What makes a chef? Do you need to be a trained professional in order to teach a cooking class and call yourself a chef?
Home chefs are generally self-described and love to cook at home. A professional chef, on the other hand, has to have commanded a professional kitchen. Think hotels, clubs, restaurants, etc. The work experience is what provides the actual chef credential. If a chef works in a highly rated workplace -- like a famous restaurant, expensive club, or high end hotel like Caesar's, Hyatt, etc -- generally that means that the chef is also highly rated and experienced. Working in the restaurant industry is very difficult, and it takes years of dedication to reach a high position. Becoming a chef in a highly rated workplace is based on talent, management, and hard work under pressure. Not everyone can do it. People have to be able to create great dishes and make a lot of them, all while teaching and managing and inspiring other people. Plus, chefs spend hours and hours on their feet in suboptimal conditions. It is easy to make a fun chicken dish at home using Williams-Sonoma cookware and plates, but it is another story to put out 500 excellent banquet dinners on the fly.
A chef who attends a good culinary school can move through the ranks more quickly than a chef who does not. Culinary school experience is extremely valuable. For example, attending the Culinary Institute of America opened a lot more doors a lot more quickly for me. I have the PC II after my name because I passed the incredibly rigorous ProChef 2 test at the Culinary Institute of America. Studying for several months in Switzerland with Pastry Chefs Albert Kumin and Ewald Notter also had a huge impact on my career and cooking skills. A European background or time in Europe is a great tool that can help aspiring chefs reach their goals. Keep in mind, however, that talent is a factor, and it really cannot be taught.
So, if you're looking to take a cooking class, find out about the chef's experience. Is the chef the editor of a prestigious book or magazine? Does he or she have creative ideas to impart? Is the chef a professional educator at a great school? Does he or she have years of experience in the industry? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then I would take the class. 🙂
By Judy Doherty, PC II
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Stephanie Ronco has been editing in a professional capacity for the past 10 years. In addition to her work as an editor, Ronco has also served as a ghostwriter and writing tutor. A voracious reader, Ronco loves watching language evolve and change. When she’s not delving into her latest project, Ronco can be found teaching acting classes, performing in community theater, or sailing with her husband.