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Is it proper etiquette to call the chef "Chef"?

My wife and I had brunch at a restaurant today where all of the hot dishes are served buffet style in the kitchen itself. You simply walk into the kitchen, grab your plate and serve yourself. (As background, we had dinner at this restaurant a few months ago, and we met the chef at our table.) Today, the chef himself was working the carving station. When we approached, I said, "Chef, we met a few months ago blah blah blah" and we exchanged pleasantries.

In this instance, is it proper to call him "Chef" or should that be used by the staff only? Otherwise, I'm not really sure what I would have called him.

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  1. What else would you call him? I can't imagine he'd object. Even if you knew his name, using his "title" in the workplace would be the preferred form of address.

    2 Replies
      1. re: cantkick

        Yep. It's definitely the preferred way of addressing him.

      2. What you said was absolutely fine, especially in the absence of having a name proper to address him by. Calling him by his title was correct in this instance. I know that I for one would find it difficult to "hear" a kitchen employee call me by my proper name, since in that context my ear is trained to hear the word "chef." It's not quite the same as what you're talking about here, but you did nothing wrong at all.

        1. I always look at the chef as being like the captain of a ship or aircraft. When he/she is in uniform and working, then chef is the way to go. Out on the street in civilian clothes, you could go either way especially if you don't know his name. Then there's always the Seinfeld episode where the conductor insisted on being called maestro everywhere but I digress.

          9 Replies
          1. re: bobbert

            I think your digression is right on target. "Maestro" and "Chef" are very similar. Both are borrowed from foreign languages with some aspects of their meaning/function lost in translation. Both can be used properly as forms of address by outsiders, but for a conductor/chef to insist on this in all situations is pretentious and diva-like, and for members of the general public to make a big deal out of saying "Maestro" and "Chef" at every possible opportunity is sycophantic, in-group-wannabe behavior.

            But by its nature, "Maestro" is more high-brow and affected than "Chef". At the other end of the spectrum, there's "Coach", which I think most Americans would find completely unobjectionable.

            1. re: DeppityDawg

              I dunno. Today, Coach is fancy leather for 1%ers, or ''horseplay". Save it for later.

                1. re: DeppityDawg

                  I've been thinking about the "coach" analogy and I like it a lot. Almost anyone can be a "coach". Only a few have some formal training (chefs in general have more). Most who reach the highest levels in sports do so through a combination of success and longevity. There are those who transcend their position on the court or field and become "coach" wherever they are, on or off the court/field. Vince Lombardi would be "coach" anywhere as would Bobby Knight, Bill Parcells, etc. Younger coaches/chefs might have that title used at the field but not generally in public except by their players.
                  The PHD/Professor title can be similar wherein the older sage Nobel laureate PHD might be referred to as "Dr. X" by his much younger colleagues as a sign of respect, even in the pub over a beer. I can't for the life of me imagine a young PHD student calling Albert Einstein (in his later years), "Al". I myself would call Professor Einstein “Professor” though I might be his age and not his student.
                  Anyway, I'll stick with my answer to the OP that "chef" is appropriate when the person is in uniform and at his workplace. Beyond that, there are those chefs who, like those PHD's and Coaches, reach such a place in their career field that the title can follow them outside of the workplace. Vince Lombardi would be "Coach Lombardi", Albert Einstein would be "Professor Einstein" and Auguste Escoffier would be "Chef Escoffier" in almost any setting unless they specifically told you to call them Vinny, Al, and, I don't know, Auggy?

                  1. re: bobbert

                    I met Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr and Boyd Dowler, once in the Way back Machine. They were staying in Atlantic City for some conference/convention and well, my Dad was in the AC hospital for a heart condition. So my younger brother, who was a massive GB Packers fan, well we sat in their hotel lobby, hoping to get to meet them. And we did. My brother was so awe struck that he just sat where he was. I approached them and asked if I could take a pic with them and my brother. They were so gracious and welcoming. Not this $$$$ to meet and greet today's athletic folks do now.

                    Darned sure I said Coach! Because he was!

                    1. re: bobbert

                      I understand the argument, but it fails at the end. Escoffier is Escoffier I have never ever seen him titled Chef Escoffier. And it is a good bet that in his time in London and Paris the title Chef would not have been used by anyone but his subordinates.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        I was thinking along the lines of him being here in this day. I used his name and Einstein as examples of people who had reached a certain place in their field. If he were around today, I'm sure he'd be called chef outside of the kitchen a well as in. I really hadn't studied it too closely but maybe in his day he was one of those "one name people" like Madonna or Sting.

                        1. re: bobbert

                          But he is French an it is only the Americans that add Chef as a title for day to day llife. So at home he would be M. Escoffier. And Eintein would, in his early career been Professor once he attained the post at his university - but his friends would have said Albert when they bought the beer.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            I really don't know what they call the chef, physicist, or coach in France. I was thinking in terms of the US. I'm quite certain that different terms are used in all the countries around the world.
                            As for my examples of Escoffier and Einstein,like those of the coaches, the intent was to pick names that most of us would recognize as people who had attained a certain status in their field. I really don't know and I don't think it relevant what Einstein was called in his younger years in Germany or Austria. My point was that outside the field, classroom and kitchen there are those who reach such status that the title follows them. I'm sure Einstein, when younger and with his peers was called anything but professor. In his later years? Professor.

                2. Trust me, chefs love to be called chef.

                  1. A really tough etiquette question...