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Jul 19, 2005 03:19 PM

Is everyone a "chef" now?

  • s

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.

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  1. 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

      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

        "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

          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

            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

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

          3. re: Deenso

            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. 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."


            1. 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!


              1. 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. 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

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