The usage of the C-word is growing rapidly, becoming more and more acceptable in everyday conversation.
Recent studies have been inconclusive, however, it is estimated that the C-word is used in more conversations than ever before. One professional industry—notorious for its vulgarity—is protecting the sanctity of the English language. That industry is the restaurant industry.
Here are some occasions that it’s okay to use the C-word:
If you are a culinary student, and your chef instructor gives you an order or command, you should respond, with as little sarcasm as possible, “yes, Chef so-and-so.” Further, you should address that instructor as Chef so-and-so, as a prefix to his name, on every occasion. You should not, however, address your fellow students as such, nor should you refer to him as such in his absence. To address a fellow student with the C-word would be an insult to both student and the instructor.
Once you have made your way to an internship, or have found a cooking job, there will be few times in which you may use the C-word. If you arrive to work late, and your boss is blowing up in your face, it is acceptable to say to him, “I’m sorry, Chef.” Be warned, however, that this may cause an undesired result, and depends entirely on the tone that you have used. For instance, if your tone is apologetic, your boss will likely allow the slur to go without rebuke. If your tone is sarcastic, or if you mistakenly overemphasize the C-word, you are likely to be reprimanded further. In this case, it is best to omit the C-word, unless you have noticed on a prior occasion that your boss is inclined to use the C-word to describe himself.
If your boss touts the C-word around like a badge of honor, or a like a Hall-Monitor’s sash, then you can feed his bloated ego by following the same procedure as in the first example, of the culinary student. If this is the case, as before, you should prefix his name with the C-word. Further, you may entirely omit his given name, and refer to him in all conversation as, simply, Chef. This will show him you think he is not only master of his domain, but that he is the only person deserving of the title, and that all others must have a suffix. This will elevate you in his esteem.
If your son is a culinary student, or intern, or beginning a career in the restaurant business, it is acceptable to tell someone, “So-and-so is training to be a chef.” You should not, however, brag that so-and-so is a chef. This is a case where the C-word is most offensive. Refer to the end of the culinary student paragraph, in this case.
If your boss is unavailable, and a guest would like to speak “to the Chef,” you will be put in a tricky position. You are awkward and unpracticed in guest relations, and so you must be very cautious when you go to the table. First of all, you should have a cigarette to calm your nerves, then you should change your uniform. You should wash your hands, and stall, and complain to everyone else in the kitchen that someone wants to talk to you. You should always assume the guests dislike their meal, and be surprised and flattered when they compliment you.
The best way to approach the table is to allow them to make the assumption that you are The Chef, and not allow that to come into the conversation. Try something like this, “Hello, folks, how are you this evening? I understand you have some questions about your meal?” Using this generic, straight-to-the-point technique narrows the chances of either you addressing yourself accidentally as The Chef, or the customer questioning your title.
They may press the issue, and demand you use the C-word; you must be deliberate. If they say, “Are you The Chef?” Your best reply, again, is vague and generic, “I prepared your meal, how well did you enjoy it?” This technique takes their attention back to the meal, and begins the conversation in a positive light. They may insist, because they are obsessed with the C-word, but you must stand your ground. Here you must refer to yourself as The Cook, or you can tell them The Chef is not in the building, if your building even has a chef. If it gets to this point, you have lost the battle, but they will still brag to their friends that The Chef came out to say hello to them, because they are important.
Another occasion where the use of the C-word is acceptable is in the writing of a Professional Resume. Be careful not to exaggerate your title, though. For instance, if you are a Pastry Chef, you should say so. However, if you open boxes of pre-made doughnuts and deep fry them, you should use the title Doughnut Maker. Remember, there is no such thing as a “line-chef.” You are a line cook, and should be proud of that. There are also no Garde Manger Chefs. There are Garde Manger Cooks. Or, cold-side cooks, or pantry cooks, or prep cooks, but never Prep Chef; fry cook, not Fry Chef. So you see, inappropriate usage of the C-word on a resume makes you seem pretentious to employers, and there is very little fooling a kitchen crew when you work your first busy night—you will be found out. It is best to use the understated wording of your title.
Finally, the C-word must be protected, so remember there are no chefs working in fast food or corporate chain restaurants. There may be former chefs, but the best description for a fast food worker isn’t even “cook.” KFC ran an advertising campaign, telling people they had “at least one certified cook in every restaurant.” How does one become a certified cook? Good question, good question indeed.