Over the years, as my culinary skills have expanded, I've been referred to as a "Chef" by friends or folks who experience me in the kitchen. Offered as a compliment, but often making me feel very uncomfortable, I now understand why I've never felt at ease owning that title.
Why exactly don't I like to be called Chef? For starters, I have no formal Chef training. I did not attend culinary school and there was a time I felt bad about that. I used to downplay my own culinary curiosity and intuition because I hadn’t been “certified”. One day, in conversation with a friend about this, she offered: "You know, there are plenty of people who graduate from culinary school and still can't cook." This comment redeemed me and validated me in ways I didn't even know I needed.
Secondly, I've come to realize that the term "Chef" can be pretty intimidating for us Homecooks. While the term Chef can help some of us strive for professional food architecture, most of us are left feeling left out. Thus, the term, "Chef", can create barriers and exclusivity that leave beautiful and wonderful Homecooks out of the conversation. It also perpetuates what I call "the big food mystery" -- the mystery I've been working to demystify for years in my life, my circles and through my work. This mystery says that food is too complex and only those with professional training can understand the science; only those with the right tools can participate. The big food mystery says to leave the engineering and manufacturing of your favorite foods to big food companies. My counter argument is: food is NOT that hard, food can be humble and homey and in fact, before we professionalized it and industrialized it, food was ONLY humble and homey. We don't need the validation, a stamp of approval or tuition debt from an institution to prepare great food. All we need is to trust ourselves. We have everything we need as Homecooks to make good food. All we need is a recipe and a few simple ingredients. The Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe was the recipe that set me off. What recipe got you started?
So - hey, Homecook, I see you. You are me and I am you. You are led in the kitchen by interest, curiosity, intuition, knowledge from your grandma -- perhaps you are even led by necessity; because you have hungry mouths to feed. Whatever it is that's guiding you to put ingredients together over fire, you are doing what we have been doing since the beginning of time. You're tapping into your God-given ability to nourish and be nourished; and thats the most beautiful and unifying and universal truth about humanity (in my most honest opinion).
I’d like to close by saying that I am not knocking culinary schools or the chef profession. This is a wonderful career path for many and we absolutely need more POC representing our food and culture in these spaces.