Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chefs: Professionals or Tradesmen?

French chefs have sought for many generations the designation of professional to their title. Until recently, the job of a chef was considered no different in the workforce than any other tradesman, such as a construction worker or other blue-collar job. The issue that the French government had with designating a chef as professional, was that in order to be considered a professional one must have an extensive education instead of on-the-job apprenticeships which the culinary industry was using at that time. Chefs however sought to change their status by creating an educational foundation which could hopefully gain the French governments attention who would possibly elevate chefs to professionals rather than tradesmen.

During the 19th century a number of strategies were constructed in order to help elevate chefs to their desired professional status. In order for these strategies’ creation to occur, organization amongst chefs was important. A number of these formal associations were created with different purposes toward this end. One of these organizations, Societe des Cuisiniers Français worked on a multi-faceted level. The used each of their projects to support the next. At the beginning of their organization they began to publish a trade-magazine entitled L’art Culinaire. This magazine was created so that the members of the organization could not only read some of the gastronomy styled articles in it, the magazine was also a way to educate chefs on current trends and give them the educated knowledge that the “craft” supposedly lacked.

L’art Culinaire’s secondary usage was to advertise culinary expositions that were taking place in France and abroad. These expositions themselves had multiple purposes. Not only were they places for competitions and display, they were also another outlet to teach chefs that were part of the organization. This again brought in the idea of educating the chef

industry to become professionals in the public and governmental eyes. The expositions being open to the public would openly display chef’s art and desire to be considered professionals. The expositions also served as fund-raisers for the pinnacle part of the educational process.
The funds collected by the Societe des Cuisiniers Français at these expositions was set aside over a period of time to invest in the creation of a culinary school. Ecole Professionnelle de Cuisine des Sciences Alimentaires was built solely on the funds appropriated from the expositions and private donations. A couple of stoves were donated by a gas company as well. There was however no support from the French government as the government did not see a use for such a school. Other schools existed for different trades, but as the apprentice system was so widely used in kitchens, many saw no reason for change. Proprietors of hotels and restaurants certainly saw no use for this new style of training either, as it would take away their free labor as apprentices did not receive wages.

As such, the school only lasted for two years until it went bankrupt. Low attendance and an adherence to the apprenticeship programs have been cited for possible reasons for the schools demise. This set-back however did not completely destroy the chef’s desire to be seen as professionals. Although the Societe des Cuisiniers Français disbanded after the school’s bankruptcy, L’Art Culinare continued to be published. In addition other organizations emerged to continue the cause of professionalism in the chef trade. Other periodicals also emerged and eventually other schools opened such as Le Cordon Bleu. The chefs of the 19th century may not have been recognized as professionals, but their efforts helped future chefs to continue the cause of changing chefs from tradesmen to professionals.

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