Research Proposal: Excellence in the Culinary Arts

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Excellence

Achieving Excellence in the Culinary Arts

Two cooks working side by side in a kitchen, even doing the exact same tasks, might have very different perspectives on their work. One, perhaps, is focused on the necessities of continuing to work: there is a family to support, bills to pay, a future to plan for, etc. These concerns are, of course, very real and entirely valid, and they are the reasons that most people drag themselves out of bed everyday and head off to their various jobs with an eye on a retirement date that seems so distant (and so much more so currently). There is nothing inherently wrong with this situation; though perhaps somewhat depressing it represents the realities of modern society the way it has been constructed, and as long as this cook continues to perform his or her duties well the system works fine fore everyone. It is the perspective of that second cook, however, that is of true interest.

This second hypothetical cook sees his or her work not as simply part of a job, but as the essential tasks of his or her profession. The difference between a job and a profession is the degree of commitment, dedication, and pride that one takes in their work. This second cook almost certainly has to worry about the same real-world issues of bills and the future as the first cook, but this is not is or her primary focus -- the work at hand is. This cook is striving for excellence and growth, and is not merely accomplishing his or her tasks in order to earn a paycheck. This spirit is what marks the difference between adequate or even good and true excellence in the performance of work. It marks the difference between one who does their job in order to enjoy the rest of their life as much as possible, and one who does the same job because it truly brings joy into their life.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines excellence as "The state or fact of excelling; the possession chiefly of good qualities in an eminent or unusual degree; surpassing merit, skill, virtue, worth, etc.; dignity, eminence" (OED). The last two grouping of word are especially important when defining excellence in the culinary arts. Merit, virtue, and worth all speak to the level of commitment that a true professionalism in the culinary world brings to the table. This commitment and virtue does not allow the excellent chef to send out a merely passable plate of food, but rather ensures that all work will be done to the highest standards, despite or even because of any extra effort. The dignity and eminence with which this is carried out reflect the level of professionalism that a true culinary artists has in the kitchen; a kitchen might not remain calm, but it remains in control, and tasks are carried out with a grace and a single-minded dedication to professional standards.

This ultimately comes down to the character of the individual who is striving for excellence. The term "strong character" is often used but rarely defined; in this context, it can be taken to mean someone who is willing to let their work speak for themselves. Few people consider themselves to be mediocre people, yet they are wiling to deliver mediocre products and services as a part of their job. Someone of strong character stands by their products, owning their mistakes and their successes with equal certainty. This also relates to integrity and responsibility, which are also necessary traits for a practitioner of the culinary arts.

An individual who aims for excellence in a restaurant kitchen must also understand and become a part of the dynamic in such an environment. Here, the twin concepts of leadership and loyalty are key. In an interview with Star Chef Magazine, executive chef Todd English said, "I liked the energy, the action, the camaraderie… I often compare the kitchen to sports and compare the chef to a coach. There are a lot of similarities to it" (Star Chef par. 2). This comparison is apt on many levels; not only does it directly reference the camaraderie that exists in a successful kitchen, but it places the chef in a position (coach) that is entirely dependent on the actions of his or her team for overall success. Being a chef demands loyalty to the other workers in the kitchen, and a sense of leadership that remains decisive while not stepping into the realm of authoritarianism. It is essential to treat the members of a kitchen staff as a team, for that is exactly what they are. The in-fighting and arrogant displays of control and decision-making popularized by some television chefs are not a sign of excellence, but rather detract from it.

Consistency is also an important element for a chef in numerous ways. In order to maintain a team that works well, there must be consistency of expectations, standards, and behaviors. In order to please the customer, there must be a consistency in the quality of the ingredients used and in the plates allowed to leave the kitchen. Most importantly, however, there must be a consistency in the quality of work that the chef demands from him- or herself and from the team. Not all culinary creations will be as good as others, but the level of commitment brought to the work must remain the same. Finally, originality, creativity, and innovation will lead to a level of distinction in the culinary arts, but only if it is accompanied by this dedication and commitment to consistent quality.

To pursue a career as an executive chef, one must first be willing to put in the years of study, training, and apprenticeship that are necessary to work one's way up to this position and prominence. These years will be consumed with time spent in kitchens, if the practitioner is serious enough about their goal. Even information regarding academic training programs at the top schools implies or explicitly points out the packed schedule of classes and kitchen experience, often as an intern in a running restaurant while still in school, that one can expect as a part of their training (Le Cordon Bleu; CIA). The pursuit of excellence does not leave a lot of time for outside endeavors in its early years, and possibly even later in life. This is what causes the true separation between a job and a profession -- the latter requires a dedication of one's life to its pursuit.

In the culinary arts training program at Le Cordon Bleu, a name that has long been synonymous with excellence in the art of cooking, students will be exposed to classical as well as region cooking styles. Instruction begins with all of the basic techniques and including large amounts of time in the kitchen gaining practical experience as skills are learned the only way they real can be -- knife in hand, and ready to chop, slice, butcher, and spice (Le Cordon Bleu). Job placement assistance is also a common feature of most culinary arts training programs, and often professional relationships can be built through unpaid and paid internships that occur both during enrollment in the program and after graduation (ECO). In this way, attendance at a well-established culinary arts training program provides both the foundational skills and the first steps towards becoming a professional chef.

Though this assignment has solidified and clarified many of my views regarding what is required in order to achieve professional excellence in the culinary arts, it has not really cause a major shift in my perspective. I have already developed a very dedicated attitude towards pursuing my educational and career goals, and know (at least in theory) the amount of time that this will take, both in terms of the years… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Excellence in the Culinary Arts.  (2009, October 8).  Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/excellence-culinary-arts/10953

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"Excellence in the Culinary Arts."  Essaytown.com.  October 8, 2009.  Accessed May 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/excellence-culinary-arts/10953.