Cooks in the Spotlight

Another student blogger posed an interesting question on this site, and it’s one that I've been considering myself for awhile. In Shun Slinger's post, "No, I don't watch Top Chef!" he discusses the food media, voicing concern about its influence on the industry. Specifically he writes about culinary students whose only prior kitchen experience is watching Top Chef. With this in mind, he asks the crucial question: "Is all of this focus good for the integrity of the business?"

I share Shun Slinger's concern about people who enter culinary school with images of Rachel Ray dancing in their heads, and no real sense of what cooking in a real kitchen involves. But typically, such students either wise up or drop out. It might be annoying to watch them fiddle about in class, but unless they actually work in a restaurant, they don't hurt the industry. If anything, I think the media's focus on the culinary world has helped the reputation of the business tremendously.

This point was really driven home when a French journalist visited the FCI last week to interview students about their experience. Celebrity chefs aside, she was fascinated by the respect an average cook garners amongst their peers. She explained that in France, young people aren't motivated to work in kitchens because it's a difficult, thankless job. She said that for the most part, cooks are seen as people who aren't skilled enough to work in other professional industries. She asked that if I, as a cook, was amongst friends – doctors, lawyers, secretaries – would I be regarded as an equal professional? Without hesitating, I replied yes.

I think much of the reason I could respond this way is the media's focus on the culinary world. Besides creating some star appeal, shows like Top Chef reveal how demanding, skillful and artistic the job actually is. The best cooks are combinations of athletes and artists – the job requires stamina and coordination, as well as an innovative mind and keen visual sense. One might not realize this eating in a restaurant, but with cameras and writers in the kitchen, America has a greater understanding of the skilled work that cooks perform.