Paul Rifkin vents on faux chefs

23 November, 2017 by
Paul Rifkin

Campbelltown Catholic Club’s Paul Rifkin worked hard for the title of executive chef, and he’s not going to let reality TV take it away from him.

Having worked as a professional chef for 40 years, I am very proud of the title of chef and angry at it being hijacked.

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Recently, I weighed into a discussion on social media that was rubbishing TV cooking shows, with one in particular getting more attention than the others. I put up a balanced answer expressing my frustration with what was happening to the trade of cookery and I pointed out that we need to protect the trade and the profession of a chef. My concern was that it seems like any home cook could be called a ‘master chef’ by simply producing a portion of food on TV — with some assistance I’m sure.

So I posted my opinion on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. I did not expect the raw nerve I had exposed. My followers are 99 percent industry professionals, and I expected some to view, like and comment. At the time of publication, the post has 20,000 views, hundreds of comments, reposts, shares and likes. All are in support of my concerns, with most expressing their frustration with how these shows have dragged down the trade of being a qualified chef.

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You might say they have lifted the standard of produce in supermarkets, increased customer knowledge of food, driven customers to higher expectations of quality, changed farmer’s attention to better produce, raised the number of times a customer eats out each week — all in all, educated the dining public. They have made superstars of celebrity chefs and even created lucrative careers for a small number of them.

I totally agree to all of these things, however, my issue is what it has done to the career of being a chef. The numbers of apprentices are at an all-time low. Those that enter the kitchens these days, especially those who have been ‘inspired’ by modern cooking shows, do not last. They really think they can achieve greatness in a few weeks. This is the unseen damage being done to the youth, they perceive that anyone can become a master chef, read a cookbook, watch a show and boom, a chef!

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These live competition cook-offs where an amateur is purported to be close to a professional chef with 10, 20 or 30 years experience is ridiculous. What took some chefs a decade to master is trivialised as fodder for TV audiences and ratings.

Simulated real-life restaurant services are even worse. These are situations that take many years to master by career chefs. To pretend and demonstrate that an amateur can do it is an insult to the trade of cookery.

Customers are eating out more. Who is going to cook for them; TV contestants?

This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s September issue.