Iron chef, top chef, head chef, or just plain chef are all undoubtedly from the same breed. From the start of my journey in my culinary/hospitality career, I have worked with many chefs from all walks of life and many from paths unknown. Over the years I have seen the changing face on how chefs are becoming rising stars here in the USA. It’s now not just the formally trained “star” chefs, but also the not-so-formal chefs, being show-cased on nationally rated TV shows like “Top Chef” and “Chopped.”
The French have always held top chefs as historical figures of great accomplishments to their culinary art. Now the USA seems to be following in their footsteps with great pride for the multicultural and diverse chefs that are paving new grounds in the culinary world. Even the French have noticed the great talent chefs in the USA are offering; in 2015 the USA placed Silver at Bocuse d’Or in Lyon France with team leader Chef Philip Tessier.
The platform for what a great chef is today has changed over the last 20 years in America and it will continue to change. Some chefs are stars overnight, while many spend years in the dark waiting for the right moment to shine. Timing can play a major factor, as people are at times not ready for some chefs’ vision. American Chef Roy Choi illustrates a great example of this. In 2010, Food & Wine awarded Choi with the title of best new chef, after he started the LA food truck movement with his award winning Korean taco truck, Kogi, in the 2000s. Even in as late as the 90s, a Korean taco truck would have never been awarded a winning title, but in 2000 with public pallets evolving, Choi’s timing was spot on. While Choi had the background of being CIA trained along with years of experience as Chef de Cuisine at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, had his timing not been right he may have never received the recognition he deserved.
Other chefs, such as the young and talented Chef Michael Voltaggio, are now becoming stars by winning reality TV competitions shows such as “Top Chef,” receiving praise from award winning Chef Tom Colicchio. While Voltaggio did not attend a traditional culinary school, he had a long apprenticeship honing and refining his skills, illuminating that not all chefs need to take the traditional path to success.
Overall, the key to being a great chef is your ability to overcome speed bumps and always educate yourself on new techniques and refine the ones you already have. Top chefs are born, not made in my opinion. You wouldn’t go to art school to learn how to draw, you would go to art school to become an Artist; the same rule applies to becoming a Chef.