Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Chef of the Year cooking contest, a competition among the best chefs of Compass Group in the UK. The cooking performance of our colleagues from across the Channel was out of this world. In the morning, the junior chefs entered the cooking arena; in the afternoon, it was the seniors’ turn. Many spectators closely watched the old hands of the trade. The juniors attracted less interest, which was a shame, for the high level these juniors brought to bear was quite remarkable. I saw diffident boys and girls, hardly in their twenties, in a chef’s jacket over skinny jeans and sneakers, creating the most fantastic delicacies.
On the previous day, I had spoken with several renowned chefs. They were slightly upset and told me how different the present-day training and career path of chefs are from their own in the old days. Back then, a cook had to go through all parties (as the sections in the kitchen are called) before he could become a sous-chef de cuisine, and then it took another many years of gaining additional experience to become a chef.
A new generation of cooks has emerged that is very active and wants to reach the top faster. These cooks aim at being able to cook on a high level in a short term. New techniques have been introduced in the culinary world, and with all those powders, foamers, edible flowers and design crockery a fancy plate is dressed in a jiffy.
I have to admit there is some truth in what my colleagues say. Sometimes, I also have my doubts about all this laboured stuff on a plate, and then I think: “They could do with some basic knowledge about how to prepare a product really well.”
On the other hand, I can see a trend of mostly young cooks who are less technique-driven and more product-driven. For them the product is central; they create the ultimate palette of flavours that makes the ingredients really stand out to perfection. This is cooking with the heart rather than with the head. There is no denying it: the young chefs make the most fantastic dishes in this way.
So should we discard these old specialists? Far from it, for young and creative may also mean whimsical and less constant. It is precisely the combination of experience, technical craftsmanship and youthful creativity and uninhibitedness that make up the ideal mix for a team to achieve the best end result. We should provide all our restaurants with young, passionate, and elder, experienced culinary people. Imagine the culinary feats this would yield! In this respect, we really have made some headway. This is definitely a positive development, and I, as one of the old hands, am very enthusiastic about it.