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Professionally Trained/Experienced vs. Non-Professional Celebrity Chefs

When watching a cooking show does the credibility in your estimation change when the chef is professional (Mario, Bobby, Michael Smith, Jamie) or not professional? There are many, many celebrity chefs who have not attended culinary school (i.e. Heston Blumenthal, Tom Colicchio) but are fantastic chefs. They have definitely had training and vast experience in the best restaurants. In the unprofessional category are those such as Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart, Matt Dunigan. While I am not a fan of any of those I understand the point of having relatable cooks on TV.

I confess my preference is to watch those who are chefs (such as Heston and Tom and Mario) who are highly skilled. Someone like Matt Dunigan rates fairly low on the credibility scale in my opinion. I am not saying that untrained people cannot be fantastic cooks - I know several. My intention here is not to bash hosts whatsoever but to discover what others think. How about you? :-)

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  1. It doesn't really matter to me although I have awareness that a professionally trained chef is going to give better explanations and demonstrate better techniques. If I see a non professionally trained cook taking shortcuts that I know are unnecessary (as opposed to a chef explaining why it's ok to use canned whatever in a certain recipe, for example), I won't want to watch that person anymore. I'd much rather learn; that's why I watch. I already know I can use canned chicken stock instead of homemade. And anyone who has a focus other that cooking (like a "tablescape," for example), I immediately dismiss. If I wanted to watch a show about decorating instead of cooking I would.

    3 Replies
    1. re: SharaMcG

      This past week, the Martha Stewart show had "chef week". I never watch this show, but heard about it from another thread here. After seeing the high caliber names listed (Ripert, Chang, Goin, etc), I set my Tivo to record. I have to say I was very disappointed in the demonstrations from all the chefs except for Jamie Oliver, whose regular show I enjoy. Pretty much across the board, these chefs were stiff, uncomfortable and out of sorts. I think it is a real gift to be able to demonstrate cooking on TV and some people just don't have it. That doesn't mean that I enjoy watching cooking shows for the personalities either, but I thought it was noteworthy to see the trained chefs fall apart under the camera.
      As for the name "chef", I don't think graduating from culinary school automatically gives you the right to call yourself a chef. I went to culinary school, and have catered for years. I am a cook, not a chef. Half of the people on the Next Food Network Star graduated from culinary school. Based on all the posts on CH about them, I don't think anyone would call any of them a chef. It is a title that you must earn in a professional kitchen.

      1. re: sibeats

        Because someone is a wonderful chef does NOT mean they have any stage presence at all, OR that they can teach non--pros their recipes! These are all different skill sets.

        1. re: ChefJune

          Yes, chefjune, I agree and said so above that I think it is a gift to be so relaxed on camera. I was responding to the above poster who said that a professionally trained chef would "give a better explanation and demonstrate better techniques". Based on what I saw from that particular show, I don't think that is the case.

    2. For me, it depends on the chef. I don't really care whether a person attended culinary school, worked in lots of restaurants, etc. It's really the whole package of food knowledge, presentation, personality, etc. I love to watch chefs like Ming Tsai and Hubert Keller. But I also really dig Ina Garten is great as well, for different reasons. How a chef comes off on TV does influence whether I'd want to watch the show or not, as demonstrated by watching The Next Food Network Star. Flay has grown on me over the years, but I find it a bit painful watching his earlier stuff, especially when he's got guest chefs on and starts cutting people off. I know he's a talented chef, but he's just not my cup of tea. And Paula Deen -- her earlier stuff is more palatable, but I just want to vomit when I see her in front of a live audience.

      1. I do not respect any of the personalities who have not attended cooking school & attained the title of chef. I also do not believe a person should be called a chef until they have earned that title by graduating cooking school. Just because you daddy, your mommy, your husband, your wife, or your own money bought you a restaurant or t.v. show does not give you the right to call yourself a chef.

        6 Replies
        1. re: swsidejim

          Interesting - originally, didn't chefs obtain the title "chef" by working their way up in a kitchen such that they became the chef de cuisine? A la Andre Soltner, who I believe did not attend cooking school but worked his way up through the traditional apprenticeship system? I'd hesitate to withhold the title "chef" from him because he didn't go to culinary school, myself.


          I think this is also the case with Jacques Pepin.

          1. re: MMRuth

            good points. especially with junior colleges turning out "chefs" nowdays.

          2. re: swsidejim

            Can't seem to edit my post to add this - I do agree with you though that owning a restaurant or having a TV show does not make one a chef. I doubt Ina Garten or Martha Stewart - both of whom I enjoy watching - would call themselves chefs. If they did, I'd think that would be a bit presumptuous - I think of them as being cooks who have "gone professional". I'd also say that Julia Child wasn't a chef and I doubt she called herself one, despite her proficiency. In my mind, to be a chef, one has to have run the kitchen of a restaurant and probably one producing very high quality food.

            This of course leads to the dilemma - we're probably not calling the cook in a place that makes amazing cheap Mexican food a chef, even if she has "worked" her way up to earning that position in a restaurant (as in my apprenticeship example). So, this sort of begs the question, in my mind now as I'm writing this - when is a chef a chef? Does it require some kind of classical training, whether through apprenticeship or schooling? Who decides what's "classical"? Etc.

            1. re: MMRuth

              This is a common question with forms of art--when can an artist call himself an artist? Just finishing a degree doesn't make you an artist. It's almost presumptuous for someone to call himself/herself an artist. I think it's the same question with being a chef.

              On that end, my husband and I have talked about it, ad nauseum. His father was in catering at the Hotel Washington, worked in kitchens, owned some restaurants, one which was consistently in the Washingtonian Top 100 the few years he ran it. He's a great cook but we don't call him a chef. His brother ran the kitchens for years and is an amazing cook. His family refers to him as a chef but we've talked about whether he is a chef or not. But, my husband's family all have the most amazing knife skills I've seen, on TV or IRL. And, none of them have had professional training. We've talked about getting some classes for my FIL but decided he'd be up there telling the chef the "right" way to do things...

            2. re: swsidejim

              <I do not respect any of the personalities who have not attended cooking school & attained the title of chef. I also do not believe a person should be called a chef until they have earned that title by graduating cooking school.>

              Sorry, but you made that definition of CHEF up yourself. Graduating from culinary school is only one step (or one way) toward becoming a chef. That is a title accorded a person who runs a professional kitchen.

              In the formal kitchen hierarchy, there are many "chef" positions, that can lead to the title of Executive Chef, but in modern parlance, all those titles are not always used.

              Just graduating from Culinary School never made anyone an "instant chef!"

              1. re: swsidejim

                I don't think Thomas Keller would agree, nor do I. There are some fantastic chefs that didn't attend culinary school. I really don't care where a chef learned to cook as long as they can cook.

              2. For whatever it is worth, a few weeks ago the Food Network ran some biographies of some of their celebrities. I happened to catch the one on Rachael Raye. During the interview with her she stated that she was *not* a chef at least three times.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Clarkafella

                  yes, she does that ad nauseam, as tho that is some "special" qualification!

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    Well that is better than her claiming to actually be a chef, right?

                    1. re: Clarkafella

                      No. She's just deflecting all criticism of her cooking methods.

                2. I've worked in a professional restaurant setting with an 'Executive Chef' who finally feels comfortable calling himself a 'Chef' after 25 years in the restaurant business. He graduated from culinary school and worked his way up from small chain restaurants through various kitchen positions and has been the 'Executive Chef/Owner' of a very successful restaurant for the past 12 years. It depends upon the ego/personality of the Chef. I don't care for 'Personality Chefs' who have an obvious lack of kitchen experience and technique. Let me also add that despite him calling himself a 'Chef' with his experience and skill set I don't consider him an 'Executive Chef' which I reserve for those who seek to constantly innovate and improve themselves, their cooking and their restaurants.

                  1. As others have pointed out, cooking school does not a chef make. The classic route is to apprentice, then spend years working your way up the ladder. Cooking school may or may not be a short cut. In the end, it all boils down to the cumulative skills of the individual, that includes business skills in addition to great cooking skills and adept taste buds.

                    When it comes to television, the producer's input, imagination, and budget are at least as important as the chef's talents. Granted, no great producer can get everyone over the hurdle of camera shyness of just plain turning to petrified jelly as soon as they hear "action." But assuming the chef isn't handicapped by such a problem, the chef is putty in the hands of a skilled producer, the camera crew, the set designers, and without them, the greatest and most personable chef will be handicapped. So the short answer to your question if... For me, production values make the show, not just the chef.

                    Now, ask me about cook books... '-)

                    1. I honestly don't give a damn. I used to only watch things with "classically trained" chefs as the key focal point. Then I realized that, just like going to a restaurant to eat, the training, titles and packaging don't matter - only the product that comes out matters. If the food isn't good, who cares what training someone had? If the show isn't interesting and the food isn't something I'd want to eat or make, who cares what the pedigree of the person presenting/teaching is?

                      I determine the "credibility" on my own based on what I see. Do the techniques they're using make sense for what they're telling me their goal is? Are they consistent in how they use ingredients and/or do they explain when they deviate from something they did before? Sometimes, its interesting to watch people change (and, not to sound too pompous, learn and grow) -- I'm thinking specifically of Rachel Ray in this case who, in my estimation, has really grown as a cook (note, I didn't write "chef") over the years of doing her 30 Minute Meals show. A lot of the criticism that gets levied at her these days (at least what I read in passing on this site and others) is rooted in the first year or two of the show from what I can tell. In the last year or so, she's cooking very close to from scratch and using techniques that any good, "trained" cook would employ. Point being, to dismiss someone on the basis of their prior "training" may be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

                      Ultimately, the title "chef" is pretty meaningless outside of the kitchen one is running. Culinary school is also pretty meaningless on its own (as with all school, one gets out what one puts in and 2 years of working hard on a line in a good restaurant could easily prepare one more fully for being a "chef" than 2 years in culinary school, depending on the person).

                      So, when it comes to TV, I watch people I enjoy who make food I think I'd like and don't much worry about what their title or training is.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ccbweb

                        When it comes to cooking my preference is for the professionally trained chef. Skill and technique is more important to me than personality or watching a "star." I'm definitely more PBS than Food Network.
                        I do enjoy non-chefs who really know their stuff like Alton Brown on Good Eats and I can appreciate the entertainment value in a show like Feasting on Asphalt but I have no interest in picking up recipes from "celebrities."

                      2. When watching a cooking show, I want to be educated and entertained, no matter the credentials. I am always tickled to read the posts on this board...I always see green in the background, as with envy, when most people slam those putting it out there with an open heart. It is one thing to prefer one one show over another, but it is not necessary to denigrate a person for their product. If there is not a market or a following for a "personality", they will fade away.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: pesto

                          When it comes to if a chef is classically trained or self-taught to me makes no difference. How good are they at what they do in the end is to me what matters. I like the food of chefs from "both sides of the fence".

                          As for television and personality .... I choose what I'm going to watch by what food are they doing on this episode today. So let's say I like Tyler Florence. I will not watch every show he ever does because I may not like to eat every single thing he makes. Similarly I think Lidia Bastianich is excellent, but (my personal food preferences) when she breaks out either sardines or kidneys, I'm outta there!

                          Ditto (in reverse) if it's something I would like to try but haven't and let's say someone annoying like Sandra Lee is doing, I will also skip that show and wait until some other cook does it, simply because she's both annoying but more importantly I don't believe in what she's doing.

                          The final thing about personality. I'll watch Bobby Flay and Giada who have personality. I'll also watch Cooking with Johnson & Wales and that new one from another culinary school "Chefs Class" or whatver. Pure instruction, and the chefs have zero personalities; but I don't care, it's cooking professors! So put on that big white hat Jean-Claude, show me those techniques and give me those tips!

                        2. One of the problems I often have with some of the more credentialed chef shows is that their techniques tend to have clearly come from the restaurant world. I don't have fancy equipment or zillions of hours. Thus, my preference in cooking shows is well trained cooks, but not necessarily restaurant trained chefs.

                          1. I enjoy watching people who have something to teach, and who can share that information effectively. I really don't care anymore what title, if any, they carry.