At the Research Chef Association Conference 2016, an annual meeting for all RCA members is held, and this year, we received an update on the membership, fees and expenses, and a move to change the membership titles. The first two were received with neutrality and moderate interest.

However, the suggestion to change the professional membership designations was met with some debate. The suggestion was to consolidate the types of member designations from chef, culinologist, and food scientist/food technologist into one “professional” member. Then there would be an affiliate and a student membership.

One chef pointed out that he earned the chef title and didn’t want to dilute his role or the membership by including all the other types of professionals. Others argued that combining the membership wasn’t a dilution, but several who made that argument weren’t traditional chefs who had earned their positions through cooking in restaurants for years. The members present voted, but I don’t know what the results were yet.

A new chef friend of mine, Phil S., mentioned that we younger chefs are looking at cheffery differently than the older generations have. Our generation entered culinary school or professional kitchens after the Food Network started raising the celebrity of chefs from being kitchen badasses to actual celebrities. We look at cooking and line time differently, and those in my career have often jumped from line cooking to corporate work fairly quickly.

I don’t call myself a chef in most circles, though I guess I’m technically a research chef. I worked for a guy who called himself a chef, but he hadn’t actually done any real line time. I did spend 2 years in restaurants, but that’s not enough time to call myself a chef in that setting. One company I joined, it turned out that I had more culinary line time than most of the others, but that also didn’t make me comfortable calling myself that.

Why: because a chef is the highest ranked person in a kitchen, either a restaurant or hotel food service setting. That position is earned by promoting through the stations and gaining some measure of mastery of those stations. I’m a big proponent of the belief that a boss should be able to do a lot of the work that she asks of her subordinates or at least have the skills to figure those out.

When I was an officer, I tried to work as many of the tasks that my airmen did (an example I learned from the 1Lt who trained me) because it earned their respect and gave me an understanding of the issues they faced. As a leader, my responsibility is to essential empower my folks to do work or to take away the road blocks that hamper their work. The best way for me to understand the resources they need is to have a background of their responsibilities.

What do you think?
What makes a person a chef?
If you’re a chef, what do you think of others calling themselves chefs?