Chef Bravado: Balancing Confidence and Ego

Chef ego is legendary. With every compliment of how great last night’s veal cheeks were or how that amazing crayfish bisque was “to die for,” heads can get a bit inflated — and if you aren’t careful, can lead to intolerable arrogance. At the same time, skill breeds confidence worthy of touting. What is the balance between chef confidence and chef ego, and how do you make the most out of both?

Confidence as a Marketing Tool

Spirited teamwork, bonding, and the exchange of ideas are all part of the reputation of a kitchen, across operations and a professional responsibility. Still, a restaurant will also be identified with the chef behind it, if the chef is worthy of such acclaim. Is cockiness a colorful flourish that defines the contemporary chef and adds to the restaurant’s attraction? Does being in charge make a chef? If you have the confidence and skills to back up  your restaurant, use it to your advantage.

Chef Bravado and Restaurant Volume: Does Size Matter?

The bravado of puffing out one’s chest is great for marketing. But if a chef is mastering the helm of a large hotel kitchen, for instance, but uses mostly prefabricated, frozen entrées with subordinates of unskilled laboring, is he a chef?

On the other hand, what about the grease-covered vixen sporting jeans, Vans, a vulgar reference on an equally grease-covered T-shirt who slings serious burgers of freshly ground brisket, chuck, and short rib on buttery rolls with an array of craft toppings? The burger place could — and should— market on the handiwork of their kitchen talent. At the same time, the high-volume of Big Shiny Hotel, Inc., may do the same. Whether chefs are alike or cut from a different apron, we should encourage camaraderie instead of shifty leers.

Tenacity vs. Conceit

Chef James Quinn, kitchen veteran and owner of Behind Aprons, says, “High volume definitely does inflate a lot of egos, and rightfully so. But if the quality isn’t there, then I don’t know.”  

The dreaded “Q” word is as elusive as defining chef. Quality is so subjective that it is a fool’s feat to even try concretely define it. Instead, business — or a lack thereof — is usually an effective barometer of kitchen quality. And, maybe, chef pride can work to limit the measure of low-quality work being dumped on plates.

Camaraderie and Ego

Is there integrity dictating the motion of the kitchen, or is there merely empty gestures of slapping food on plates?

Quinn adds, “A chef should be a great leader. They should motivate others to learn and better themselves. They should have a wide knowledge of the industry and know how to handle any situation.”

That type of leadership can spill into the marketing of the restaurant, putting a face to the glow that emirates from behind the kitchen doors.

Valencia College culinary arts student, Aja Newkirk, offers an academic approach: “To me, the title chef is based on skill level, knowledge and experience; all three combined, not a degree.”

As the lights dim on the day, drinks can be spilled and shared over successes, experiences and moments worthy of touting with other kitchen hooligans. The size of the dog in the kitchen battle may not be as important as the size of the battle in the kitchen mutt.