Oct 292012
 

Every so often a resume claiming the distinction of “Master Chef” flops up on the screen.

Most of them are  full of baloney.

“Master Chef” is one of those titles that sounds impressive and in all but a few cases means nothing. PBS started this when Julia Childs, who was not in truth even a chef  launched her show of American Master Chefs.

Julia Childs was a visionary culinarian and possibly the best cook and one of the finest instructors ever to stand in front of a camera, and since she taught us all, she was ironically a “master” and definitely masterful, but not really a chef, because she did not manage a kitchen full of cooks.  (Chef essentially means “boss”)  Of course sine she was Julia as far as I am  concerned she could have called herself Queen, and that would be all right.  Most of the chefs she dealt with, however, were not Master Chefs, but the press picked the term up and has been abusing it like a terrier shaking a dead rat ever since.

The problem is that nobody knows what a Master Chef is, assuming it to be just another American hyperbole (exaggeration) in the style of “Top Chef” or “Culinary Passion”. It’s not.

“Master Chef” is a certified career station which comes from the European guild system and still exists there. The certification process lasts two years if done concurrently with work or four months in a full time course, and it requires at least five or six years of experience as a “journeyman” cook and sous chef or chef de cuisine – possibly more. “Master” (Maitre, Meister) means “teacher”. It does not address flavor or creativity but the ability and right to teach.

The purpose of the Master Chef certification is to certify apprentice masters, who thus can train aspiring cooks. Chef owners reap great benefit from the process, as they can keep and develop low wage and increasingly skilled  staff for two to three years. Hotel Executive Chefs and chefs with training responsibilities also profit from the title.

The certification guarantees that the Master Chef knows everything about products, production, technique, food safety, numbers, science, and all of the vast knowledge you would want your teacher to have. It does not guarantee fabulous food or talent or culinary brilliance.

Several years ago Ferdinand Metz and the Culinary Institute of America joined forces to create a Master Chef certification in the United States. This differs somewhat from the European model, as it does not require as much hands on experience prior to certification. I  have seen it more as an MA degree in food, and from those candidates I have worked with, a career choice which frequently takes the bearer out of the kitchen into the more intellectual areas of the industry.

The American as well as the European Master Chef / Meisterchef processes are demanding, and the certified chefs are recognized as experts. Those chefs celebrated for five star cuisine – those running the most  highly acknowledged kitchens – are  most likely not certified.

Real Master Chefs list the certification with date note that it is certified. The rest of the “Master Chefs” are pretenders or poor souls naïve enough to believe the blather bandied about by an increasingly ill informed media.  In other words, “Master Chef” is in most cases simply tacky resume bling. Not to be impressed.