Thursday, March 20, 2008

Which is it?

There has been some disagreement about the name of our new restaurant. We have all settled on "the cooks' house". We think it fits us, the nature of the restaurant, and the area we are opening, perfectly. We have not been silent about the name since we came up with it about 8 months or so ago. We have told everyone we talk to about the restaurant the name. No one has said anything. That is until a couple weeks ago when all the experts converged on us at once and said in a voice of unity that they, who ever 'they' are, thought the name does not fit us. Really? After 8 months NOW (emphasis mine) is when you tell us you don't like the name. Sorry Charlie, too late. One of the biggest reasons for not liking the name is because we call ourselves cooks. "But you two are much more than cooks, you're chefs", so they say. Now, it's not much of a secrete about how I feel about being a cook. I prefer to refer to myself as a cook and not a chef and I am going to tell you why. The word 'chef' is a French word and it simply means, 'chief'. The one who is in charge of a certain area is called chef. In the restaurant there are many types of chefs. The one in charge of the kitchen is called the 'chef de cuisine' or the chief of the kitchen. Below that person is the 'sous chef'; the under chief, sous being the word for under. Each person in charge of a station is called 'chef de partie'. The person in charge of cold salads and appetizers is called 'chef garde manager' and so on and so forth. All it takes to be called a chef is a position. Now granted that position is more often than not reached with some skill but I have worked under, and with chefs, who do not have the skills to be called chef but because of their position we called them, 'chef'. I have always thought it interesting that Julia Child did not refer to herself as a chef. She flatly refused the title saying that because she was not in charge of a professional kitchen she did not have the right to have the title. There is not one of us who would deny Ms. Child had great culinary skills. I have always maintained that it is much harder to think of oneself as a cook than as a chef. Anyone can be called chef. I frequently call my cooks chef but that doesn't mean they are. There are chefs who never step foot in a kitchen; whose job it is to maintain food and labor costs, to push papers. Large hotels and corporations are full of these types of chefs. These are men and women who have the title but not the skills. To call yourself a cook is a great thing indeed. To be a cook requires skill. To be a cook requires humility and to be a cook requires love and passion. As I have said before in other posts, the position of cook is an ancient position held by talented people who may have never been called chef. It is with these people I identify, not the Bobby Flays of the world who are called chef but of whom I would not put in the category of cook. There are cooks who cook in small, out-of-the-way places producing some of the best the food the world has ever known, but they may never be called chef by some starry eyed foodie. The title chef has, over the years, become increasingly bitter on my tongue because of rise of superstar chefs, people who have perhaps forgotten the shear joy of making a simple salad for someone unimportant. So, yes, 'the cooks' house' stands and will stand. We are simple cooks cooking simple food in an agrarian area of the country. New York, San Fransisco, Las Vegas all need chefs. Northern Michigan needs cooks, good cooks, not fancy chefs who think too highly of themselves. We need cooks who humbly take the products produced here by masters of their trades and cook them well. The farmers and artisans of the area are the true focal point, not me, not chefs. They do the hard work. We simply take their fruits and present them. I think what I am trying to get at is this: If I think of myself as a chef in Northern Michigan, I miss the point. By seeing myself as a cook is to place myself along side those whom make my job possible. I take part in the beauty of creation they pour their souls into. 'Chef' is too haughty of a word for the work that is done up here in Northern Michigan. I still answer to chef when some one says it. My email has the word chef in it. Our business cards list us as chef/owner. I tell people I am a chef, but I think mainly because I don't have the confidence my convictions require. Perhaps I still hang on to this title because I am not confident enough as a cook to be called simply a cook.

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