Is it Proper Etiquette to Call a Chef "Chef"?

Categories: Bites & Dishes

Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail laura.hahnefeld@newtimes.com.

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Robert Occhialini at Flickr.com
Many of us enjoy the fruits of a chef's labor, but when it comes to telling him/her so, we can get tongue-tied on the name part.

See also:
- Best Kitchen Pranks from Valley Chefs
- Should Restaurants Include Gratuity as Part of the Bill?

Is it proper etiquette to call a chef "chef"? What about in and out of the kitchen? I asked a few chefs in the Valley for their thoughts and this is what they had to say.

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Chef Christopher Nicosia
Sassi

I don't think that it is as much of a question of etiquette as it is one of respect. I don't require that everyone call me chef, but I know that when they do, they are acknowledging that I am the one who is ultimately responsible for the workings of the kitchen.

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Bernie Kantak
Chef and Partner, Citizen Public House

I think it's a personal preference. I personally don't care for it. In certain situations, it's necessary, but some may get a bit carried away with demanding being called chef. To each his own.

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Eric O'Neill
Chef and CEO, SmartKitchen.com

I believe the title of chef is something earned in education and earned through the career path they choose. Nowadays, it seems calling someone a chef is used loosely. I'm not saying I don't appreciate the ones who started as the dish washer, and I do understand the culinary industry is a "show me state," but like most careers in this world, a piece of paper that says you graduated validates and grants a title.

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Josh Hebert
Owner and Chef, Posh

Whatever they prefer. I personally don't demand people call me chef; some people do. I just prefer my name. It's all up to personal preference.



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8 comments
rct0725
rct0725

I have worked in many restaurants throughout the years, and still do. What we, as the lowly brethren resent is addressing someone as "Chef" when all that results is an inflation of their already inflated ego. Most certainly, you have attained a degree from the CIA our some other organization. We generally wish the same but without the wherewithal to attain it. We struggle to plate your "visions". I personally have no problem addressing you as "Chef" as long as you realize it is us in the back of the kitchen who allow you to attain, and maintain, your celebrity status.

JohnQ.Public
JohnQ.Public

The first time I realized that chefs want to be called "Chef" was from watching Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef.  It got me thinking - we should start calling everyone by title.  Next time a chef goes to see his or her accountant, the accountant should only be referred to as Accountant.  As in, "Yes Accountant, that is a business expense."  Same with the architect building out the chef's new restaurant - "Yes Architect, I want that load-bearing wall removed."  And then when the architect hires the structural enginer, "Yes Structural Engineer, Chef wants the load-bearing wall removed." And the Structural Engineer would obviously respond with, "Yes Architect, I will design a way to remove the load-bearing wall that Chef wants removed."  That accountant, architect and structural engineer has certainly put in the time and effort to earn the degree and the licensing exam for each of those professions is much harder than the licensing exam the chef had to take.  I hope that this illustrates the rediculousness of chefs demanding to be called Chef because they have somehow earned that right.

opinionatedbutright
opinionatedbutright

@JohnQ.Public "Cheffing" has quite a long history in both Europe and the rest of the world. The way chefs are addressed (and treated) is really from European tradition. The question, though, is who is a chef? Someone who goes to culinary school? Someone who heads up a kitchen? Someone who makes salads? Someone who teaches cooking classes in their home? Someone who writes a cookbook? The lines of chefdom have become somewhat muddled through the years because of casual use of the term. We might not refer to our accountant or other professional by their profession but we certainly might call that person Mr or Mrs or Ms instead of by their first name to show some appreciation for their professionalism. That's really all the "Yes, chef" stuff is all about. Respect based on a long standing cultural norm.

JohnQ.Public
JohnQ.Public

@opinionatedbutright We can call chef's Mr. and Ms. as well to express our respect for their profession, but that is a long way from calling them "CPA" or "Structural Engineer" - especially in the use of the terms.  I doubt that the average senior structural engineer in an office of structural engineers makes his or her direct reports use Mr. or Ms. when interacting.  You're probably not going to hear, "Mr. Senior Structural Engineer, the calculations for the load bearing wall you asked me to do are done."  Chances are pretty good that you're going to hear instead, "Beth, the calculations for the load bearing wall you asked for are done."  But in a restaurant you are more likely to hear, "Chef, the risotto is done."  For that reason your analogy fails.  The "Yes, chef" seems to me to be about arrogance and ego.  Its about forcing underlings into repeating the hierarchy, and rubbing their noses in it, with every single interaction.  But I guess if that is what it takes to make sure that the risotto comes out just right.......

opinionatedbutright
opinionatedbutright

@JohnQ.Public Sounds like you're pretty well versed in the engineer lingo and I in the proper chef address. Do you call your doctor by her first name?  And, btw, I never called my parents by their first names! They had "titles", Mommy and Daddy. These are cultural norms. I guess I'm confused about why this is even an issue. Each CHEF in her/his kitchen can decide the title or name to be used. And if a chef wants to be called chef, why is this an issue? You know, each business, whether its Google or Applebees, has its own culture. Some places allow jeans and flip flops and others require shirts and ties. That's all. You can argue forever about whether this implies hierarchy or importance or how relevant it is to the success of the business or to the respect those in charge are affforded. In the end, it's the way it's done. I'd much rather concern myself with immigration, the budget, healthcare and other issues of real importance. My last comment on the matter regardless of future posts from JQP or anyone else. Because I'm opinionated but also right.

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