Take two legs, two arms, a brain and a knife put them all together in a white uniform with a funny hat and you have a chef. Well not quite, most chef’s spend several years of training either in school or the back of a hotel/restaurant honing the skills necessary to become masters of their craft. In both cases the road to becoming a chef is paved with several hundreds of pounds of cut vegetables, which in most cases means cut knuckles as well.
A school trained chef will receive hours of training on the chemistry of sauces. Learning temperatures at which major changes occur in foods is crucial. There will be classes on sanitation, food born illness with food handling techniques to prevent them. He/She will be introduced to sauces, learning the properties of flour, oils, eggs, sugars and thickening slurries. Moving from simple sauces to complex sauces they will learn to make and clarify stocks and glaces. They will be introduced to the anatomy of animals and fish, learning how to bone certain cuts of meats, how to fillet fish. The list can go from here for a long time. The bottom line is that the “chef in training,” is exposed to a tremendous amount of information. Does that make him a chef?
In a traditional establishment that has all the categories of chef types the executive chef will spend very little if any time in the kitchen. His job is more managerial in nature. His working chefs and secondary cooks do all of the physical work. So why is he the chef? Most of his time is spent scheduling, coordinating, organizing, tasting, and answering questions about the next step for his staff.
The biggest reason is that over time he has acquired the ability to take any assortment of vegetables and meats. Assemble them into a meal which will yield a great taste experience with an elegant presentation. You can name the country, give him a box of ingredients and he will competently produce a meal resembling that cuisine.
Great chef’s become obsessed with learning all that they can about a specific types of cuisine, which is basically an understanding of the seasonings that are used, the starches of the culture, and the methods of preparation. Once they are aware of these simple facts they simply apply their technical skills to create the meal.
So what is the recipe for becoming a chef? The last that I heard it cost $60,000 a year to attend the Culinary Institute of America. A trip to France for “Cordon Bleu” school training is equally expensive. Most of the Executive Chef’s that I have ever worked with are not graduates of either institution. How did they do it? They keep a pulse on current trends. They get close to other experienced chefs for specific “how to’s” of their cuisine. Most importantly, they learn by feel, they transform their science into an art.
If you are a “do it yourself” person the recipe for becoming a chef is simple. Learn the basics of food preparation, as in the temperatures at which things happen as you cook. Develop some good knife skills so that you are able to make your preparations look and cook on a consistent basis. Spend a winter making soups to practice your cutting skills. Then bury yourself in cookbooks from other cultures to learn two things.
- What are the dominant herbs/spices used in that culture?
- Is there any special technique for preparation that you should know?
Another excellent suggestion would be to look at some of the online cooking classes that are available. I have looked at this course and so far I am very impressed. Chef Todd is willing to give away a free CD of his “5 Chef Secrets for Creating Amazing Meals at Home“ This includes a 30 day trial to his WebCookingClass
If you want to know more about Chef Todd, check out his free video where he reveals his “5 Chef Secrets for Creating Amazing Meals at Home“