Professional cooking is serious business. This statement sums up a pet peeve of mine, something that really grates at my nerves, and I think does the same for many chefs and serious cooks. The title of cook is given out far too freely, as is the title of chef. If those who innocently misuse these titles were to look at their proud history and the incredible commitment of time, energy, and talent that define individuals who have truly earned the right to be called a cook, I think they might not be so free with titles.
I have tremendous respect for all who earn the distinction of cook or chef, regardless of the type of restaurant, style of cooking, or average price of menu items. Professional cooking is not just about “the preparation of food, using the application of heat,” as defined in the dictionary. To relegate the complex process of caring for, preparing, seasoning and presenting incredible food to a simple mechanical process, is to demean those who dedicate their lives to the craft.
When I see a “cook” in chili pepper pants and multi-color toques, see those who parade from home to restaurant in hounds tooth pants that haven’t seen a washing machine or iron in weeks, pass by the local restaurant loading dock where kitchen staff can be seen smoking in filthy aprons and grease laden baseball caps, is comparable to having a person punch every serious cook in the gut. Allow me to paint a picture of what distinguishes the real professional cook from those in disguise.
 Professional Cooks take pride in their uniform. Typically a white jacket with hounds tooth pants. The uniform is impeccably clean, pressed and complete. Shoes that provide support and comfort are polished black and in good repair, the cook’s head is covered with a chef’s toque or bakers skull cap, and the apron and side towels are clean and pressed as well.
 Professional Cooks understand the methods of cooking, the processes used to extract certain flavors from food through braising, roasting, grilling, sautéing, pan frying, deep frying, or steaming and know which method is best for the type of food being prepared.
 Professional Cooks respect their tools and know how to maintain them for optimum performance.
 Professional Cooks understand timing, and can balance the preparation of multiple items so that they are ready for service at their peak of excellence.
 Professional Cooks are committed to improving their skills, learning new techniques, and investing the time to become expert at these skills and techniques.
 Professional Cooks understand how important the presentation of food is and take pride in preparing each plate as if it were to be photographed for the cover of any food magazine.
 Professional Cooks are cognizant of the important role they play in protecting the health and wellbeing of guests. To this end, they are focused on cleanliness, sanitation, and proper food handling techniques.
 Professional Cooks invest years building their flavor memory. This allows them to take full advantage of “Taste-Season-Taste,” and ensure that every guest receives a dish with the anticipated flavor profile.
 Professional Cooks have exceptional knife skills, know which knife to use for the right job, maintain those knives with a proper edge, and take real pride in the perfect brunoise, julienne, or tourne.
 Professional Cooks know that consistency is absolutely critical to building customer loyalty.
 Professional Cooks are always cost conscious. They understand that the restaurant business is one of pennies and total utilization of product is critical if the restaurant is to be financially successful. Waste is not an option for the professional.
 Professional Cooks know and respect the language of the kitchen, the terms used and their implications, the succinct communication that must exist on the line, and the value of this language to effective teamwork.
The title of cook or chef means something to those who are serious – be careful how you throw those titles around. A person must truly earn the right to be called a cook or a chef. This is why in classical kitchens young aspiring cooks were referred to as apprentice or commis. To be called a cook is significant, it means you are another step closer to that eventual position of chef.
If you want to be a serious cook, here are a few pointers:
- Dedicate yourself to the craft and to an ongoing process of learning.
- Take your uniform seriously. Remember the hundreds of years of history that are represented by the traditional wardrobe of the cook.
- Be a sponge in every kitchen where you work. Cooks learn something new every day they suit up and show up.
- Work in kitchens where the role of cook is taken seriously. Find those kitchens where you can learn and grow, a place of serious cooking.
- If you can find a property with an apprenticeship program, sign up!
- If you can afford culinary school, research many and select the one that best prepares you for a life in the kitchen, where cooking is serious business, where they push you and offer honest critique, where building confidence through realistic environments is the call to arms.
- Commit yourself to your commitment. Ask yourself this question, every day:
“Is what I am doing right now, bringing me closer to becoming the cook or chef that I want to become?”
Be serious about becoming a professional cook – your fellow kitchen teammates deserve this level of respect from you.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
COMING SOON: “The Event That Changed Everything”
A novel by Paul Sorgule about two cooks in pursuit of their dreams and the Event that changed their lives forever.
Available in early 2015 from iUniverse
amazon.com and iuniverse.com