Do Chefs Cross The Line From Confident To Arrogant?

The general perception of chefs is that we are a supremely confident bunch. A select group of people that seem to believe we are always correct and willing to verbally lash anyone who dares to disagree with us. Does this cross the line into arrogance?

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. It is no wonder then that a chef’s confidence can lead the public to wonder, why are chefs so arrogant?

In my experience, chefs are very confident individuals, which can come across as arrogant at times. However, outside of the kitchen environment I have found chefs to be a generally reclusive and quiet bunch, happy to spend their time absorbed in food.

The real question is, is this my assessment a fair one of chefs? I am obviously going to be biased to defend our industry!

It goes without saying that we cannot stereotype everyone that is out there working in kitchens. There are different personality types, the same as we find in all parts of the world. This article is a light hearted look to answer a question that really depends on the individual in question.

Having spent many years working in kitchens, I know from first hand experience that most chefs certainly carry themselves in a manor that could be seen as arrogant.

In this article I will use my own experience, to look at and answer this difficult question (that in itself felt like a slightly arrogant sentence to type!)

Are Chefs Arrogant Or Confident?

As a chef my rebuttal to anyone who called me arrogant would be to reply that I am simply confident. I was certainly not like this before entering a kitchen so what happens during the early commis chef years that gives a chef so much self-assurance?

  • Confidence is seen by many to be an admirable trait. Men and women who exude confidence are often more successful in their careers, more successful at attracting a mate and ultimately seem pretty happy.
  • Arrogance on the other hand is not a desirable trait. It is an accusation we can direct at people who overstep the mark, who get to big-for-their-boots as it where.

In my experience, most chefs fall into the confident bracket.

Kitchens are tough environments to work in. When we begin our careers as fresh faced commis chefs the learning curve is steep and tough.

I had many times as a trainee chef when I would return home dejected from an especially tough day. At first the pressure can seem overwhelming; eventually though you learn to cope and thrive in this environment.

The sink or swim mentality may sound harsh, but by the teamwork that exists, we learn to adapt to the high pressure environment. In that process of adapting, our personalities and self-esteem begins to change.

Most beginners enter the kitchen humble and possibly a little shy. They quickly realise that the heat and noise makes communicating in a quiet manor pretty difficult. This results in voices being raised and an aggressive tone to the voice being adopted in order to fit in.

When every other adjective seems to be a swear word, maintaining a grip on the reality of the sensible world outside of the kitchen is challenging. As such we begin to become institutionalised to the chef way of life.

It becomes perfectly normal to use the C word in all its forms to describe everything from the good to the bad. This is all part of leaving the non chef side of our personality at home. Most chefs don’t go dropping the C bomb at home I can assure you!

Language has been known to create team bonds and atmospheres for many years. The meekest people that enter kitchens soon learn to speak and act this way to fit in, and it’s also good fun. Even if we do not have the confidence to begin with we certainly learn to fake it till we make it.

It is the confidence we gain alongside the us against them atmosphere that keeps a chef addicted to the kitchen.

Becoming A Chef Gives Young People A Chance In Life

Kitchens are renowned for taking young people who have not had the best start in life and turning them into confident young men and women.

Gordon Ramsay is a great example of how a kitchen can save someone who has had a difficult start and put them on the right path. In his autobiography Chef Ramsay makes mention of the fact that his brother is a heroin addict struggling with life.

In contrast, being a chef has had a huge impact on the fortunes and character of Gordon Ramsay. I’m not suggesting it is the sole reason for his success but having a direction and focus in the kitchen is certainly beneficial.

Being a chef gives people a sense of belonging. In a kitchen we become part of a cult. No matter what has happened to us, we now have a place to belong and a team we can trust.

How can you not gain in confidence when we spend all day surrounding ourselves with like minded people? If we can confidently cook during service we are part of the team.

As a part of the team we get invited on nights out, take part in the pranks and get a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging and purpose is something we all crave, especially in our early years.

We’ve spoke a lot about team atmosphere as this is so important in my opinion on why chefs gain so much confidence. The other reason is the fact that our cooking becomes a lot better! A high value is placed on the ability to cook great food under enormous pressure.

Do Chefs Love Their Own Cooking?

Do chefs really believe that their own cooking is so amazing? That no one else has the palette and the attention to detail they have?

In my experience chefs enjoy their own cooking and have a lot of confidence in their own ability. However, this comes alongside an enormous amount of respect for our fellow professionals and what other chefs in the industry are achieving.

Occasionally we come across chefs who’s option of their own cooking is higher than average. In my experience this can go two different ways:

  • Some go on to great things, becoming head chefs of great restaurants (for those who’s confidence is backed up by genuine ability)
  • Some struggle to fit in. So determined are they to demonstrate what an amazing chef they are, they risk alienating those around them. (for those who’s confidence doesn’t quite have the ability to back it up)

My advice to any newcomers would be to maintain a quiet confidence. Self-esteem is hugely important but if we go around loudly declaring how great we are then people are less likely to take us seriously and want to help us!

Why Are Chefs So Confident?

We see confidence built through struggles in other areas of life. The armed forces are an example of an organisation that recognise by making training tough you can build up new recruits the way you want.

Young people enter the armed forces and in no time at all they gain in stature. When visiting home they have a new straighter back and a more positive outlook on life.

Of course, I am not suggesting that being a chef is in anyway as difficult as joining the armed forces; the dangers of enemy fire must be a lot more severe than the pressure of a soufflé not rising!

However, on some level there is a similar theme of learning and growing through hardship. By the time a chef has finished their two year commis training, with the inevitable challenges and shouting chefs along the way, they are a far more confident individual. 

This confidence could come across as arrogance. But the reason it is not arrogance (in my opinion, for what it’s worth) is that this confidence often doesn’t extend past the walls of the kitchen.

Many chefs choose to spend their free time with their work colleagues as they struggle to function in mainstream society. The kitchen almost becomes a safety blanket, where we can be a more confident, better version of ourselves.

Chefs often find normal social situations difficult, and the idea of being a part of the regular 9-5 is something that they choose not to partake in.

I can completely understand why chefs appears arrogant, especially with the T.V images that are often portrayed. However, when you see a chef in the wild away from the comfort of the kitchen, you will see a different type of person.

What can come across as arrogance is often a show put on whilst at work, it is all part of the job.

Other professionals have to play a part whilst at work. Teachers, doctors, accountants, the list goes on, all have other sides to their personalities that are not on display during working hours, the same is true of chefs.

Dave Nicholas

Having spent around 10 years working as a qualified chef in high end restaurants, my mission is to use this experience to help others as they begin their career in catering!

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