Definition of Chef and Other Terms

September 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Definition of Chef and Other Terms

For the record, I’m not planning on doing Feminism 101 here. If people start asking questions, I’ll probably provide a few links, but this is at least an intermediate-level feminism space.

However, it occurs to me that some people could probably use a little Restaurant 101. There’s a lot of confusion out there about certain terms, especially the term chef, and it’s moderately important that people understand exactly what I’m talking about here.

So. A chef is:

1) Someone who manages the day-to-day operations of a professional kitchen of a certain size and quality. The specific size and quality is up for a lot of debate, but generally a chef has several cooks working under her direction, and generally the restaurant is casual-to-fine dining, a sit down restaurant with multiple courses on the menu.

2) Someone who directs and manages multiple chefs for multiple restaurants (sometimes called an executive or corporate chef, depending on various factors; an executive chef can also be the head chef of a very large brigade-style kitchen that has multiple chefs de partie or section chefs).

3) A Certified Master Chef, Certified Executive Chef, or person with another title granted by a professional organization such as the American Culinary Federation. Such certifications standardly involve actually working as a chef in one or both of the first two capacities.

4) A Chef-Instructor at a culinary school.

5) A personal chef employed by a private individual to cook for them on a professional basis.

6) Someone who has done one of the above jobs for a really really long time and continues to be addressed by the title out of respect after retirement.

A chef is NOT:

1) Any professional cook at all.

2) Any graduate of a culinary school at all.

3) Any home cook.

The word chef is a loan from French, and just means “boss.” It’s a cognate of chief. You can’t be a chef if you’re not and have not been in charge of something. Chef is a professional title, like Professor or (civilian) Captain. You get the title Chef because you’re doing the job of a Chef.

Other terms of importance:

Kitchen manager: Essentially the same job as a chef, only in a smaller and/or less fancy place. (The woman who runs my kitchen has the title of Kitchen Manager.)

Sous chef: Literally “under boss,” the sous chef, or just sous, is the chef’s lieutenant, her second-in-command, her assistant manager.

Cook: In this context, a professional, someone who cooks as their job and plans to continue to do so.

Chef de partie: The boss of a part or department of a very large kitchen, such as the chief saucier, the head pastry chef, etc.

Brigade kitchen: *sigh* OK, minor history lesson. The profession of cooking as it exists today in the Western world was greatly influenced by Georges Auguste Escoffier, a French chef (both in nationality and style) who popularized and updated French fine dining cooking methods in the early part of the 20th century. He also organized his kitchen along a plan now known as the Brigade, which broke down a large hotel kitchen into departments based on the type of food and methodology it focused on. This system includes an Executive Chef or Chef de Cuisine who oversees all departments, a Sous-chef de cuisine who assists him, a number of chefs de partie, cuisiniers (cooks) who work under the chefs de partie, and several other lesser designations. Only the largest kitchens actually use this system today, but it has given us a number of terms still in use in smaller kitchens. (Most of which I can still recite. This shit was on our exams in culinary school, despite the fact that few if any of us were ever going to work in a brigade kitchen.)

Now, when I’m talking about the jobs it’s difficult for woman to get, I’m talking about chef, executive chef, senior cook in a good restaurant (as opposed to, say, fast food or pizza or something), hell, even sometimes a very junior position can be hard to get.

I am not, in fact, a chef. I am a restaurant owner, a restauranteur. But I don’t run the kitchen myself (although I make decisions about how it’s run), and rarely cook.

Hope that clears up some things.

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