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May 13, 2011 08:39 PM

Chef Status?

I'm sure someone's asked this before, but here goes. I was talking to a general manager of a state park here in the Rockies that has a nice restaurant. He referred to one of his employees as an "Executive Chef." But then he said he was also working on green card issues and I got the feeling he had no formal training.

So I asked this manager. "What makes an executive chef what he is?" and I got a wishy washy answer saying one just has to cook well.

I found this somewhat vague and possibly untrue. I asked if one doesn't have to go to school and attain degrees? He said no.

I'm confused. Then why not bandy about the term "chef" loosely to anyone? So what constitutes, "Chef," "Executive Chef" etc. I know from working in academe, there are differences between "Associate Professor," "Assistant Professor" "Adjunct Professor" and "Doctor."

What gives?

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    1. "Executive Chef." But then he said he was also working on green card issues and I got the feeling he had no formal training.

      What does legal status in the U.S. have to do with being a chef -- of any kind, executive or otherwise?

      The owner could've hired a chef from, for example, France through an H1-B visa and his executive chef is perfectly qualified but simply does not have legal permanent status in the U.S.

      I still don't understand why or how you correlate legal status with culinary skill or training.

      1. Executive chef is just the senior-most position in the kitchen - the guy in charge. It doesn't indicate training or schooling. Or even cooking skill, necessarily. Certainly not green card status.

        I have a friend who has no formal training and has only been in the industry for a year (though he also worked a stint as a dishwasher and low level prep monkey almost a decade ago), and is already chef of a fairly successful gastropub. An odd and unlikely combination of factors played into this - surprising aptitude and competence, thorough independent study, good timing, and the fact that all the senior staff left or ran into problems leaving no one else to take charge

        1. They are job titles that describe a restaurant's heirarchy, basically. Although private culinary schools would have one believing that a specialized degree is necessary to advancement, that's absolutely untrue (and very expensive!) It looks good on the resume, but when all is said and done, advancement in the field is promoted more by skills and creativity than a degree.

          1. "Chef" is a position, not a description. In fact, most of these people would probably describe themselves as cooks. Someone's got to be in charge, however, and whoever that is for that shift is the chef.