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Jul 26, 2008 10:20 AM

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.

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