What makes a good chef? The hell if I know…

It’s no surprise that chef’s today are celebritized and admired. It’s a blue collar job that allows for a bit of artistry where everyone has a need for your skills. We all eat.

The job involves a litany of repetitive and menial tasks. Days are long and your largely surrounded by underlings and a largely ignorant fan base.  I’ve found that the difference between a good chef and a great one is more about by the quality of their spreadsheets than the toothsomeness of their risotto. I’ve seen young chefs fawn over offal and expensive tweezers where seasoned ones speak about the beauty of the consistency in a Big Mac or Hot Pocket (that’s for you Bill).

Much is made about the dichotomy between schooled chefs and self taught ones. Lucky Peach covered it a few years back. For the most part, in my experience no one gives a shit. You will be hired based on a referral and how quickly you can adapt your skill set to where you’re positioned. There’s a lot of talk and your reputation is integral to your ascension through the ranks. A few weeks back a line cook asked for a show-of-hands at our restaurant… Who started in culinary school and who started in the dish pit? The fact that a few of the answers were surprising wasn’t surprising. Whether self taught or schooled the weak and/or delusional cooks are culled unceremoniously in their first year.

I posed a poorly thought-out question on Facebook inquiring about what elements are integral to the skill set of a chef. When I googled the question common answers from chef’s interviews were things like knife sharpening and skillful mise en place. My facebook inquiry yielded different results. Largely answers concerned passion, durability, and people-skills.

I started to compile a list of media concerning the chefs that pre-dated (and in some cases started) the emergence of celebrity chefs. I started and stopped with Marco Pierre White. His energy and talent are enough for one day of inspiration. If you haven’t heard of him start with the videos below as they are a window into a transformative time in cuisine. Be sure to watch at least the first two videos. Shortly into the first Marco explains his quitting cooking and handing back 3 Michelin stars. The video below are a 3 part series where he cooks for one of his idols during his time Harvey’s in London. You may enjoy watching Gordon Ramsey not talk while on camera. I sure did.

Back of the House
Ryan Donahue

Everyone's a Critic

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