Is This The Difference Between a Cook and a Chef?

Is This The Difference Between a Cook and a Chef? - Chef Works


Author: Chef Perry  

“A great chef is the peculiar gift of the gods. He must be a perfect creature from the brain to the palate, from the palate to the finger’s end.” – Walter Savage Landor

To tackle the age-old question "What is the difference between a cook and a chef?" I’ve recently had cause to research the word “chef”, but before I get all preachy, please understand…I don’t care.

Yes, I have an opinion, but I’m not fighting for one side only here. Call yourself whatever you want to call yourself, as long as you can back it up on the line.

I think that if your definition of “chef” means someone who can satisfy and impress your customer, you’re golden.

But…can you only call yourself a Chef, if you have a degree from a culinary institute?

My opinion: No.

CHef pouring sauce on a dessert

My grandfather was a professional chef in many kitchens, including the opening of Timberline Lodge, cooking for President Theodore Roosevelt in the U.S. Still, he never went to school for it.

My father did have a chef’s degree, but he ran kitchens for MANY years before he decided to go to school for it.

Me? I started as a porter, the usual starting position in the restaurants of the 17th and 18th century, emptying garbage, mopping floors, prepping for the chefs, working my way up the brigade de cuisine and finally cooking in our family’s restaurants, before attending culinary school.

Still, most of what I learned was in my dad’s kitchen, as he did in HIS dad’s kitchen.

It wasn’t easy, but believe me, I learned.

However, I don’t have a degree for it, yet I’ve spent 30 years learning the business and working my way up the line.

So What Is The Difference Between a Cook and a Chef?

Here’s the dictionary definition for the word chef:

chef [shef] –noun

1. the chief cook, especially in a restaurant or hotel, usually responsible for planning menus, ordering foodstuffs, overseeing food preparation, and supervising the kitchen staff.

2. any cook.

1826, from Fr. chef de cuisine, lit. “head of the kitchen,” from O.Fr. chief “leader, ruler, head” (see chief).

Chef garnishing a dish
Chef with fire wok

I noted the words “especially” and “usually” in the first definition, as they seem to leave an awful lot of wiggle room, and the second definition even more so. Still, it seems to me that the maximum requirements would include some or all of the following:

  1. Menu planning
  2. Food ordering (shopping)
  3. Food prep and/or the overseeing of food prep
  4. The supervision of kitchen staff, if any

I don’t see any requirements for having a degree.

Here’s a great comment I found from a fantastic chef, that looks at the title differently:

“A ‘cook’ is someone who has a good mastery of basic cooking/kitchen techniques and can follow a recipe and turn out really good food.

A ‘chef’ takes cooking to the next level by creating new dishes, new combinations of flavours, etc. Kind of like the difference between someone who can read music and play an instrument vs. a composer.”

Chef chopping vegetables

While I didn’t get a formal education myself, I still think there is validity in programs like those offered at Le Cordon Bleu. If it was good enough for Julia, it’s good enough for me.

I just hesitate at the suggestion that you can’t be a chef unless you’ve been to culinary school. Especially when there are many, many fantastic cooks out there, running the kitchens in some great restaurants, who’s entire culinary education started at the dish-washing station.

For me, maybe the real question is: Is anyone else calling me chef?

So, what makes a “chef”?

I say, not only the desire but the ability to do the job.

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Comments (1)

Cook V Chef

9 March 2020
A Cooks burns food...……….. a Chef Caramelises

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