I hope that those of you who have worked with me in a busy professional kitchen would say that I am, above all else, professional. That is to say that I take a tremendous amount of pride in the field of work which I have chosen.
Sure, like most in such a setting, sometimes I may say some things that to an outsider would be grounds for a H.R. manager to take a strip off of myself or anyone else who is in earshot. However, that is just par for the course. Being crude, crass, ignorant, belligerent, condescending, or god forbid, questioning, just so happens to be the world in which we dwell.
All of this sits just fine with me given the right atmosphere. When it is busy, and as we say, 'are in the shit' there is nothing and I do mean nothing that can't be said and then forgotten almost instantly. It is a survival technique. I am sorry to say that most of us thrive on this atmosphere. That is why we do what we do.
With that being said, If that is the professionalism that we exist in, then there is a reason that we cook behind closed doors. There must be a reason why we all dress in sparkling white coats and come to work clean shaven and wear silly hats that make people smile.
It is to provide an illusion to the customer. It was intended to make the nice couple coming to the carving station at the buffet to feel a calming, to set them at ease knowing that the person cooking there food is a "chef". A chef is someone who knows all there is to know about food. From a guests perspective a chef is like going to the doctor when your sick. The customer has learned to trust the coat and the hat more than the food on the plate. Anyone can put on a white coat, embroider their name on the breast, put a flag on the collar and a fancy restaurant emblem on the sleeve and call themselves a chef. And guess what, the general public will believe them. Why? Because we taught them too. We("chefs") knew a long time ago that we and the people that we work with were not the all knowing supreme beings that we need to be in order to sell people food. Why do doctors all wear white coats, because we trust it.
Thankfully, food is changing. Well, lets go a step further and say that food has changed. It has. Most "Chefs" have no idea where there food has come from, what it was sprayed with, what it was spliced with in order to stay "consistent". So, scratch that previous thankfully and let me insert a new one here. Food can be brought back. It can be sold to people, they will buy it. However, and I know this will be a hard pill for some of you to swallow, in order to sell it we must kill the "chef". We all need to just be "cooks". Remember that, when you were just a cook. When you knew that you had so much to learn and so many skills to master. What a feeling it was.
I have been getting that feeling back. I have spent my whole two days off, after cooking lunch for 700 people in 3 days, making bread and cheese. Why, because I am a cook. I am not a chef. The title seems to instill in people a sense of ownership. Of having the knowledge that other people don't. I don't want to sell food to people because they trust my white coat with a name on it. I want to sell food to people because I poured my heat and soul into it. I am clean, I am organized, I am all the things that people call "chef". I've got the papers to prove it. Oh, no wait. Those papers say "professional COOK". If the food industry is going to survive when those trucks inevitably stop running, we will have to stop hiding behind swinging doors, silly hats, and white jackets with our names on them. Believe me. I will always be more comfortable sitting at a table watching my cook prepare my food through an open kitchen, wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt and cammo shorts, than eating at a restaurant with white table cloths and a swinging door...always. With that being said, I will most likely always wear a white coat but that doesn't mean that I should instantly be trusted. Perhaps the only ones that should wear whites are the ones who are willing to get them dirty.
The food has to start taking the main stage again, not the person or people who cook it. I want to be able to walk into a restaurant in the next five years and see people who love what they do actually doing it. If what you love to do is serve local food that you or someone you know grew, do it out in the open. But local can and should mean so much more. We can sell anything. If we think that we are good enough to put names on jackets, faces in magazines, on television, or yes like right here, the internet, then shouldn't we be able to cook and sell the whole cow. Or have we gotten better at selling ourselves than the food?
Like the cheesy saying goes, "if you build it they will come". If we as cooks, not chefs with names, but cooks as cooks work together to learn from one another we can change the way the game is played. A good friend and fellow contributor to this site had a very good idea the other day that I would like to share with you, and hopefully he will elaborate on later. What if, and hear me out on this. What if, instead of having a monthly meeting in which we all come together to eat a cheap meal and pat one another on the back about what a great job we are all doing, we raised our dues a little, put our meetings aside for a while and saved up. Maybe did a couple of fund raisers, until we had enough money to take out a loan on a piece of land. And on that land we built a small kitchen with room for growth. With say like a meat locker and everything that one would need to do some serious preserving of fruits and vegetables. What if we could grow some things on the piece of land that we could then preserve. The time to return to a co-op mentality is coming fast and guess what? It works.
So, now that I have ranted and raved all over the map. Can I just say that regardless of what your jacket does or doesn't say, I love you. I really do. All of you who really do love to cook, it's not really our fault. It's how we were brought up. It's how our chefs were brought up. That doesn't mean that we can't change the way we do things. It would be great if we could all remember that we are just cooks and it's only food and none of us and I do mean none of us should be seen as idles, we are merely disciples spreading the good word of food. Worship the food, not the cook.