Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The University Educated Chef

A university-educated Chef said to me not long ago that she's gets quite bothered when people assume she's a moron and treat her as such just because she's a Chef. I understood that to mean that people think Chefs are stupid, uneducated, blue-collared trades folk. I know it's what my mother thinks. To her, Chefs are people who couldn't do anything else with their life, weren't smart enough to get into university, or even colleges, so they turned to cooking for a living. It's interesting that she only has a grade ten education but never turned to cooking, and ironic that she can be so vehement about what uneducated people are like or what they should choose to do with their lives.

The recent comment from the Chef made me give some thought to how I felt about the subject. Upon reflection I found that I also tell people quite early on that I used to be an insurance adjuster and have a university degree before giving it up and becoming a Chef. Where this is stemming from, I don't know. Do I want them to see me in a different light, do I want to say "hey, just because I'm doing this don't think I'm not smart", or am I just so proud of what I have done and accomplished since coming here that I'd be leaving out a part of me if I didn't mention it.

I think many Chefs these days are more educated and are turning to cooking for the love of food not because other avenues are not available to them. The Chefs of today are very different from the Chefs of years past. They are more articulate, they treat their staff differently, the writing and reading comprehension is higher. Where's my research? Why it's an observable fact. And although I haven't compiled a list of books and statistics to share, there are several authors making this point, Ruhlman being perhaps at the top of my list.

Also, no longer is it acceptable to have swearing or improper conduct in the kitchen. People don't stay in kitchens with abusive Chefs anymore. Sure, when they leave there'll be others to take their place but the thing is the kitchen with high staff turnover will likely not survive in the end. It takes time to train someone and you cannot afford to have fast turnover. The food will suffer, your labour cost certainly will be high (it takes a newby twice or three times as long to do a task that a veteran would) and you will go under. Not to mention what staff turnover does to employee morale. So if you think that all Chefs, or even most of them, are Gordon Ramsay like, you've either never worked in a kitchen or have been watching too much television. Today's culinary schools are packed with as many women as men and a high percentage of them are more mature students who are switching careers. They are not yesterday's confused boy who had no path in life and who has fallen into cooking. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just saying the times are changing.

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