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Should a chef need a license to cook?

When I came into this industry as an apprentice many years ago, there was little opportunity for me outside the kitchen. A chef earning a degree was unheard of, and most management trainees went to a hotel school, where they learned their technical skills and were taught how to manage people. In my youth I could not have imagined that I would manage a business or own a restaurant.

Much has changed. Chefs have ventured out of their kitchens to become owners and entrepreneurs. For example, Cincinnati’s Jean-Robert de Cavel has expanded his business to cover not only fine dining but also casual dining, and he now has niche restaurants in local communities. And even though he still cooks, de Cavel spends much of his time meeting with his guests, managing his restaurants, and developing new businesses.

We also see more students taking both associate and baccalaureate degrees to further their careers. I had to earn a higher degree to continue teaching in the profession. We are also witnessing more colleges offering master’s degrees in food science in the field of culinology.



One of the most significant advances in culinary education for me has been professional certification, which should be required to practice one’s profession.Now that top chefs have become “stars” in their communities and beyond, professional certification becomes even more important. Also, more hotels and restaurant companies are seeking out certified chefs to operate their businesses. For these reasons and others, the American Culinary Federation (ACF, is investing more than $150,000 to improve its certification programs over the next three years.

The ACF is following the lead of the European Union, where licensure is required more than ever before. Why? One of the major reasons is that a chef, a restaurant manager, or a hotel may be held accountable if there is a serious outbreak of food poisoning—or any type of malfeasance. Individuals can be prohibited from working, and establishments can be shut down.

I honestly believe that both federal and state governments will require licensure in the near future. The rationale behind this is quite simple: The highest number of food-poisoning incidents in the United States today is in foodservice establishments. The most effective way to curtail food contamination and ensure the preparation of healthy foods will be licensure.

Safety and Discipline

In today’s world of instantaneous, round-the-clock media coverage, a chef’s image is more important than ever. Unfortunately, as the media glare brightens, we see more chefs and cooks dressed in clown outfits. Our dress code was designed for safety, not fashion. One should be able to shed all chef clothes within 30 seconds to prevent third-degree burns. When I was an apprentice, we were not allowed to use leather belts; we had to use string so that we could break it if we got scalding liquid on us. We had to wear clogs (so we could kick them off), cotton socks, and a loosely fitting jacket and apron.

In the past the brigade in the kitchen was extremely disciplined, as was the crew in the front of the house. There was a definite chain of command within the property, and everyone knew his or her place and job. In some modern kitchens and restaurants, I see organized chaos, which results in poor customer service and mediocre food. I see the lack of standardized recipes and service procedures—one of the sure signs of a failing business. Some of the major chain restaurants today invest much money in the training of their staffs, and I applaud their efforts. With the present economy teetering on the abyss of a recession, chefs and managers must become more innovative with the training and staffing of their establishments. Quite simply, we need to get back to the old disciplines and training techniques to meet the needs of our guests in the twenty-first century.

Check, please.

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