DOES CULINARY SCHOOL MAKE A CHEF?
In our corner of the world, those in the food business are not as celebrated or given as much decoration as their foreign counterparts in other parts of the world. A quick survey on young people in Lagos metropolis was carried out and we asked a set of questions, which included the question “What Is the difference between a chef and a cook”?
The general answer to this question was ‘a chef is someone who has gone to a culinary school to learn to cook’ while a cook has no formal training’. In layman’s words, a chef can cook but a cook cannot chef.
To demystify the fact or fiction behind this phrase, we’ll go down to the root of the word ‘chef’. The word ‘chef’, is a derivative of the phrase ‘chef de cuisine’, which is a French phrase which refers to the director or head of a kitchen. One major fallacy in these parts is that for an individual to be a chef, he must have attended a formal institution or served as an apprentice under a trained chef. Much like many other trades, there are several criteria that accompany this. They include:
- Training under a more experienced hand in the field – which could be 4 years
- Ability to be tested to make some culinary classics. If you’ve seen the 2014 ‘Hundred Foot Journey’ movie, you’d remember this was a criteria for admission to work at the restaurant.
- Ability to be proficient in several cooking processes and maybe a specialization in one
To carry out the above listed successfully, one essential value is needed – discipline. So it is possible to serve under a trained professional chef, and acquire the skills to achieve chef status without going to culinary school. We have many bukas and local spots who run multi-staffed kitchens and churn out menus with reasonable consistency in terms of quality but without all the titles or structure of the kitchen brigade style practiced in more developed countries which begs the following questions as food for thought:
- Is chefdom an African thing?
- Do we measure African chefs by their ability to make foreign classic masterpieces
- Can we have truly indigenous African chefs, seeing as most of the celebrated ones are those trained abroad, and those who train others locally, teach practices they learned abroad.
Food is a universal language and the earlier we understand how to communicate it in our language as Nigerians and Africans, the better.