How professional is professional?

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By most measurements — food quality, training, value, general competencies — Australia has one of the most developed and sophisticated commercial cookery industry sectors in the world and in some aspects we lead the way in the culinary arts.

Supporting the many impressive chef artisans who are shaping Australia as a great culinary centre, we have a number of chefs associations including the Australian Culinary Federation, Les Toques Blanches and the Académie Culinaire de France.

They run competitions, facilitate networking, offer workshops, organise social events, disseminate information through websites and newsletters, and arrange many other activities that one would expect from a professional association. They provide an immense service to the chef community; particularly so given they are operated by honorary committees.

Notwithstanding their good intentions, I suggest they all lack the most important element to make them a true professional organisation.

They do not require applicant members to document their foundation training and development, nor do they request evidence of continuous development during a set period of association for subsequent approval.

Currently the minimum qualification to join a chef’s organisation in Australia basically amounts to the ability to complete an application form and pay a fee and hope that no one in the organisation questions the application. The process usually involves a cursory committee discussion based around “who know this applicant” followed by an inevitable stamp of approval and consequent lifelong endorsement.

Isn’t it time that chef’s associations introduced rules requiring prospective members to undergo examinations or demonstrate minimum documented qualifications? Not to mention setting fixed membership terms, at the end of which proof of continuous development is required?

If associations believe they are really “professional” and claim they represent professionals, why not go down this path and review admission prerequisites?

If commercial cookery is ever going develop into a bona fide profession in every aspect –

and not continue to be just a job identified by the now meaningless term “chef” (as understood by the public to mean anyone who can follow a recipe) — chef’s organisations must consider the difficult but evolutionary road necessary to protect the future by requiring members to justify their association in a more measured, objective way.

Obviously a profound change in entry requirements will be seen as a threatening move by some who may not like the idea of being tested to prove their competence through official documentation or examination. This may apply particularly to those who wish to hide behind the obsolete term ‘chef’, because they believe it has some professional connotations for a respected artisan.

If the current chef’s organisations in Australia are politically unwilling to take this challenging move to create minimum standards of association, I suggest and hope it will not be long before a new organisation arises that does so.

I would argue that members who will be lost in such a move will be replaced by the larger percentage of chefs who do not currently belong to any association and probably do not see the need because there is no chef’s organisation in Australia that demands and enforces entry levels, enforces codes of practice  and continued professional growth.

To add your own opinion to this article, please join the Salonculinaire.com group at LinkedIn where you can place your comments

George Hill 08:31, 26 September 2011 (EST)

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