The missing meaning
The Black Hat: the missing meaning

Black Hat Chef George Hill gives his view …

I am finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish what the common term “chef” literally stands for.

It was originally universally agreed to acknowledge the chef as the “chief” of a commercial kitchen, or in some instances awarded by peers to a person in recognition of their excellence in cookery skills.

The role was easily identifiable by common job descriptions and comparable key performance indicators. All chefs had comparable general duties and similar key responsibilities underpinned by a competency set of commercial cookery knowledge and skills – and the position was known by the general community as a respectable career path in society.

So what has replaced the meaning of “chef” and its (unfortunately) copious contemporary derivatives?

Currently uneducated people appear to be embarrassed to call themselves a cook.

We presently do not have apprentice cooks, because they are now only apprentice chefs or apprentice “chiefs”.

Apart from the rare educated employer who uses the term, the industry has lost the development stage called “commis”, which was and is a critical period in a cookery path and in my opinion the fundamental reason why the commercial cookery industry will from now to eternity encounter skill shortages.

The chef de partie has emerged as the contemporary sous chef or the kitchen title claimed by amateurs or staff just out of their apprenticeship.

The former genuine sous chef is now an executive sous chef because they have a couple of apprentices reporting to them.

We have “celebrity chefs” who have never managed a kitchen, because it’s fashionable to be a celebrity and opportune to combine the refined title of chef – a title now difficult to verify as an occupation – while  paradoxically, qualified chefs have demoted themselves to a celebrity chef status because it’s chic.

It’s quite easy to collect business cards from executive chefs with a total of three staff!

There are nine year old “masterchefs” who would not know how to compile or cost a menu competing with genuine “masterchefs” who have dedicated their life and can demonstrate excellence in the many facets of food preparation and not just the preparation of a recipe.

It is now smarter to be a chef educator instead of a cookery teacher and sadly even vocational education in secondary schools purports to teach secondary school students to become chefs.

But if you really wish to identify the pretenders from the genuine professional trained chef, look and listen.

You will see celebrity chefs on TV:

  • Licking fingers while encouraging other participants in the program to do so
  • Hanging tea towels over their shoulders
  • Wearing inappropriate professional uniforms that may include jeans and T shirt
  • Incorrectly and ineptly holding a knife or using the wrong knife for the wrong job
  • Unable to correctly pronounce recipe names or techniques
  • Unable to correctly manipulate a pan to sauté, leaving pot handles over the edge of the stove
  • Working with disordered and untidy benches
  • And even getting the rudiments wrong, such as incorrectly peeling, slicing or dicing an onion.

Yet they are introduced, titled or programmed on the show as a chef.

What would happen if they had to prepare and cook an omelet without the backup of a recipe or retake? I suppose that product would turn out to be rock hard, scrambled egg probably still in its shell and pronounced as a new style of cuisine.


This adulteration of the term chef started when cooks believed that using the title “chef“ was an easy way to self-promote and improve their status within their community. Greedy employers jumped onto the bandwagon by advertising ambiguous, more impressive kitchen job titles as an alternative to a ‘true’ promotion and as a substitute for genuine salary increases.

The term “cook” accurately summarizes in a single word the real value of the person’s role to society and particularly appropriate for the commercial kitchen, while the term “chef” accurately describes the chief administrator of all the cooks in the kitchen.

I have no difficulty with sensible descriptors that demonstrate an ultimate responsibility as a chef manager, for example “corporate chef” or “research chef” provided they have their verified skill set as a cook.

A person who makes their living by preparing, cooking and presenting food as a living is a cook and they belong to the cookery industry and must have the four measurable attributes of skills, attitude, knowledge and experience.
In my opinion, the only professional organisation that has power to change this growing absurd pretentiousness is the Restaurant and Catering Association of Australia. It needs to make a recommendation to members to advertise only for apprentice cooks, employ station cooks, engage sous chefs only where there is a real need for a genuine deputy, ensure the title of the ultimate manager of the kitchen is the Chef de Cuisine and only title members as executive chefs when they manage more than one fulltime staffed kitchen.

The cookery industry has replaced the priceless cook with a myriad of pretentious chefs who cannot or do not cook for a living or are titled way beyond their skill set.

It is already hard enough to accept some who dress like Rubik’s cubes or clowns without adding their ignorance when they indicate they are “cheffing” at the moment, or currently working in the “cheffery” industry!

Lets try and keep titles sensible.


Monsieur Professeur Hill. XYZ. Administrative Executive Food and Beverage Director, Superstar Connoisseur Cook, Master Cheffery Degree in Gastronomy from University of Mumbailly (purchased).