I was in conversation with a friend recently. He’s not a chef, or even in the catering industry. But he is very knowledgeable when it comes to social media, online presence and creative content. All areas of business which did not exist ten years ago. During the chat we discussed my views on why a career in the modern catering industry, in particularly as a chef, is not as attractive as it used to be. I’ve recently said, in other blog posts, that I feel trainee chefs are regularly surprised by the real lifestyle of being a chef and the impact it can have on their life. An interesting perspective was raised. Is the draw of being a social media presence more attractive than having an actual career as a traditional chef?
Personally, I struggle to be a full time working chef and provide regular online content. I can snap a quick Instagram photo of a dish from the kitchen, mid service. But the lighting is never ideal and I’m trying to avoid the dish perishing. Also, the risk of dropping my Samsung into a vat of beef chilli is only a nudge away. I have been a chef for 25 plus years. As I approach my mid-forties, the hard shifts are getting harder. The appeal of the online career is ticking a lot of boxes. I know that I have served my time in the trenches so to speak. The hours I have spent at the pass surely gives me the right of passage to blow the dust of my laptop and write some shit down and try my hand at digital media?
So, this brings me to another point. Is there a real tangible difference between a chef and a cook? There are chefs and food enthusiasts out there who are choosing an online career. Choosing not to venture into a kitchen, but to stage cookery from behind an iPhone. There are now opportunities for people, young and old to make careers in this industry through YouTube, Instagram and blogging. This is not a bad thing. I, myself would love to be able to step back from the hustle of the kitchen, the weekend services and surprise midweek violations (Who booked everyone in at 7.30pm?!)
No longer are Head chefs and employers only up against other restaurants and hotels. But they are now trying to convince millennials/ Generation x that this habitually tough career is worth dedicating ALL your time to for minimum wage and status.
You scroll through Instagram under the hashtag #Chef and you’ll find thousands of images from foodies cooking in the low pressure environment of their domestic abode with perfect lighting, plant pots of soft focussed herbs and their clothes cleaner than their perceived diet. Under this logic, can I take a selfie of myself brushing my teeth and use the Hashtag #Dentist. Or snap a moody photo of my first aid cupboard with the Hashtag #MedicalProfessional. Does the scrollee really care about the story behind the image? For the 1.4 seconds which they see, pause, click “Like” and keep scrolling… I don’t think so. The impact is short, sweet and impersonal. Yes, it may encourage some people to cook. It may encourage people to visit a particular venue. But right now in 2017 I am concerned with whether future chefs are being correctly represented online. Are they seeing the real chefs?
There have been plenty of articles on false representations on social media with body image. Are we guilty of showing only the glossy side of our trade. The very sexy Sachertorte flicked with gold leaf will always make a better photo than the 20th portion of chilli cheese nachos of the day! Maybe it is time we have a few more #BatteredChef selfies. Show the world some of the realness.
So, what’s your point Brian? You know what, I think my point may have got lost in this post. But I’ve already committed to it, so I’ll try and bring it back: Being a chef in the 21st century has moved on. Once you are a head chef and you are using social media, it is up to you to inspire your customers and other chefs. You are representing a rich history and are part of the unwritten future. I suppose what’s putting a hair up my arse is the pretenders using the chef tag when they have not been a chef. I am proud to call myself a chef. Being a chef is not an action. It’s not something you do. It’s who you are. Whether you like it or not, when you wake up, you will be cooking, thinking about cooking or be talking about last nights service. AND ITS GREAT! I want the chefs to reclaim the hashtag from the instafamous instacooks. Show the world what it’s like to be a real chef. What would Antonin Careme say if he saw @BellaDelicious247 posting her scrambled egg, avocado and sourdough to her thousands of followers using the chef hashtag. Or even @JonBicksfitboy1 telling everyone that all their meals can be prepared in 15 minutes. (I really hope these are not real usernames) You get my point?
I want to the real chefs out there. Reclaim the #RealChef hashtag. Show the world that being a chef is not just about producing a single, beautiful dish. But doing it over and over again, several times a night to dozens of customers. Being a chef is knowing your timings and knowing exactly what is going on in every part of the kitchen at every moment. Whether you are a lone wolf in a pub kitchen, or heading up a brigade of a Knightsbridge hotel, any chef worth his or her salt-pot, will have a tale of the emergency order or that “You know about the wedding party…right?” We are all connected.
This post has been fuelled by my recent lower caffeine diet. So I can only apologise for the ranty ramblingness of its content. I hope it makes some sort of sense to someone.
Some may know me, most wont. I am Brian a chef from the east of England. Head chef of a pub and owner of a small catering business. I've been a chef for 25 years. I do this web stuff purely for fun. It's literally just me and my laptop. No big corporation. Just a chef, wanting to connect with other chefs. Enjoy.
This website is part of Knife Of Brian Cookery and catering.Click below to see what else I do professionally.