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The audacity of a chef

I can call myself a baker and feel good about it. I do not feel as if I’m giving myself some  honor I don’t yet deserve by saying that I bake.  Now, what I can’t call myself is a chef. I know that in professional kitchens there is a hierarchy of who’s the chef and what each person’s job is, and by no means am I expecting to earn that kind of a title.

At my college I work in the kitchen and my family has a difficult time understanding exactly what I do there because it falls somewhere in between all the subcategories of the overarching theme of COOKING.

Unfortunately I do not get to bake in the kitchen. I am not employed by the baker and so don’t even get to go near the flour, sugar, or any of the ingredients that are near to my heart. I work for a chef, but due to safety reasons (at least I assume it’s due to safety reasons) I’m not allowed to work the stoves, the ovens, or the steamers.

So, what exactly do I do? I am not cooking and I am not baking. I do prep work. I cut vegetables of pretty much any kind imaginable, place bacon and turkey sausage on trays, and occasionally cut real sausage. This is not to degrade the work of someone who does prep and I love being able to work in the kitchen because otherwise I would be even farther away from stoves and everything else I adore.

At the same time, no one I speak to understands what I do. It’s kind of funny how there’s a hierarchy within the kitchen (chef, sous chef, etc) and yet people who don’t work in kitchens place that hierarchy on those who do.  There’s still an illusion that if you work in food services and are not the chef then it’s equivalent to working at McDonald’s. And maybe that’s just my perception of the reactions of a few of my family members  when I explained my work, but how else can I explain prep work except the un-glamorous “I cut vegetables” which does not make me a chef. Still, my work puts me in a position to work with food and that’s what counts.  I am still a baker even though I don’t have the opportunity to bake at school. I’ve never been able to call myself a chef.

I can liken the baker:chef analogy to the written word. As a writer, mainly in fiction and non-fiction, I call myself a writer, but I don’t have the audacity to call myself a poet. This is the same way that I know the territory of baking and the same way I know the nuances of fiction, but I’m stepping onto unfamiliar grounds when I cook or write poetry. I’m not bad at either, but it’s not where I’m most comfortable.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to call myself a chef, but until then I’m happy being a baker with a foot in the cooking department of prep work. Any education in food is a good one.

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