Do You Know The Difference Between a Professional Chef and a Cook?
A chef and a cook are both professionals in the culinary industry, but they have different roles and responsibilities.
A chef is a trained and skilled professional who is responsible for creating and preparing meals in a restaurant or other food-service establishment. A chef is often the head of the kitchen, managing and overseeing other cooks and kitchen staff.
Chefs are responsible for creating menus, ordering ingredients, and ensuring that the food they prepare is of high quality and meets the standards of the establishment. They also often train and mentor other cooks, helping them to improve their skills and advance in their careers.
A cook, on the other hand, is a professional who is responsible for preparing meals in a kitchen. Cooks are typically responsible for preparing ingredients, following recipes, and cooking dishes according to the guidelines set by the chef or kitchen manager.
They may also be responsible for cleaning and maintaining their work area and equipment. While a cook is also trained in culinary skills, it may not have the same level of expertise as a chef, and less experience as well. In some situations, the cook may work under the supervision of a chef or kitchen manager and may not have the same level of autonomy or decision-making authority as a chef.
Another notable difference is the level of education, generally a chef will have higher education than a cook, with many having a culinary degree or diploma, while a cook may have completed apprenticeship or vocational training. Also, Chef tends to have more years of experience and have worked in multiple kitchens while a cook may have less experience and may have worked in a single establishment
Additionally, a chef is often seen as a creative professional who is able to come up with new and exciting dishes and menus, while a cook is more focused on the technical aspects of cooking and following established recipes and procedures.
A chef will be responsible for setting the tone of the kitchen and the menu, experimenting and developing new dishes, while a cook will be responsible for executing the menu items according to the Chef's instruction.
In a nutshell, a chef and a cook are both vital roles in the culinary industry. A chef is a more experienced, highly-skilled professional who is responsible for creating and preparing meals, managing and overseeing other kitchen staff, and setting the overall direction of the kitchen, while a cook is a skilled professional who is responsible for preparing ingredients, cooking dishes, and following established recipes and procedures.
What Makes a Cook a Cook?
Most people agree that a cook is lower-ranking than a chef, and that chefs themselves vary in rank. For example, an executive chef is the top of the line, while sous chefs, chefs de partie, and other professionals might have the right training, but are still working toward their top professional goals.
If you still aren't sure exactly what it is that makes a chef a chef, consider these qualifications:
- A two- or four-year culinary degree
- Extensive training under a chef with the goal of gaining a culinary education equal to that of a degree (also known as a culinary apprenticeship)
- Responsibilities that include a supervisory role
- The ability to create and implement menus in a restaurant setting
- Management roles in the kitchen
A cook, on the other hand, can expect to:
- Prepare food on a daily basis
- Perform kitchen duties, as needed and directed
- Clean and wash the kitchen
- Use recipes and follow someone else's menu plan
- Still be at the learning level of his or her career
There are some culinary institutions (including the American Culinary Federation) that offer designations and titles based on testing, work experience, and education.
Although many organizations and restaurants recognize these distinctions (and will boost your career accordingly), they aren't required to be a chef or to be successful in your own culinary career.
In most cases, the cook is below the chef in terms of prestige, pay, and career development. However, there are instances in which this isn't true.
Many home cooks or amateurs have skills and experience that surpass that of their chef counterparts; they simply may not make claim to the title.
Famous Cooks vs. Famous Chefs
In fact, many of the celebrity chefs we have come to know and love as a culture aren't really chefs at all. Rachael Ray and Nigella Lawson are two of the biggest names in the culinary and Hollywood world, but both women profess that they aren't trained chefs...and have never pretended to be anything other than cooks.
Self-trained, self-motivated, and never having worked in a long-term chef capacity (such as overseeing a restaurant), they are just two examples of cooks who have hit it big.
Read, Read and Read Some MoreOne of the best suggestions I have for anyone thinking of going to culinary school or just getting into the restaurant industry is to read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from professional chefs who have worked in the industry and those who have taught in culinary schools.
There are many great books available to get you started in your culinary education and I suggest you read as much as possible before making that big decision to make sure this is the right move for you. Below is just a sample of books you might be interested in checking out.
For a much more comprehensive list of books for aspiring culinary, baking and restaurant management students, I suggest checking out my post on books for future culinary students and chefs.