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Is everyone a "chef" now?

Sir Gawain Jul 19, 2005 03:19 PM

I am intrigued by the gradual disappearance of the noun "cook" from general usage, esp. in written language.

I can't even count the times when I read an obituary of someone who liked to cook for his friends and family and the obit called him/her "an enthusiastic chef".

I've always thought that "chef" meant a professional in charge of a whole kitchen that employs other cooks. ("Chef" means "boss" in some languages.)

But now, cookbooks and magazines refer to the "home chef", "amateur chef", everyone's a chef these days. Your grandma would be one too. I am not trying to start a general whinefest about the decline of linguistic skills, manners and general culture in the US, but how do *you* use the words chef and cook?

I'm most definitely a cook, and not a very good one at that. Never aspired to chefness.

  1. d
    Deenso Jul 19, 2005 03:37 PM

    I agree with your definition. If you're not doing it professionally, you're a cook, no matter how accomplished.

    A person in charge of a professional kitchen is a chef and, with the exception of the sous chef or pastry chef, I believe the kitchen staff are also cooks.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Deenso
      beevod Jul 19, 2005 03:42 PM

      When applied to amateurs, it's pretentious. One shouldn't call oneself "chef" until one's arms have no fewer than five burn scars.

      1. re: beevod
        Kimm Jul 19, 2005 04:27 PM

        "One shouldn't call oneself "chef" until one's arms have no fewer than five burn scars."

        Yay! And all this time I've just been calling myself "klutz".

        1. re: beevod
          MikeG Jul 21, 2005 09:58 AM

          One shouldn't call oneself a chef until one is in charge of a kitchen. One sort of hopes that most people are in charge of themselves (contrary to evidence in many cases), so that doesn't really count, nor does it count if you tell your children to get you the milk out of the refrigerator.LOL

          I'm inclined to agree with the poster who talked about the "glamorization" of titles in general - it's a by now time honored American tradition. It's bad enough when others do it, but I find it laughable when new line, cook cooking school graduates call themselves "chefs" - if they haven't learned that in cooking school, one wonders what they HAVE learned!

          1. re: MikeG
            dano Jul 21, 2005 10:51 AM

            Amen. Seems like most grads have some delusion that they are now chefs because they finished culinary school.

            I tend to blame it more on tv giving these folks a false idea. Always amusing to watch em crumble on a saturday nite getting "slammed" on pantry...yeah i'm crusty.

          2. re: beevod
            MM Jul 22, 2005 10:18 AM

            Hey, my POV is: if you're making me food, call yourself whatever you want ; )

          3. re: Deenso
            rebs Jul 19, 2005 10:43 PM

            yes, the chef is the one in charge. in the restaurant industry it's a great sign of respect and accomplishment when people refer to you as "chef" rather than calling you by your first name. chefs have gone through years of paying their dues as line cooks and sous chefs to get to the level of "chef".

            i remember introducing myself to a coworker at a new restaurant job and asking "you're one of the chefs right?" and he replied a little wide eyed "nooooo, i'm a cook." there's a big difference.

            i agree that if you just cook at home, your a cook. and non-professionals who have convinced themselves that they are great chefs usually are terrible cooks.

          4. g
            Gary Soup Jul 19, 2005 04:28 PM

            I can't get exercised about how it's applied to hobby cooks. If you're the chef de cuisine in your own home, you're a "chef."

            Link: http://eatingchinese.org

            1. f
              Fydeaux Jul 19, 2005 05:30 PM

              I listen to KBON out of Eunice, LA on the web a lot. One of their regular advertisers proudly boasts that their kitchen is staffed by the best Cajun cooks--NOT chefs--in the area!

              Link: http://www.kbon.com/

              1. c
                Carb Lover Jul 19, 2005 06:23 PM

                Blame it on "The Pampered Chef" folks. ;-)

                I don't have strong feelings about this, but I will say that, as someone who is the primary person whipping up food in my kitchen, I prefer the term "cook" to describe myself. Chef sounds pretentious and weird when it's not my profession and I never had professional training. It also has a more sterile connotation to me anyway. Cook is more like kook, which makes cooking/kooking sound fun.

                I would rather be lumped in w/ the grandmother cooks of the world than any of the lauded big name chefs. When a chef off-handedly refers to him/herself as a "cook", I admit that wins some points w/ me.

                1. l
                  Leper Jul 19, 2005 06:25 PM

                  Sir Gawain, The difference between a Chef and a Cook was defined for me years ago by Ken Beasley--an extremely short tempered, irritable retrobate that owned his own BBQ shack. (Which offered terrific BBQ, great steaks and occasionally exceptional Cajun fare.) Ken said a Chef is one that cooks with recipes, a Cook is someone that actually knows how to cook and doesn't need a recipe. At the time he spoke with enough conviction that I never questioned his reasoning or his approach to BBQ.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Leper
                    Bob Martinez Jul 20, 2005 10:07 AM

                    "retrobate" - someone who's really pissed off about the 1960s.

                  2. d
                    dano Jul 20, 2005 10:22 AM

                    As one of my mentors told me years ago "Chef is a big word". I call myself a cook, even though my resume says Executive Chef, Chef d' Hotel, etc...My ego ain't big enough to allow me to run around town in my whites loudly proclaiming i'm a chef to any who will listen.

                    1. k
                      KenOnDean Jul 20, 2005 06:59 PM

                      It's all marketing . . . how can they make someone seem more important than they really are.

                      As far as home cooks, my mother would never refer to herself as Chef, but she was DEFINITELY boss of the kitchen.

                      In restaurants I think it is a sloppy fusion of American and French kitchens. There are many people with the title of Chef in French kitchens, not just the obvious ones but each station would have a "Chef de partie", (saucier, poissionier etc.) with cooks under them - it dosen't really translate to the way most kitchens are run here but many cooks want to sound cool - sort of the way many cooks will answer a Chef "oui!!!" (when no one in the kitchen is French).

                      1. s
                        suzannapilaf Jul 20, 2005 07:21 PM

                        Really, it just means "chief" in command of the kitchen. PBS did an American Masters show on Alice Waters in which she says she doesn't consider herself a chef, just a good home cook. Jacques Pepin kind of snorts indignantly and says it doesn't matter if she thinks that because as long as she is telling her cooks I want this ingredient, or that presentation, setting the menu, etc, then like it or not she's the chef.

                        1. m
                          msavvywa Jul 23, 2005 08:48 PM

                          Yeah, it is silly. We Americans get so frelling riled up about being an expert. Thanks to reality TV, we're more than armchair quarterbacks these days. I agree with the poster who said, "chef is a big word." But...it's no different than "sommelier" or "chef de cuisine" or "garde manger." If you look to France or fine dining, those words have definite meanings, but everday America? When people ask me if I'm a sommelier, I just say "sure." It's just a word. But to me, it's like the word chef--it's on your honor to use it. If you're going to call yourself a chef, you better be able to back it up. It's not just for the people who think, "but I can cook and bake real good."

                          Link: http://tarandviolets.typepad.com/the_...

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