Late Spring, 2003
"Chef" is what they call the position in Ireland.
In America, we would differentiate between the terms "chef" and "cook." But in Ireland, you're a chef the moment you step into the kitchen, dressed like that. (And you have to be dressed like that. "Chef's whites" a white [or black] jacket and checked black-and-white pants, or a variation.)
The difference in terminology is more than incidental. Without a distinction between "cook" and "chef," the job applicant faces a lot of expectation about his or her qualifications and God help us certification. As a chef, of course, you are expected to know things. What I know about food is not enough to fill a brief pamphlet; but that does not make me a bad cook. I can replicate a menu efficiently if I can tolerate the environment, and with good instruction. That doesn't make me a chef. That makes me a cook, in the right circumstances.
A chef, to me, is something different. I know chefs, and I defer to their knowledge and skill.
The "catering" or food-service industry in Ireland is strange. It is young nobody used to go out, because nobody had money. A generation ago, there were no chefs, no kitchens no restaurants. Now, there is an industry. And that industry is fairly well codified certain standards assumed universal. There are typical menu items, for example, that any chef tends to know about, and tends to associate a similar familiarity with one's level of skill.
If you didn't know about various curries for example, among other "essential" items that would seem very strange to an Irish chef; he or she would likely assume that you were unable to prepare food. There is a "canon" of Irish finer-restaurant cuisine, a jargon, a lingo. The typical Irish [head-]chef will assume its knowledge.
This tendency to expect a particular set of knowledge is not limited to informal assumption. It is traditional and still quite normal for the restaurant management to seek and require a "certified chef." A certified chef has attended schooling for a full four years and has passed exams on standards of knowledge and ability.
Naturally, four years of schooling, whatever its value, does not fully prepare a poor bastard for the actual environment of a working kitchen, where food is often slammed out in a flurry of activity that can twist even the steadiest mind.
Nor is most of an evening's work the sort that you'd need a lot of knowledge for a lot of the job is replication, production skills, organization... and a cool head under pressure.
But no matter; the Irish kitchen management seem to like their certification; and the chefs appear to be stuck thinking that you're either a real chef, and useful, or not a chef and useless.
Spring 2003, Kilkenny