I love the Food Network. I’ll be the first to admit that shows like Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen are some of my favorites. The problem I have with the Food Network, Bravo, and other cooking shows? Their blatant disregard for a term that I have grown up respecting, admiring, and essentially idolizing. Chef. That word isn’t there to describe some fool off the street who can follow a recipe or someone who occasionally throws a dinner party using some hipster ingredient popular for that year. It isn’t a title to be bandied about. It’s a profession that describes men and women who sleep, breathe, bleed, sweat and cry for the love of food.
I don’t consider myself a chef, even though I’ve had friends and family call me Chef. I’m a home cook. I have a culinary background for most of my life, but I don’t believe that I’ve earned the right and the honor of being called Chef. I have worked with some amazing chefs, though. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of being taught by amazing Chefs. Can I cook great food? Hell yes I can. I can bake some tasty cakes and superb cookies and scones. I understand the principles behind cooking, but I’m not a chef. I say all the time how hard it is to offend me. It generally is, but calling yourself chef when you haven’t earned it is offensive and downright disrespectful. And who decided it was okay to take one of the few professions left and brand it as the new cool title? Home chefs? Cafeteria chef?
Home “chefs” look at cooking as a hobby. It’s something cool to do to show off a recipe you saw someone else cook and you want to imitate it for your friends so you can say you know how to cook. You don’t live it day in and day out. You don’t live through struggling marriages and fighting with your need to be right in front of that grill or flat top instead of wanting to be at home with your kids. You don’t understand the stress of trying to cater an event with only a few people you can genuinely trust to execute your food the way you want it to be. You don’t know what it’s like, staying up past 3am almost every night (on a good night) because you’re so stressed out from the day you just want to unwind and have a beer with the same people who you’ve been trying not to strangle most of the day. You sure as hell don’t know what it’s like to spend hours pouring over your own recipes and ideas and scraps of food trying to figure out how to make something that some hoity toity know-it-all “foodie” isn’t going to complain about. It’s about trying to educate your servers so they describe your food in a way that’s appetizing and still honors what you’ve done. And why? Why do that at all? Love of the food.
Food is what sustains us as human beings, but to real chefs, to real cooks who actually do this hell dance on a daily? It’s like an addiction you can never break, and all you want to do is pass those skills on to someone who genuinely bleeds the same way you need to bleed. It’s about respecting the ingredients, about using every bit of it you possibly can. It’s about throwing the “trash”, that most normal people throw away, into a pot and using it in something else. It’s about years of dedication with barely a pittance to show for it, because you won’t sell yourself to some big corporation. It’s working for a community college because you want to pass down your legacy to people who struggle just as hard as you did. Or owning your own restaurant and not catering to anyone else but yourself. It’s about breathing in that heady wood fire smoke, feeling that exalted joy when your fume is perfect, knowing that someone out there actually admires you.
Being a Chef isn’t glamorous. Food Network and Bravo make it that way, but in all honesty, it’s not. It’s a screwed up back, bad feet, an exorbitant amount of nicotine and coffee (for most of them), and a lot of long, hard days with only your staff to keep you company. It’s stressful, hot, and some times, you hate it. But to the ones who are bonafide chefs, who have really earned the title? It’s worth it to them.