The Evolution of the Home Chef

The Evolution of the Home Chef

“Home Chef”

It’s a new term, one that has not, until now, had precedence in history.

For hundreds of years, since the first “restoratives” (ie: restaurants) opened in France, following the toppling of the French monarchy and the world’s first  “professional” cooks who worked for them suddenly found themselves without employment, the commercial chef and the home cook have eyed each other distrustfully across a wide abyss of training, technique, mythology and methodology.

That began to change on November 23, 1993 when TV Food Network was launched.

Okay, that’s not exactly true, Julia Child paved the road for Emeril, Bobby, and all of the other “celebrity chefs” with The French Chef in 1963, as did Graham Kerr with the introduction of The Galloping Gourmet in 1969, but the globalization of food-related television really exploded in the early nineties.

The point being that starting back then, and growing exponentially over the last two decades, the line began to blur. Techniques and terminology what were previously only available and comprehensible to those who indentured themselves to a restaurant kitchen at a young age, or shelled out the bucks to attend culinary school, became commonly and easily available to anyone who was willing to watch and study what was being offered for free (or at least for a minimal cable television subscription) and cared to pay attention.

Please take note of that last paragraph…words like “watch”, “study”, and “pay attention” are key. 

Sitting on your rear-end, sucking down Doritos and staring vapidly at a chili throw-down, ain’t what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about people who watch the right shows (more “Good Eats”, less “Hell’s Kitchen” please) on Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, and an increasing number non-cable channels, with a pen and notepad in hand, and then test and practice what they learn in the “lab” of their own home kitchen, treating the medium more like correspondence courses, and less like a mindless hybrid of game shows and soap operas.

Knife skills, French techniques, building on mother-sauces, deglazing, mise en place

We can take what is actually about the cooking from these shows, and winnow the gold nuggets from the falderal of high-pressure, turn-and-burn techniques designed specifically to keep you alive and cooking through a 300-cover night, and not necessarily about creating two, four, or six perfect plates of food for your family.

Another amazing resource, possibly an even better one that the cable network shows, that has helped bring about this cooking evolution are online video sources like YouTube. Here, instead of being at the mercy of a television show’s production calendar, you can actively search out short “how to” videos on specific techniques, often presented by professional chefs, on thousands of culinary subjects and recipes.

It’s like having a free, private cooking instructor in your own kitchen!

The Home Cook and the Professional Chef.

Understand this: one is not more or less than the other, or at least it doesn’t have to be.

There are those who aren’t interested in being a “home chef”, just like there are those of us who couldn’t care less about knowing how to change our own oil (sorry, Dad!) And, that’s okay. Nobody has to know how to sousvide an egg, or chiffonade parsley, or blanch a duck, to put a fresh, healthy and delicious dinner in front of their family…as long as they can do the latter, that’s all the skill anyone needs to have.

The Home Cook, and the Professional Chef are each their own animal, and now the Home Chef is an evolving hybrid of the two…someone who cooks nearer a “professional level” of quality (if not quantity) using and improving on the classic “Mom’s methods” with two-plus centuries of techniques and styles perfected by professionals.

I point out “quantity” because this is a large part of what you’re paying for at culinary school…it’s not just the techniques, it’s how to perform them on a massive scale, very very quickly, in such a way as to conserve costs and maximize profitability, the business of professional cooking…but none of which are skills required when cooking at home.

With the availability of online (or on-air) education, these are really the only factors that will separate the professional chef from the dedicated home chef of the future.

It’s an exciting time to cook in, and those of you who are willing to research study, and practice practice practice are ushering in a new age of food in the home kitchen.

You are the new home chefs!

-Chef Perry

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