Marcella Hazan Really Doesn't Like it When Plebeians Call Themselves 'Chefs'

Marcella Hazan, in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, was distressed (semantically) when her hairdresser referred to her electrician husband as a "chef":

“Chef” has pretty much replaced “gourmet cook” to describe anyone who cooks well. How many times over the last few days, for instance, did you hear it used to refer to the person who prepared a Thanksgiving meal?

I must confess that the growing use of the word bothers me.

For starters, “chef” is a job description — a chef is someone who cooks professionally, usually in command of a restaurant’s kitchen brigade, and depending on the brigade’s size, he or she might not even be doing any of the actual cooking.

But I’m troubled by the word for another reason, one that goes beyond the precision of language and gets to the heart of how we experience food.

When my family and I ate out in the Italy of my youth and early decades of my marriage, we would look for any plain trattoria where we could find the kind of cooking that was closest to what my mother and father were putting on the table at home. The person making the meal may have been the owner or his wife or his mother, or someone working in total anonymity. He or she was never referred to as the chef, but as il cuoco or la cuoca, the cook.

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