier, there is so much more to becoming a chef than just cooking. Religiously watching Giada or Guy will not make someone a chef. It can certainly help with cooking tips, or inspiration, but it won’t make someone a chef.
So, when someone says to me, “oh, you’re a chef? Well I’m a bit of a chef too,”, then it’s my turn to ask a couple of questions- “How many 70-hour work weeks have you had?”. “Can you show me the scars on your forearms?”. “How many weekends and holidays have you missed?”. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, “what’s your favorite thing to cook?”. 😊