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Yes Chef? No Chef!


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So I find very perplexing the pretension of prefixing the name of just about any cook or chef in these forums with the moniker "Chef". It's alway Chef Keller or Chef Achatz why not Thomas, or Grant Achatz?

I don't buy your premise. A quick Google search reveals 6000 hits for "Thomas Keller" vs 600 hits for "Chef Keller

9000 hits for "Grant Achatz" vs 1200 hits for "Chef Achatz

What exactly are you proving with this? While saying that everybody on these forums refers to all chefs as "chef [insert name here]" is an overstatement, that doesn't mean its not a real phenomenon. You're arguing from rhetoric, not the topic at hand.

nunc est bibendum...

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I've taken a few courses at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, and the instructors are referred to as Chef, with respect, by the full time and the casual (like me) students.

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

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I see it very similar to calling a coach, "coach." Nothing pretentious or fake, just an acknowledgment of their role.

not being a chef or involved in the restaurant world (but for weekly visits to the other side...) this is how i had always imagined it being too. or calling the police chief "sarge". (that's what they do on law and order, right?)

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I am the professional, managerial cook in a small kitchen with a staff of 10. I have run much larger operations as well. I hire, train and fire staff. I manage purchasing, inventory and costs. I create menus and recipes. I am responsible for all aspects of performance and quality. I have never directed my staff to address me in any particular manner. When I meet a potential hire or a new guest or catering client, I introduce myself by my given name.

My staff all address me as "Chef" or "Chef Tobin". Most of my guests and clients do the same. Many of my peers address me in this manner as well. I accept this for what I believe it to be, a sign of respect and courtesy. If my peers believe that I am due the respect and courtesy of being addressed as "Chef", then I am grateful for their acknowledgement of my accomplishment and skill.

Edited by TJHarris (log)

Tobin

It is all about respect; for the ingredient, for the process, for each other, for the profession.

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I am the professional, managerial cook in a small kitchen with a staff of 10. I have run much larger operations as well. I hire, train and fire staff. I manage purchasing, inventory and costs. I create menus and recipes. I am responsible for all aspects of performance and quality. I have never directed my staff to address me in any particular manner. When I meet a potential hire or a new guest or catering client, I introduce myself by my given name.

My staff all address me as "Chef" or "Chef Tobin". Most of my guests and clients do the same. Many of my peers address me in this manner as well. I accept this for what I believe it to be, a sign of respect and courtesy. If my peers believe that I am due the respect and courtesy of being addressed as "Chef", then I am grateful for their acknowledgement of my accomplishment and skill.

And I think you nailed it on the head.

When people ask me what I do for a living, my wife usually informs them that I am a pastry chef. I quickly correct her (maybe one day she will listen)and tell them that I am a simple baker. I do not feel that I have the training or experience to be called a chef by anyone. While this may venture things off topic, what qualifies someone as a chef?

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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I think there is a difference between the way one addresses someone in person and written style. I'm sure the New York Times White House reporters address direct questions to "Mr. President," but they refer to him in print as "Mr. Obama," for instance, and even the use of "Mr." in this case is something of a quaint formality associated particularly with the Times, as other news sources would use only the last name with no title at all.

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Every person that I have encountered (as a waitress, in cooking school, as a baker and as a food writer) that insisted on being addressed as "chef" has turned out to be a jerk. He or she has been either poorly educated, clinging to a tiny mount of authority, arrogant, a bully, or desperately trying to prove him/herself.

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During my working days, I was employed by a series of elected state officials. Each one preferred to be on a first name basis with every employee, regardless of position. I can't speak for others but I respected these folks for it because they were essentially saying, even if it wasn't true, that we were all equally important to the performance of the functions of the office. I think I would have felt the same respect if I had ever worked for a chef who expressed a preference to be referred to by his or her first name rather than by the title.

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I think it's just another inappropriate use of a "working title" that has come to the fore recently only because celebrity chefs and food media have exploded into the public consciousness over the last decade.

I've seen this sort of thing my entire life. My parents both hold PhDs and have been for most of their careers professors at universities. And my parents have occasionally laughed at letters (usually from Germany, curiously) addressed to "Doctor Professor and Mrs. Doctor Professor Kinsey." But in reality neither of them goes by "Doctor Kinsey" or "Professor Kinsey" in their personal lives, or even most of their professional lives. I think it's appropriate to call someone "Professor So-and-so" when that person is instructing you in an academic setting, but otherwise not.

I see similar abuses of the term maestro, which means "master" in Italian. It is quite similar to the term "chef" (the boss of the kitchen), in that it applies to the person who is the boss of the orchestra and the performance: the conductor. Less often it may apply to a teacher when addressed by a student. If I am in a rehearsal or in the context of a professional engagement I will often address the conductor as "maestro" as a short-form courtesy -- but not when we're having drinks at the cafe afterwards. Nevertheless, the practice of calling acclaimed classical performers "Maestro Domingo" and "Maestro Pearlman" persists in popular usage as though it is some kind of title one earns for being a great performer rather than a job description. If, for example, Placido Domingo were in a performance led by a relatively unknown and unacclaimed conductor, the conductor would still be the "maestro" and Domingo would not.

All of which is to say that "chef" is the title of the person who is the boss of the kitchen, and addressing that person as "chef" is more or less a kitchen-tradition way of calling him "boss." Understood as such, it strikes me as something that is appropriate to use when addressing that person as your boss at the time, and not otherwise (including during off hours). In this way, it is different than calling a military officer "Captain" even after retirement. This is because "Captain" is not only a job description, but also an earned honorific that stays with you forever. (Although I should add that it's a bit silly to address a retired Naval Captain as "Captain" unless you are military yourself, and most appropriately unless you worked with that person in the military.)

In the end, however, this is all water under the bridge. People will continue to use these kinds of designations as though they were permanent earned ranks rather than job descriptions. Personally, I don't like to call someone "boss" unless they are my boss at the time. So for me it will be "Thomas Keller" and never "Chef Keller."

Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

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it's interesting to read the takes on this subject from both non-professionals and industry people. with the growing popularity of our profession through TV and other media it seems the term "chef" gets tossed around more loosely.

after having spent time in "brigade" style kitchens as well as attending school at the CIA to me it's a distinction of hierarchy and a display of respect to those who have earned their title through dedication to their craft and a lot of hard work. having worked in many different types of places, some where there was no "chef" but simply a kitchen manager speaks something of the amount of professionalism and to a lesser extent the level of food being produced. with that said i have also been in kitchens producing some really high quality food where the person running the kitchen insisted on being called by his first name saying "i'm not a chef i'm a cook".

it comes down to personal preferences. i have friends of mine who i have cooked with in the past who don't go by "chef". maybe this goes back to the culinary school regimen as in my case was run a bit like the military and was based around discipline and respect. i prefer to be addressed as chef while at work and no place else. i have been known to take my cooks out after a rather difficult but albeit successful night and frown when they continue the "yes chef" thing. i'm not on the clock and trying to relax. it should be noted that while i prefer the term chef at work for reasons listed above, one being respect, that i show my respect for my employees as well as it is a two way street. there have been many a chef who expect to be addressed the way they wish without giving an iota about the people whom are doing it.

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Isryelle;

if all of your chefs at cooking school fall under the description you just gave i hope that school doesn't last long. it's unfortunate that you never worked in a kitchen where the "chef" deserved to be called just that. there are definitely some real shoemakers out there that certainly haven't earned the right to be in charge of a kitchen, much less be called a chef.

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I don't understand the point about "you're not in the industry/you don't work for Chef X, why call him/her Chef?". Most of us haven't been cops, but you still address them as Constable or Officer, don't you?

I do agree with points about the _abuse_ of the term "Chef" (using it to refer to cooks of any kind) -- but this is a general peeve of mine. I didn't like it either when lecturers without PhDs suddenly became Dr. or Professor for no reason.

I think it's actually rather pretentious to refer to Chef Keller as "Thomas", or at least, it would be for me. I don't know the guy, we're not drinking buddies, we've never been introduced, what am I doing calling him by his first name? Obviously for those in his kitchen(s), they should address him the way he prefers.

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I think the point is that when an a police officer is off duty, you don't typically call them officer (I imagine most cops would find that strange and maybe a bit amusing). It just seems like a bit of an affectation to address people as chef when you're not in their kitchen, just as it would be to do that with a cop. I respect cooks/chefs a lot (my mom was one almost all my life) but I'm not going to take every opportunity to address them formally. That's just me though--to each his own.

nunc est bibendum...

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After a 14 year hiatus, I am back in the restaurant industry. I refer to the chef as 'Chef' in the kitchen and on the floor, and by her first name when off the clock. I have a great deal of respect for her and her profession, yet I also feel like she is a friend of mine, so I think it would be weird to refer to her as 'Chef' when we're having a drink together.

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I think the point is that when an a police officer is off duty, you don't typically call them officer (I imagine most cops would find that strange and maybe a bit amusing). It just seems like a bit of an affectation to address people as chef when you're not in their kitchen, just as it would be to do that with a cop. I respect cooks/chefs a lot (my mom was one almost all my life) but I'm not going to take every opportunity to address them formally. That's just me though--to each his own.

I think that point is only relevant to people who know Thomas Keller in an "off-duty" capacity -- which is to say, of course I think his personal friends call him Thomas.

I read the OP as referring to people who don't actually know him at all, and are just referring to him in his capacity as a head of restaurant kitchens. In that context I think he's still "Chef".

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  • 2 weeks later...

no offense to anyone, but a "chef" is hardly on the level or Dr or Prof or President...

Usually prefixes like that are used for academic respect, to be a great "chef" is more an art is it not?

^^^ this. Chef is a job function, not a title. If anything, Master Chef (the European one, not the ACF one) could come close to being a title, but I am not sure how to work that into an appellation. Chef describes someone who, inside a kitchen, directs a number of subordinates in the preparation of food for service. The word "chef" derives from the Latin "caput", "head".

I blame FoodTV for diluting the term to the point of irecognition. Food Network actually goes so far to call bona-fide, hard-working, chefs "amateur chefs" to differentiate them from "real" chefs, which - in FN lingo - means "actors on TV cooking things". In the same vein, people like Karine Bakhoum, a woman who moved from fashion to food PR, never worked a day in a kitchen, is called "chef" in any and all FNTV press releases.

Personally, my cooks call me by my name. Every once in a while, especially when we get stages and externs from cooking schools in, someone calls me "chef", as does our FoH when they refer to me, simply to build the mystique and rapport with the diners. For lack of a name, outsiders may ask for the "chef" when wanting to speak to the person in charge of the Back of the House, but again, that's a job function, not a title. Ever since after my apprenticeship I can't recall having called anyone "chef", either. And, alas, I used to work for some of those people that are now being referred to exclusively as "Chef X". Trust me, outside of FNTV and book tours, only bosses I wouldn't want to work for insist on the "chef" title.

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I think the point is that when an a police officer is off duty, you don't typically call them officer (I imagine most cops would find that strange and maybe a bit amusing). It just seems like a bit of an affectation to address people as chef when you're not in their kitchen, just as it would be to do that with a cop. I respect cooks/chefs a lot (my mom was one almost all my life) but I'm not going to take every opportunity to address them formally. That's just me though--to each his own.

I think that point is only relevant to people who know Thomas Keller in an "off-duty" capacity -- which is to say, of course I think his personal friends call him Thomas.

I read the OP as referring to people who don't actually know him at all, and are just referring to him in his capacity as a head of restaurant kitchens. In that context I think he's still "Chef".

I see how my post was misleading. I don't think calling people by their first name in writing is appropriate or makes much sense, unless you're speaking personally about or to the person. I'll call him Thomas Keller the first time I mention him and Keller each time after. If I really wanted to be formal, I'd call him Mr. Keller, but that's a bit much for an internet forum.

nunc est bibendum...

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  • 4 months later...

I agree it sounds unnecessarily formal to say Chef Smith in a non-work setting. However, it reflects the increasing social status of our industry. Like all lingo, part of it's function is to separate the insiders from the outsiders. Now that "reality" shows and other forms of media have opened the kitchen door a bit, it's cool to be a chef, and so people want to use what they think is industry lingo to feel like they're insiders, too.

Personally, I don't like being called chef because I know what usually I mean when I say it. Of course, sometimes it's out of respect. But sometimes it's the only thing you can say in a bad situation, through gritted teeth. Ha ha.

~Tad

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no offense to anyone, but a "chef" is hardly on the level or Dr or Prof or President...

Usually prefixes like that are used for academic respect, to be a great "chef" is more an art is it not?

^^^ this. Chef is a job function, not a title. If anything, Master Chef (the European one, not the ACF one) could come close to being a title, but I am not sure how to work that into an appellation. Chef describes someone who, inside a kitchen, directs a number of subordinates in the preparation of food for service. The word "chef" derives from the Latin "caput", "head".

I blame FoodTV for diluting the term to the point of irecognition. Food Network actually goes so far to call bona-fide, hard-working, chefs "amateur chefs" to differentiate them from "real" chefs, which - in FN lingo - means "actors on TV cooking things". In the same vein, people like Karine Bakhoum, a woman who moved from fashion to food PR, never worked a day in a kitchen, is called "chef" in any and all FNTV press releases.

Personally, my cooks call me by my name. Every once in a while, especially when we get stages and externs from cooking schools in, someone calls me "chef", as does our FoH when they refer to me, simply to build the mystique and rapport with the diners. For lack of a name, outsiders may ask for the "chef" when wanting to speak to the person in charge of the Back of the House, but again, that's a job function, not a title. Ever since after my apprenticeship I can't recall having called anyone "chef", either. And, alas, I used to work for some of those people that are now being referred to exclusively as "Chef X". Trust me, outside of FNTV and book tours, only bosses I wouldn't want to work for insist on the "chef" title.

I agree. I think Professor or Doctor is a title that should be used in addressing a person. Not chef. At least not for people outside of the industry. I think the only time you should be addressing a Chef by title is if it is at work and they ask for it or is the done thing in that kitchen. Or they are a chef at the top of their game. This last scenario is only out of respect and is optional.

It takes a lot more time and effort to reach Doctor level let alone Professor. And it's a lot harder mentally to reach these levels. I can see this point not been popular with chefs though...

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Meaningless convention, like the habit of calling Phys-Ed teachers "Coach."

Also you should call me Chef Dakki because I am so boss. :cool::raz:

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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I think the whole discussion is a bit silly. Fun, but silly. There doesn't have to be a division. If you're not in their kitchen under the jurisdiction of their rules, do whatever works for you. I refer to chef's that I personally respect as "Chef (insert name here)" for no reason other than the one I stated... personal respect. It doesn't matter to me if I work for them or not because, in this setting, I'm not conceding authority, I'm attempting to convey respect in a print medium. I don't expect anyone else to join in or think the same way and I'm not disappointed to see someone else simply refer to them by name. However, to claim that an accomplished chef deserves less respect than a doctor or a professor because "the doctor or professor had to go to school longer" is ridiculous. Respect (in my opinion) is earned through accomplishment, not automatically associated with a title.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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