Chefs are Different

William J. Garry, editor of Bon Appetit magazine in the September 1997 issue wrote:

The view is put forth that chefs, at least when they are at home or at play, are indeed much like everyone else: They have husbands and wives (or not), kids and dogs (or none), chores and hobbies, good times and bad times and even death and taxes and cable TV.

So far, I don’t disagree. I’ll even go further: Most chefs of my acquaintance are certifiable members of Homo Sapiens, though I have met some who would give Professor Darwin pause. And most chefs put on their white tunics one arm at a time: the fact that those tunics bear more than a passing resemblance to straitjackets is probably not worth mentioning. Without the tunics and the silly hats, most chefs look quite normal.

But they aren’t. They’re different. They’re a breed apart. And they’re mysterious.

Chefs are different, at least different in how we think. This may sound a bit egotistical, but it’s really a love letter to my chosen profession.

Chefs are chefs and cooks are cooks. Chefs are not people who just graduated from culinary school. Chefs are part baby sitter, part forager, part technician, part artistian, part magician and part showman. They haven’t just learned a craft, they are practicing it, perfecting it and sharing it.

One definition of a musician is. “The art of arranging sound in time to produce a composition that elicits an aesthetic response in a listener.” Mr. Garry stated that, “Chefs prepare and present food in a way that will persuade reasonable people to leave home and pay for the privilege of eating it – and come back for more.” Being a former musician myself, I certainly associate what I do with the arts. But as my friend Gray Kunz of Grayz in NY said, “There’s no question about that. But the affiliation hides an enormous amount of hard work.” Let me add that It’s all hides an enormous amount of stress and pressure, both physical and intellectual.

Yes, chefs can cook better than the average Joe or Joann but we also are consumed by what we do. We, like magicians are always trying to make it look easy, trying to hide the true skill involved. As Chef Kunz wrote, “Chefs don’t create from recipes. They from tastes… knowledge acquired through years of study, long practice, and a generous dollop of intuition. ”

For me, being a real chef is what Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl said in City Pages, “[It’s a ] compromise between art and craft, between art and commerce, between art and chaos.”

Let Julia Child, the patron saint of cooking, sum-it-up:

Non-cooks think it is silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment, but if cooking is evanescent, well, so is the ballet.”

For more information on how chef’s think, check out:

Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page
The Elements of Taste by Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky
The Anatomy of a Dish by Diane Forley

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