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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...

                    1. The title's a industry thing as mamachef indicates so, generally speaking, as a customer I wouldnt address a chef as "chef" but by her/his name. Along the same lines, I wouldnt address any other member of staff by their job title.

                      So, my conversation would have gone "Hi. You won't remember but we met a few months ago, blah, blah...."

                      It isnt as though "chef" is a title like General, Reverend, Doctor, etc.

                      53 Replies
                      1. re: Harters

                        "It isn't as though "chef" is a title like General, Reverend, Doctor, etc."

                        Then what kind of title is it? Are you saying that only the people working under the chef should use the title, and only while at work? Of course it's not the sort of thing that requires 8 years of graduate school and chefs don't have their mail addressed to them using the title as doctors do, but I think if you are in the restaurant where the title applies, you should address the chef as chef, unless you are close personal friends. It's more than a job title, it's a respect thing.

                        1. re: Harters

                          "It isnt as though "chef" is a title like General, Reverend, Doctor, etc."

                          I think a lot of people will disagree with this.

                          1. re: twyst

                            That's a matter for them, twyst.

                            It won't make them any more right.

                            1. re: Harters

                              If I were you, I'd be wary of calling them anything other than chef, in case they're carrying some tools of their trade. :)

                              1. re: cantkick

                                Haha yep. Its most definitely proper form to call them Chef so and so, calling them only by their name is a bit rude.

                                1. re: twyst

                                  In your opinion, twyst.

                                  Or perhaps such silliness is culturally acceptable wherever you are in the world. Thankfully, it is not done where I am. Of the Michelin starred chefs that I've chatted to, I've always used their first names or called them Mr Whatever.

                                  1. re: Harters

                                    Yes, "silliness" such as showing respect to people who earned titles in their career is definitely considered socially acceptable in my neck of the woods, and in the OP's neck of the woods. You grant someone who has passed the CEC or CMC boards, or someone who has a successful restaurant the same respect you grant someone who has a PhD etc.

                                    "Of the Michelin starred chefs that I've chatted to, I've always used their first names or called them Mr Whatever."

                                    Of the Michelin starred chefs Ive spoken with, they always introduce themselves to diners as Chef so and so. Common courtesy dictates that if they introduce themselves that way, you should refer to them that way. All the other posters seem to agree that calling them chef is the correct thing to do so it appears you are in the minority when it comes to your views on what is socially acceptable.

                                    1. re: twyst

                                      Yep. Definitely seems I'm in a minority. Such is life.

                                      FWIW, I have no idea what CEC or CMC boards are. Presumably they are relevent to the catering industry in whichever country you live in. Is it some form of licencing system? Where I am, a chef has no need to pass a board to be employed as a chef, only to be able to do the job. Of course, many are qualified by examination after studying their craft at college although that tends to be at entry level to the industry where they're going to be employed as a commis chef. It is then going to be a matter of experience over the years that see them promoted to chef de partie, sous chef, head chef, etc (and that's leaving aside the specialised roles in a kitchen brigade which have their own titles - I always like "garde manger").

                                      Where I do agree with you is that if a chef introduced themselves as, say, "Chef Twyst", I would likely address them as "Chef". I gather from what you write that it is common for chefs to introduce themselves like that where you are. Thankfully, we have none of fthat silliness where I am. I think we'd find it rather pretentious.

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        But where you live don't they do that silliness of Lord, Duke, Sir, Count, Prince and Queen ? Those are all certainly silly and moreover not earned.

                                        To help explain our silliness: CEC is
                                        http://www.acfchefs.org/Content/Navig...
                                        and CMC is
                                        http://www.acfchefs.org/Content/Navig...

                                        My husband is an Executive Chef and has competed in several Food Olympics and medalled in all. And he once cooked a dinner held for that Diana woman.

                                        I am sorry that you feel our customs silly, but we are not the only country to hold silly titles as honorable and polite methods of social discourse.

                                        1. re: Quine

                                          Well, on our side of the pond we did have Otis Day & the Knights....

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              And... The Artist Formerly Known as Prince...

                                            2. re: Quine

                                              "But where you live don't they do that silliness of Lord, Duke, Sir, Count, Prince and Queen ?"

                                              Indeed so. And I hold it in complete contempt. It is worse than silly - it is a cancer at the heart of our society. But that's a discussion for a politics board, not a foody one.

                                              1. re: Harters

                                                okay, well chef is an earned term that signifies leadership over the restaurant crew. it's analogous to a military rank, or calling the captain of a civilian sailing vessel "captain." i am curious to know if you think these titles are irrelevant and hold those folks in contempt, as well.

                                              2. re: Quine

                                                You wouldn't get much argument that hereditary titles are past their sell by date even in the UK.

                                                But don't lump them all together: Sir, Lord, Baroness, Dame etc can all be titles that are a result of a public honour for service to the country and community. For example an ex US president is still called a President, whilst we call Margaret Thatcher Baroness Thatcher - so a similar custom. And I believe Jonathan Ive (the British designer at Apple) can now call himself "Sir" as he was honoured for his contribution gently.

                                2. re: Harters

                                  I think I recall an old etiquette maxim that a waiter should be addressed as "waiter" and not "sir". Any updates in the last 50 years on that one?

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    I don't think that's changed, Veggo. And "Chef" is a title bestowed when somebody take full charge of a kitchen staff and line.Sure it's correct to call them that! Sir is fine too, but Chef is what they are when they're in the workplace. No, I wouldn't call him that on the street, but at work I assuredly would.

                                    1. re: mamachef

                                      "No, I wouldn't call him that on the street, but at work I assuredly would."

                                      Id follow this rule most of the time, unless he was a CEC or CMC. Then Id call him chef anywhere as it really is a title like Dr. with certain education requirements etc.

                                    2. re: Veggo

                                      Except now Veggo, many of them say I ____ will be your server tonight"... it seems weird to me to say, 'excuse me, server?"

                                      Not sure why, 'a, waiter?", doesn't sound wierd, but 'server' does.... anyone else?

                                      I would address a chef as 'chef'...not his or her personal name, unless we were close friends.

                                      1. re: gingershelley

                                        I think 'server' is just a genderless collective for waiters and waitresses, and once we know their gender, assuming we can tell, that 'waiter' or 'waitress' is preferred to 'server'. I'm pretty careful to remember and use a server's name if I hear it or read it, also grocery baggers and toll takers.

                                        1. re: Veggo

                                          i believe "waiter" is on its way to being a gender-neutral term, like "actor," "sculptor," "poet"
                                          (rendering "waitress," and "actress," "sculptress," "poetess" obsolete, and a bit offensive or at best out of date and best used in only very specific instances) fwiw, in case anyone's trying to remain up to date and PC.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            I suppose you are right, but I would not call out "waiter!" to a woman. It's annoying enough to me when a group of women or even mixed company is referred to as "guys".

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Veggo--I use sir for men, ladies for women. Girls, like garçon, is a bit demeaning. In mixed company, guys when it's friends.

                                              I'd say "Chef", btw. Unless it was a friend or colleague, then their first name. This is true for any friends, even those with many "real" degrees.

                                              Btw, there are enough charlatans out there who use MD even if it means "Managing Director". You can post legitimate titles, but seriously, don't be a wank about it and expect friends to follow suit.

                                    3. re: Harters

                                      Harters, your point makes a lot of sense to me. I worked with a bunch of highly educated people at an investment firm and it never occurred to me (or presumably anyone else) to call them "Econometrician," "Actuary," "Mathemetician," etc., not even the Ph.D's. They were addressed by name and introduced by their job function.

                                      It sounds like the industry calls for a certain protocol regarding chef's and there is certainly no harm in addressing them in that manner but it seems far from obvious to me that it should be a given.

                                      Adding to your list above, I would include "Officer," especially when it is someone wearing a badge that has just pulled me over. :-)

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        I agree with Harters. Wouldn't you simply say - "Hi, we met a few weeks ago" there is no need to use a title. I don't approach a hotel reception desk and address the receptionist as "Receptionist, I have a reservation..." and I don't many address waiters as waiter, instead you say "Hi could I order.." or "Excuse me, may I have...".

                                        There are some official or elected titles, like President, or General , and chefs have no official capacity and are not elected. Then there are some professions based on academic qualifications where Dr. or Prof. or Rev. are earned titles with quite strict definitions of when the titles should be used.

                                        But chefs are not one of these, cooking is a craft trade with limited academic study, with most training in the form of an apprenticeship and qualifications that are certificates or diplomas rather than degrees. Do you go to the garage and address the person who services your car as "Mechanic..." or when you buy flowers do you say "Florist,..", or address the person fixing your heating as "Plumber": Why not? They have a similar level of training and academic qualification, they may well have all gone to the same college after their school studies.

                                        So where does this nonsense come from? In Europe "Chef" means boss or head, so when people shout "Yes chef" in the kitchen they are really saying "yes boss". I blame TV and deification of Chefs, especially US TV. Since when did Gordon Ramsay become Chef Ramsay, or Alain Ducasse become Chef Ducasse or Robuchon become Chef Robuchon, Or Paul Bocuse become Chef Bocuse. It is far more dramatic for the booming voiceover to build the tension by say "Chef Ramsay isn't happy" rather than saying "Gordon is going to offer some friendly advice".

                                        1. re: PhilD

                                          "But chefs are not one of these, cooking is a craft trade with limited academic study, with most training in the form of an apprenticeship and qualifications that are certificates or diplomas rather than degrees."
                                          Rubbish! Total rubbish. In this country, one can and does get degrees in various forms of culinary forms. CIA is just one well known institute.

                                          1. re: Quine

                                            I still maintain I am correct. I would hazard a guess that a minority of Chefs have any significant academic qualification - so an industry with limited academic qualification (compared to say medicine). Yes, there are degree courses, as there are in many subjects but the degree does not confer the title "Chef". It is simply a job title, like Accountant or Engineer, or Manager. And why don't not call the graduates from the Baking & Pastry Arts Management, "Baker XXX" ?

                                            Yes, there are industry bodies that award CEC's and CMC's but there are industry bodies in Engineering, Accounting etc but again a qualified, certified practising accountant or engineer doesn't use their job title as a salutation or honorific title.

                                            So why do we accept this affectation? Is it the chefs (I doubt it) or is the media conditioning us?

                                            1. re: PhilD

                                              Affectation? Engineers, Accountants are still called Mr., Ms. or Mrs. no?

                                              Generally graduates of culinary schools who rise to the top of the kitchens they run are called Chef.

                                              1. re: scoopG

                                                Not what I said. I agree Engineers etc are called Mr etc. So what is so special about a chef to warrant the title Chef...?

                                                I also wonder how many culinary school graduates rise to the top of the industry. Most chefs that have really made their marks have gone through trade/craft education rather than expensive degrees and have served their time. In France, for example, the schools are highly competitive but it is a trade/craft qualification not an academic degree. And yes they are called chef (i.e. boss when translated) in the kitchen, but is this true outside the workplace?

                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                  PhilD,

                                                  Aren't you kind of missing the point that for a true CHEF, the kitchen IS his/her classroom?Any culinary 'degree' or certificate aside, you won't ever earn (and, yes, I believe many chef's have earned this title) the right to be called CHEF until you run a kitchen.

                                                  I think the error is in the deification of many 'cooks' and calling too many cooks 'chef'. I think this title is reserved for those who are truly running a kitchen - as in the French tradition since Escoffier; the brigade system, and coming up through the ranks and stations and training, training, training, to earn the right to be called that.

                                                  Just as past school, a doctor is not truly a doctor until they have done internship and residency; that is what the 'coming up through the ranks is in a proffessional kitchen'.

                                                  If you have gone through the 'stage' system in Europe, emerged at the top and are highly reccomended by Eric Ripert, Pierre Gagnare or such to run a kitchen, I think it would be reasonable to be called CHEF at that point. It does mean boss, and it is a title with respect earned, not bestowed.

                                                  Rachel Ray is a cook, not a chef.

                                                  1. re: gingershelley

                                                    Ginger - no not missing the point, it is actually the point I was trying to make, and I agree the "right" to the job title at work is based on the job you do i.e. run the kitchen. And that is the same in any industry, your job title is earned through your work etc. But there are very few industries which use the title outside a workplace. Take shipping, a person maybe the Captain of the Staten Island ferry but I doubt many would expect to call them "Captain XXX" onshore. And maybe it is cultural, to me the title Chef represents a job whilst a title like Doctor represents a qualification and thus an accredited skill level.

                                                    Looks like I am in a minority here but I just can't see the difference between Chefs and many other professions and thus can't see why we feel we need to title chefs specifically when we don't other equally experienced and responsible people who happen to be in different lines of work.

                                              2. re: PhilD

                                                Well since I grew up in the business and am just a handful of months short of my 60th birthday and always held my expressed opinion of how to address a chef, I highly doubt it was due to media conditioning. Nice try.

                                                1. re: Quine

                                                  Quince - your in the industry so that is different. In the kitchen that is the correct term. But why has it become mainstream?

                                                  Think back to your early career, did anyone use Chef as a title outside the kitchen, did you meet people and introduce yourself outside work as Chef Quine or is it a modern media affectation?

                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                    I reckon there's an easy way with this to determine any differecnes between national cultures - and that's asking how folk would fill in an official form or an application for something.

                                                    Would they put "chef" where the rest of us would put Mr, Ms, Reverend, Major, etc - as a social title. Or would they put it in the occupation box, where the rest of us would put retired clerk (that's me) , minister of religion, soldier, etc.

                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                      The original question was about using "Chef" as a stand-alone form of address, not as a title accompanying the name. The usages are not always the same. For example, someone can write "Mrs. Smith" on an official form, but it's not correct to address her "Missus" without the name. And someone can address you as "Sir", even though (I assume) you don't identify yourself as "Sir Harters" when filling out forms.

                                                      1. re: DeppityDawg

                                                        I have absolutely no issues with the OP which is couched in emminently sensible tones and which I hoped I responded to fully and helpfully in my initial post to the thread. My later contributions are responses to other folk who seem to have a less relaxed attitude to the discussion than Philly Ray.

                                                    2. re: PhilD

                                                      But the point of the OP is, they were in a restaurant, and the chef they met was working in that capacity at that time. So the title was completely appropriate.

                                              3. re: PhilD

                                                If the person is acting in his/her professional capacity (Physician, College Professor, Chef etc.) then it is customary in the US to address that person by their title: Dr., Professor, Chef etc.

                                                Professional people do not - or should not - use their title when introducing themselves to strangers in settings that are outside of their professional capacity. For example, if I met Gordon Ramsey on a ski slope in Vail, I would not expect him to introduce himself to me as Chef Gordon Ramsey. I would expect him to say, "I am Gordon Ramsey" and I would address him as Mr. Ramsey. But if entered his kitchen I would address him as Chef Ramsey.

                                                1. re: scoopG

                                                  If you entered the kitchen to work you would say "yes chef" and little else. If he asked you in as a guest I don't believe he would expect to be called Chef Ramsay, after all when interviews he responds quite well to Gordon.

                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                    Correct.

                                                    Doctors, Professors, Chefs, do not introduce themselves as such. They just state their name.

                                                    Ramsey cares less what you call him I am sure. Since I am not familiar with him or friendly with him, it is proper for me to address him as Mr. Ramsey. I am sure he would then say, call me Gordon. Then I would call him Gordon unless he said, my friends call me Gordy and you can too. Hi Gordy, glad to meet ya! :)

                                                    But if I am in his restaurant or kitchen I will address him as Chef.

                                                    One can never go wrong making an error on the side of politeness.

                                                    1. re: scoopG

                                                      Not for nothing, but rather to show the exception to the rule, my brother has a PhD and has been known to introduce himself as Dr. S.K. (name disguised to protect the pompous)

                                                      1. re: Quine

                                                        Quine - I don't understand a PhD entitles the person to use the title Doctor - although I agree it is pompous unless at a conference or in academia.

                                                        1. re: PhilD

                                                          PhilD, I would argue that is is pompous even when at a conference or in academia!

                                                          1. re: jlhinwa

                                                            Agreed jlhinwa. In The US is not accepted to call or introduces yourself as "dr." if you have a PhD. Within an academic setting, perhaps, not required. When I spoke of my PA brother, I do see him introduce and even correct others who have introduced him, by using the term Dr. Very bad form.

                                                            I do believe that it is a cultural and class society thing. Ran this question through another social media site and it split about the same, brits and Brit ex-pats felt not valid where as Stateside all felt chef was proper in the business setting.

                                                            1. re: Quine

                                                              Depends on context. Standing on a stage presenting an academic paper I would say Dr, Prof etc is very valid. Having a beer in the bar afterwards it would be first names as you a title in that setting is pompous. So is the same true with Chef? Well at food conferences/events in most of the world people are not introduced on stage as "Chef XXX" but instead by their name.

                                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                                That's not the way it works in academia here in the US, particularly in the sciences.
                                                                If I am a peer of Dr. Pat Smith I address him/her as Pat. If I am asking Pat a question at a conference or I am in his/her office and I am not a peer, I would politely use the salutation Dr. or Professor. If I meet him/her in the pub or on the ski slope it's Pat.

                                                                1. re: scoopG

                                                                  My husband is a scientist, and works with far too many PhD's to bother to call any of them "Doctor" at work, however when they are in meetings and at conferences, they regularly refer to eachother as "Doctor" As in "Doctor Smythe's research on the Chinese hamster ovary cell cytotoxicity assay..." but that is to REFER to their colleague using his/her title of doctor, when speaking to one another, they drop the title.

                                                                  I personally don't have a problem with a PhD wanting to be addressed as "Doctor" because they earned their degree.

                                                                  1. re: scoopG

                                                                    Isn't that exactly what I said...?

                                                              2. re: jlhinwa

                                                                As one who actually holds a PhD, I tend to agree with PhilD, but have some degree (ouch) of empathy with jlhinwa. In academia, it is entirely appropriate. At conferences, it is appropriate for introductions, but not for general conversation.

                                                                Personally, I put it on documents and business cards when the level of training or education is an appropriate parameter, but rarely otherwise. I find it jarring to be called Doctor even when introduced.

                                                            2. re: Quine

                                                              He's being pompous then! He'll do well with chiropractors then.

                                                            3. re: scoopG

                                                              I suspect Mr Ramsay would think you are a bit of a plonker if you called him Chef and didn't work for him so maybe erring on the side of politeness may backfire in this instance.

                                                    2. This person ran a kitchen that made a wonderful meal for you. He/she isn't the pope, the queen or the president. Thank him and call him chef or Mr. X or Joe.

                                                      1. I think when the chef is in their kitchen whites (or other uniform, as the case may be) it's mark of respect to refer to them as "Chef".

                                                        When I was in culinary school, we called the Chefs as "Chef" and their first names, ie. Chef Gilles, Chef Jean-Marc, etc. Outside of school and in our civilian clothes, I had no problem calling them simply by their first names.

                                                        1. The South Park gang always called 'Chef' "Chef".

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: ricepad

                                                            Oh dear. Now you know where I get all my best ettiquete tips....

                                                            1. re: mamachef

                                                              Dammit, Marci (or chef, if we're being formal).

                                                              I had a vision of you in my mind's eye. Does this mean I now gotta think of you as a female Isaac Hayes? LOL.

                                                              John

                                                              1. re: Harters

                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAhahahaha! Harters, you slay me. Nope, your visual of me is pretty far away from the real thing: take away about a hundred-fifty pounds and facial hair first. Now, make me Caucasion and minus out the deep voice. Add brunette hair, chin-length, and green eyes. And there you have it. Me. And you don't ever, ever have to be formal. I'm only ever called chef in my working capacity, and where I work now they call me by my proper name, or "Hennie," which is a nickname I earned when they hung up a sign in the kitchen, "Da Hen is in Da House!"
                                                                All that aside, I LOVE Chef's character. And I DO give advice to the guys (of course) and I do call them out if they're acting bullshitty, kinda in the same way Chef does.
                                                                LOL. You made my day with this, John.

                                                          2. While dining in a restaurant where this person was in charge of everything I am eating, then yes, I would call that person "chef _____."
                                                            While in culinary school, our instructors were Chef _________. Outside the classroom, though, not so much, just their first names.
                                                            It's not such a big deal to recognize the position of chef, not sure why some folks are adamantly opposed to using the title (when it is indeed deserved).

                                                            1. Philly Ray, I think what you did in this situation was completely fine. I also think it would have been equally fine to have called the chef Mr Whatever or Tom/John/Reginald/Whatever.

                                                              Customers are not the same as employees and I don't believe they are actually under any obligation to only refer to the chef as "Chef", though of course they can if they want to. A lot of it comes down to the personality of the individual in question. I expect some chefs get a real kick out of being referred to by their title, whereas others may find it embarassing and formal.

                                                              I know it's a contentious topic here - as evidenced by many threads where Chowhounders have become angry when a cook on TV is referred to as chef "even though they've never worked in a kitchen for a single day of their life!!!" - but as far as I know there is no standardised qualification worldwide that you HAVE to have to be a chef. Therefore we could say that the title is slightly meaningless. This is not to say, however, that the majority of "chefs" in the world and aren't hardworking, talented individuals. It's just that I am sure there must be some people out there using the title purely to make themselves look better.

                                                              11 Replies
                                                              1. re: Muchlove

                                                                It is only meaningless to those that are ignorant of the meaning. Because someone uses a word/title incorrectly, does not render the term meaningless.

                                                                1. re: wyogal

                                                                  If you read my post carefully you will understand what I mean. I'm saying that calling yourself "Chef something something" does not mean one particular thing that is immediately obvious to anyone who hears you introduce yourself. Just from hearing the word chef, we cannot tell how much experience someone has, or how many qualifications they have. Therefore it is slightly different from other titles which have a particular set of qualifications or service length based criteria which must be met in order for the title to be used.

                                                                  I am not putting down chefs or saying that being a chef is not a valid career. I am just stating the difficulties that I personally can see behind this particular title and its use.

                                                                  1. re: Muchlove

                                                                    Same thing applies to your Doctor, Muchlove. You have no idea of his training or experience either, unless you've looked him up in the Physician's Registry. All that being said, if someone is given the title of "Chef," you do know, for a fact, that (s)he is/has run a kitchen, has people working for him or her that have to answer to them, etc. It's not a guarantee of good food, just because there's a Chef on-premises, but it does indicate what that person does, and why they earned that title.

                                                                    1. re: mamachef

                                                                      I would assume the Doctor has medical training. I would not be able to assume the chef had any "official" training. That's all I'm saying. There's no need to read anything more into it, other than that chef is an ambiguous title. Is the head of the kitchen at McDonalds called chef, for instance?

                                                                      FWIW, I call my Doctor by his (or her, as I don't have an assigned doctor who I always get) name with doctor in front, not just "Doctor" which would, to me, sound weird an impersonal.

                                                                      It strikes me that this might also be a cultural thing. I won't speak for every British person in the world, but I know that if my family was out having a meal and the chef popped by and said "Good evening, I'm Chef X. Are you enjoying your meal?", everyone would be very polite and smiley but when the chef walked away as a man they would all say, slightly incredulously, "Did he (or she) just introduce himself as chef x?". Then there would be a discussion where some people would say it was just very formal and that we must be in a really posh restaurant, and other people would say that it's damn weird and the chef must be really into himself.

                                                                      Perhaps in America no-one would bat an eye. And I don't mean anything by that, other than that things are different all over the world and that's a good thing because otherwise life would be rather dull.

                                                                      Edited: To clarify the doctor bit

                                                                      1. re: Muchlove

                                                                        Muchlove, I was responding without ire. I like your last paragraph. It IS a good thing, that cultural norms are so very different. I don't like dull, and I love learning new thngs. I found this whole thread verrrrry intresting. :)

                                                                        1. re: Muchlove

                                                                          Muchlove

                                                                          Certainly this Brit would say it's damn weird. I think I'd then say "I bet s/he has been watching too many Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmare programmes (US version)".

                                                                          I find it very rare that a chef (whether *the* chef, or one of the other chefs) comes into the dining room. I've never experienced it except in a handful of places where the chef was a well known personality or similar - and therefore had no need to introduce themselves. Oh, and there's a couple or so restaurant I know where a chef, not a server, brings the food to your table but they don't really count for this discussion. There's also been a couple of occasions where the serving staff have asked me if I'd like to meet (insert first name of chef).

                                                                          That would leave the vast majority of places where I eat where I have no idea what the chef's name is or, indeed, whether a person in whites was *the* chef or one of the chefs. As per my original contribution, I'm sure we'd be able to have a conversation without needing for either of us to use names or titles - I have conversations like that with folk every day of the week in normal life.

                                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                                            "*the* chef or one of the other chefs"

                                                                            well there's the dang problem, you're conflating the terms chef and cook. the chef is a cook but all cooks are not chefs. there is a hierarchy in kitchens (may want to look up kitchen brigade system if you think i am just making this up). chef means "chief" or "head" or "boss" -- with just a few exceptions (like with a mixed crew doing a benefit dinner), there is only one chef in a kitchen at a time-- s/he is in charge... so, the chef generally earns that title and rank above the others through working her/his tail off, putting the family house up for the bank loan, generally being most experienced, cuisine study/technique, and achieving mastery of basic kitchen skills as well as the executive/business end of things. sure some folks don't care about any of this-- everyone in a white jacket is a servant to serve the beef rare, right? call everyone "buddy" or "hey you" or "boyo" in that case. well, some folks do care. they distinguish one individual person who is most invested in the restaurant and the food or cuisine at the establishment, and who is in charge of making it happen, and whom all the cooks and kitchen personnel defer to. there isn't anything inherently wrong with recognizing any ceo of any business, particularly self-made folks like many chefs of independent restaurants are.

                                                                            yes, it would be the height of absurdity to walk about a cruise ship calling everyone in a uniform "captain," or a construction site calling everyone in a hard hat "foreman" or calling every enlisted soldier in boot camp "colonel." on that we agree.

                                                                            there is nothing wrong with calling the actual foreman at a construction site--*at* the construction site, in front of his workers, by the title: "foreman."

                                                                            there is nothing wrong with calling a ship captain, whilst standing on the deck of his ship, and in front of his crew, by the title: "captain."

                                                                            there is nothing wrong with calling the person who is responsible for the whole of a working restaurant, while in the restaurant, in front of subordinate cooks and other workers who defer to this person.... by the title: "chef."

                                                                            perhaps americans as a culture tend to have respect for folks who work hard to make their individual name/fortune, and that is a cultural difference. americans also tend to have a certain amount of respect for relationships where one person or group "looks up" to another person as a role model or authority figure. so perhaps americans are less likely to dress down, demean, or disrespect a parent in front of her/his kids, a teacher in front of her/his classroom, or a boss in front of her/his workers. americans would also probably find it unacceptable for the passenger of a bus to demean the driver-- it is the driver's bus, the driver is in charge while on the bus, who cares who the passenger is/thinks s/he is. but ime most londoners would have the same attitude-- i will not make a broader cultural statement because my experience is almost entirely within london city limits... so why the 'tude about treating the chef of a restaurant exactly the same as the least experienced line cook, commis, or dishwasher, i wonder?

                                                                            now my answer would be very different, and more similar to yours, if the op had not encountered the addressed person in his own restaurant, but run into him in the library or in a store or on the street. obviously familiar address would be in order in most cases, and two blokes rubbing elbows at the bar are calling each other by first name, i'd hope! also there isn't any *requirement* that patrons of the restaurant call the chef by that title (i don't think anybody here is stating that)--just have a normal conversation, as you would with a clerk, or whatever. it's just that the use of the title connotes respect-- so there is nothing wrong with another fellow using the title when addressing the chef. again, if you don't respect the job the restaurant does, that's the chef's responsibility, so by all means don't pay lip service, by calling her/him "chef." so, going from there, imo yes it would be very inappropriate to call a mcdonalds boss/kitchen mgr by the title "chef," and i think most folks would construe that as an insult...

                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                              Again, I can only speak for myself and not for an entire nation, but just because I think it's weird to actually call someone "Chef" to their face even though I am not a cook working under them, it does not mean that I do not have respect for them or that I am being rude to them. It is just a different perception of what is rude.

                                                                              For instance, I have a strong dislike for being referred to as maam or madam or miss or some such other fanciful title. I find it overly formal, to me personally it seems rude and also to my mind it is used to create distance between people. When I hear these terms, I feel like there is secretly sarcasm and disguised contempt nestling behind them. But I do know people, not of my particular cultural background, who use these kind of titles, and the male equivalents, often and they are genuinely using them to express respect to the person they are addressing. Therefore, I understand the cultural difference and I don't get upset about it.

                                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                "...the chef is a cook but all cooks are not chefs. there is a hierarchy in kitchens (may want to look up kitchen brigade system if you think i am just making this up). chef means "chief" or "head" or "boss"

                                                                                i always understood a kitchen brigade had numerous chefs sous chef, chef de partie, commis chefs etc. So it is incorrect to say there is only one Chef in a kitchen there could be lots. I seem to remember El Bulli had a ratio of one per diner. Now would we call Ferran: Chef Adria? I think not and he has worked his way to the top!

                                                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                                                  sorry, but why would it be incorrect to call him (ferran adria) chef adria?

                                                                                  the chef is the boss. the sous chef is the second in command--again, in the ship analogy, like the first mate. when the captain(chef) is not there, the first mate(sous chef) is in charge, & when the captain(chef) *is* overseeing and executing, giving orders, etc, the first mate(sous chef) may *additionally* be giving orders.

                                                                                  again, like the military analogy (which is perfectly appropriate because escoffier set up the brigade system based on the military system), your colonel is ordering your squad around. additionally, your sargent is ordering your squad around. you obey them both, but the colonel outranks the sargent and is ultimately in charge of the whole operation.

                                                                                  el bulli probably averaged about one staff member/diner, the majority of them cooks.... and chef ferran adria was in charge of the whole thing. the chef.

                                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                    El Bulli had 50 covers and a staff of 60 to 70 of these they had thirty to forty chefs, thirteen of the chefs are full time and the rest are chefs completing a "stage". Source: pg 112, A Day at El Bulli, by Ferran Adria - and I would hope he would know.

                                                                                    The argument that there is "only one chef in a kitchen, the rest are cooks" also seem to contradict the argument that chefs earn the title chef. I do agree that if someone has the ability to perform the job of a chef they should be called a chef not a cook: calling them a cook is probably an insult.

                                                                                    Clearly Adria would be called "Chef" by his team in the kitchen. But equally I have never seen him referred to as Chef Adria, it is always Ferran Adria, including interviews with him. So why is it thought OK for others to insist on renaming him Chef Adria..?

                                                                                    And that is the crux of the argument, clearly many of those who cook in kitchens have the job title of chef, but it isn't generally used as a salutation outside the kitchen. Think how you would address a letter to them: would it be Chef XX, Head Chef, Restaurant XX,or would it be Mr. XX, Head Chef, Restaurant XX. To me it seems the latter makes most sense, and thus it is why I think it is really odd to call people by their job titles. I wonder does Adria have a business card that say Chef Adria, or does it say Ferran Adria, Chef..?

                                                                                    And why the insult to Monsiuer Escoffier? No Chef Escoffier? Not even a capital letter for his name. Have you no standards ;-0

                                                                  2. I don’t think that there’s ever anything wrong with showing respect to someone, when you address someone as “Chef” you’re showing them respect
                                                                    (but don’t just call any guy you see in checked pants and a white coat “Chef”, at that point, it’s demeaning to the title)
                                                                    My husband insists on calling his son a “Chef” because he went to school and got a degree and works in a kitchen… pfeh, he’s a cook… if he pays his dues and works his way through the ranks, then you can call him Chef, otherwise, he’s a “line cook”

                                                                    7 Replies
                                                                    1. re: cgarner

                                                                      "I don’t think that there’s ever anything wrong with showing respect to someone, when you address someone as “Chef” you’re showing them respect "

                                                                      In Britain, it's perfectly possible that you might just be being very saracastic if you kept referring to someone as chef! Also, some people may feel that by referring to them by a job title rather than their name, you were keeping them at arms length and sort of actually being a bit rude.

                                                                      Sorry to be picky, I just want to stress that cultural differences and also personal preference all play a role in situations like this. At the end of the day though, I do sort of agree with you if that your intention was only to indicate respect, then I'm sure no-one is going to tell you off for you poor etiquette. And if they correct you at some point ("Please, call me John/Judy") then just smile and do as they ask!

                                                                      1. re: Muchlove

                                                                        What if you don't the guy's name?

                                                                        What about saying "Hi there, Chef, we had a great meal... Thank you!"

                                                                        You've properly identified the person as the Executive Chef or even the Chef du Cusine, you don't know his or her name, but you want to let them know that you enjoyed the meal and they did a fantastic job

                                                                        Hey, there, you.... loved the meal
                                                                        Hey there, sir, loved the meal
                                                                        hey there miss, loved the meal
                                                                        you don't care to be referred to as Madam, or ma'am, (or Sir, in this case if you were the person in question and a male)
                                                                        I'm not being argumentative, I have the feeling I am ignorant to what would be the polite manner in which to address this person, whose name you do not know, to let them know that you enjoyed the dining experience which they provided for you.

                                                                        1. re: cgarner

                                                                          If I didn't know the man's (or woman's) name, I suppose I might say chef. Probably more likely to enquire the name though.

                                                                          I didn't say that the word chef should absolutely never be uttered by a customer to the chef, I just said that personally I would find it a little formal and strange and would probably use a name instead. As I said in a previous post, I don't believe the OP made any kind of error by referring to the man who cooked (or supervised the cooking of) his meal as chef. But I also think it would have been just fine to say Mr X or Jon/James/Stuart/etc. My argument is that there is no particular rule that says customers should always refer to the chef as "chef".

                                                                          And for the record, whilst it's true it makes me a little uncomfortable, I never think badly of someone who refers to me as madam/maam/miss/whatever....as long as it feels like a genuine form of being respectful and not just a way to be sarcastic to my face. Just because I don't personally go for it, doesn't mean I'm going to correct, get angry at or otherwise try to stifle other people who think it's a polite way of addressing people.

                                                                          1. re: cgarner

                                                                            I'd take the view that what would be polite is to address them as you would address any stranger whose name you didnt know. Of course, that style will differ according to your national or social cultural norms. As I mentioned on my initial contribution to the thread, in my own culture, it would be entirely polite and commonplace not to add anything to the initial "Hi there".

                                                                            (Edit: like Muchlove, I also see nothing wrong with someone calling the chef "chef". It's just not something that I'd be generally comfortable with, particularly if I knew her/his name. By the by, if I was to use the title to address someone, then it would be anyone in their whites, not just the boss, as they're all likely to have "chef" in their job title

                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                              I agree with what you've said here, and so I disagree with the suggestion made by some earlier posters that _not_ using "Chef" is disrespectful. But the original question was, when someone _does_ use "Chef", is that appropriate? Here the opinions are all over the place: "definitely the preferred way", "absolutely fine", "a mark of respect", "silliness", "weird", "nonsense", "an affectation", "sort of actually a bit rude", …

                                                                              1. re: DeppityDawg

                                                                                DD - I think I'm one who has possibly used "silliness" and/or "affectation" and I'd generally stick to that view. Certainly in my culture. As mentioned by others, it's a word used in the catering industry indicating "boss" (like many catering industry words, taken from the French), except of course for other job titles like "commis chef" or "sous chef". So, for a restaurant employee to address the boss as "chef" is entirely right - in the same way as anyone else might address their manager as "boss" or, as sometimes in British English as "chief". But in my culture it would be odd for a customer to address owners, managers or employees of other businesses by their title or, indeed, as "boss", so it is odd to address a chef as "chef".

                                                                                Again, as suggested upthread, I'd have the view that the current apparent vogue in America to refer to, say, "Chef Harters" can probably be laid at the door of TV producers who have shown many restaurant programmes where kitchen staff call the chef "chef". In doing that, they've elevated a word into something it simply isnt.

                                                                                Seeing as we know it's a French word, I wonder how the issue of mode of address is dealt with in France. For instance, would a French newspaper or TV programme refer to Joel Robuchon as Joel Robuchon, M. Robuchon or Chef Robuchon?

                                                                                1. re: Harters

                                                                                  First of all, there's no requirement for English usage to mirror French usage. "Chef" means "boss" in French; that's not what it means in English. And, well, English and French are two separate languages…

                                                                                  But OK, we can still be interested in the French usage. When referring to Robuchon, you would most likely say/write Joël Robuchon or Monsieur Robuchon, but "le chef Robuchon" is also possible. However, referring to is not the same as talking to. If you are addressing Robuchon, you can say either Monsieur or Chef.

                                                                      2. I have no idea either.
                                                                        When we were in West Edmonton Canada, I had reason to meet the chef as he prepared something out of the blue for me because I was sicker than a dog and couldn't work. I asked hotel manager if I could please meet him to thank him and that happened. I teared up as I was thanking him and he was embarrassed by that but so sweet and kind.
                                                                        Two nights later our group was to have dinner at the restaurant there in this magnifico hotel. We ordered and the chef came out to greet us. Very kind. I introduced him as Chef ---. Not sure if that was right or not.
                                                                        A few years before a friend told me his son was executive chef at Ritz Carlton in San Fran. I didn't believe him :0 so next time there I made a ressie for lunch. He was there and took me on a tour of the restaurant. I referred to him as Chef --- and he kept asking me just to call him by his name, without the chef. I said to him that he'd worked so hard to gain that title and deserved to be called Chef and he said, not to friends, so............

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: iL Divo

                                                                          key phrase... "not to friends."
                                                                          In my opinion, you did the right thing by introducing the chef as Chef __________.
                                                                          These are two different situations.
                                                                          When someone asks you specifically to call them by their name, then do so.

                                                                        2. I cannot speak for "proper," and if questioned, would ask, "proper in whose terms?" but refer to the chef, as "Chef," and have never been corrected. Though I know a few outside of their restaurants, and encounter them in other endeavors, such as golf, or tennis, I use the term "Chef," with no reservations. Now, along with that salutation, I use their name, such as "Chef Wong."

                                                                          Hunt

                                                                          1. Having re-read the whole thread, I think it's probable that a conclusive answer can be given to the OP. The answer seems to depend on where in the world the OP is.

                                                                            Assuming that it is in north America, then it would seem that it is not inappropriate for the word "Chef" to be used as a social title, by members of the public, even outside of the professional kitchen.

                                                                            Assuming it is not in north America, then it is probably just going to sound odd if used by anyone else, other than a restaurant employee within the confines of the restaurant.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                              ooohp there it is carved in stone.

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

                                                                              IMO-- Yes and with respect in the instance described.

                                                                              BTW-- (Only at the Yacht Club do I expect to be addressed as "Commodore".)