Anne McBride Discusses the Changing Role of the Chef


By Nicole Di Tomasso

TORONTO — During this year’s Terroir Symposium, held over two weeks (Nov. 8 to 10 and 15 to 17), Anne McBride, vice-president of Programs at the James Beard Foundation, spoke with Arlene Stein, founder and executive director of the Terroir Symposium, about the changing role of the chef in the restaurant industry.

McBride broke down the role of a chef into three phases, historically. In the first phase (1970s), the chef emerges as an entrepreneur, stepping away from the kitchen and entering into the dining-room to interact with customers. In the second phase (early 2000s), the chef becomes an entertainer and holds a lot of influence. In the final phase (last 10 to 15 years), the chef emerges as an expert on sustainability, nutrition, wellness and flavours. McBride went on to contemplate whether the COVID-19 pandemic has created a fourth phase in this life cycle.

“At the moment, we’re seeing chefs functioning as business and community leaders,” says McBride. “Chefs are a source of jobs, comfort and normalcy.”

With regard to the current staffing crisis, McBride was optimistic about people returning to the industry. However, she stressed that people will only return if the structure changes. Chef owners must be willing to address issues around wages, benefits, working conditions and other important variables.

“Those are the friction points that existed before the pandemic, and they completely exploded when we went into lockdown and businesses closed,” said McBride. “As the industry becomes more sustainable from an economic and social perspective, chefs can begin making a real living in the hospitality space and view it as a career path.”

While many restaurants and organizations are trying to push for a better industry, McBride said that diners also have a role to play, especially at fine-dining establishments.

“Some wealthy patrons continue to go to restaurants and don’t care about anything other than the food on their plate,” said McBride. There’s a bit of education that has to happen there and a lot of social pressure. Diners should think about who they’re supporting and what kind of business they’re supporting.”

McBride advised chef/owners who attended the conference to re-think how they are treating, hiring and retaining employees to create a more sustainable system moving forward. 

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