How does someone become a chef?
Does a culinary degree mean that you have the right to call yourself CHEF? In America, the path to becoming a chef and having that title acknowledged by your peers can be as confusing as asking for directions. Everyone knows where you want to go, but can they be clear and concise. Simply put, depending on the source of advice, each answer will differ; all will claim their way is the only true way to achieve your goal. Truth is, there is no industry standard; or governing body that conclusively decides who can wear the title of chef and who cannot.
Medical students do not share a cook’s frustration.
Their path is as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. In chronological order, attend medical school for at least eight years; graduate, find a hospital, do your internship, complete that, and then presto you can legally call yourself “Dr. so and so.”
If becoming a medical doctor is not your thing.
Spend eight years of study and research in a university. Write a thesis relative to your major, have said thesis accredited by a group of your peers, and the right to the title “Dr. so and so,” is yours.
I once made the mistake of sending such a person an email using his first name without the prefix. He was not pleased and sent a terse response with the appropriate titles that should be used when addressing him.
So, how does someone in culinary earn the title of chef?
How long do you have to slave as a line cook – then sous chef – before being able to earn that promotion to executive chef? I think the answer centers around the word earned.
Someone does not get the title of executive chef, they earn it.
There are many paths, but industry standards generally agree that the two most common ways are through accreditation and by rising through the ranks.
The American Culinary Federation (ACF), offers culinary professionals the opportunity to certify themselves as an executive chef. Information about the services and membership can be found on their website acfchefs.org. In simpler words, if you pass the requirement stipulated by the federation, you can put the title of chef on your jacket. Sounds simple, and it is, you need to work for at least three years in a supervisory role, such as sous chef. You must have at least a high school diploma. As a part of the process, you need to take a written exam of one hundred multiple choice questions and pass with a grade of 70% or higher. You must then take a practical exam that demonstrates competency with basic cooking technique and sanitation practices. Pass these and you have earned the title.
Others will disagree and state that becoming a chef is not as simple as passing a test.
The journey towards earning that title begins with years of experience cooking in different kitchens. To be valid, to be able to say you paid your dues, at least one year should be spent in each location. A true chef works their way up through the ranks. Many chefs started out as dishwashers before even having the privilege of peeling a potato. A chef’s role involves management skills. If you cannot calculate your own food cost, cost a menu or read and understand a profit & loss statement, you are a pretender to the throne.
Shuna Lydon, pastry chef and food blogger says that “It’s no secret that cooks/chefs do not work 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week over a consecutive 5 day period. This example, in fact, would be called Part Time by most in the industry. The running joke at The French Laundry was that one day off was a weekend, and 2, vacation. For years I heard that in order to take an actual vacation from a cooking job, one must quit altogether, as paid vacations are a delusional fantasy for most of us in the field.” This path is the most common for American chefs and requires, dedication, passion and diligence. To read more interesting stories from her website visit eggbeater/typepad.com.
In trying to answer my own question
I found that anyone can call themselves a chef. Anyone can wear that title, good or bad, indifferent or passionate. But only a few can assume the title without trading their integrity.
A chef should be able to motivate and teach their cooks. A chef should be able to run their operation a business. A chef should be passionate about what they put on a plate. It takes years of training to learn the necessary skills to run a kitchen. Question is do you have what it takes?