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What is the difference between a cook and chef?

p
polyglot Jun 6, 2010 10:21 AM

It seems to me from my reading of various books on the subject of kitchens that the chef is the guy that has less to do with the actual cooking and more energy spent on the business end of running a culinary operation and cooks are the dysfunctional and task orientated atlas' that actualize the chefs conceptualizations. What do you think?

  1. bushwickgirl Jun 6, 2010 11:36 AM

    Could be, depends; your description fits an executive chef's job more than any other position in the kitchen. The duties of the chef often depend on the size of the operation and the kitchen brigade lineup. In smaller restaurants or clubs or whatever operations, chefs often do double or triple duty, cook and manage the business end of the operation, which can include menu concept and R & D, managing labor and food costs, product procurement, scheduling, training, to name just a few responsibilities, although hopefully there's a sous chef on board to take on some of those training/actualization tasks. With so much on your chef's "plate," it's hard to find time to fit in line work. Plus, by the time you're an executive, you can figure you've got a high degree of skill and years of experience under your toque, you're older, tired, sick of burning yourself and generally deserve a break. So, the short answer, it depends.

    To answer the title of your query, however, yes, there's big difference between a cook and a chef, in many, many ways. So much more than salary.

    Why would you think cooks are dysfunctional?;-))

    3 Replies
    1. re: bushwickgirl
      p
      polyglot Jun 6, 2010 07:19 PM

      I've worked in professional kitchens for 15 years.

      1. re: polyglot
        Chemicalkinetics Jun 6, 2010 07:35 PM

        In that case, can I assume you are one of the few cooks who made it to become a chef before going all dysfunctional then? -- according to your descriptions.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics
          s
          Sal Vanilla Jun 6, 2010 08:04 PM

          There are machines... and some dreadful places with plates caked with eggs and pasta where the dishes are done by hand - sigh. Still, even with the machine, it is the dishwasher that keeps the restaurant running smoothly and happily. No forks - then people have to eat with their fingers! Then there are the piles of prep dishes and saute pans and all the other little things that keep the food going out. God bless the thankless job of the dishwasher. When he does not show up, panic ensues because the evening will be bumpy, owners cranky and everyone will be requiring an extra drink at the end of the night.

          No joke.

          I have gone out, tracked down my dishwasher at a party, drove him home and demanded he shower to sober up and then dragged him to work. Drunk DW is better than no DW or GOD FORBID Sal Vanilla DW!

    2. ipsedixit Jun 6, 2010 11:41 AM

      Salary.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ipsedixit
        n
        nvcook Jun 6, 2010 08:53 PM

        Beat me to it ipse, I was going to say paycheck

      2. n
        nojunk Jun 6, 2010 11:49 AM

        Hmmm, ask Kelly on The Real Housewives of NYC. Yes, like a car wreck, I watch it.

        Otherwise, I think it's a macro vs micro view of the kitchen. Chef needs a macro view with a focus on the bigger picture, cooks need to be more micro - focusing on the skillet, pan, dish, etc in front of them.

        1. Chemicalkinetics Jun 6, 2010 03:24 PM

          I think they are one of those ill-defined terms which everyone have their own definition. It is like asking what is the difference between a warrior and a swordman. I think a chef knows how to run the entire kitchen (not necessary the entire restaurant). It does not mean a chef cannot cook anymore or that a cook cannot run a kitchen when opportunity arise.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics
            bushwickgirl Jun 6, 2010 03:47 PM

            "It does not mean a chef cannot cook anymore or that a cook cannot run a kitchen when opportunity arise."

            Exactly. Many chefs keep their fingers very close to the food, which is where it all started for them; certainly for me, I was never happier than when I was actually cooking, as opposed to sitting in my air-conditioned (maybe) office doing paperwork, menu planning and scheduling. The chef always has to be willing to jump on the line, take one for the team, work harder than anyone else, etc. Many cooks also have fallen into the situation of having the chef walk out or go missing for some reason, and suddenly they're running the show. A kitchen is a team effort; it only functions well when the team works together well, and although some members of the team are more valuable or knowledgeable than others, all are very important (especially the dishwasher, very VIP.)

            1. re: bushwickgirl
              s
              Sal Vanilla Jun 6, 2010 07:47 PM

              High five and a right-o on the DW being the VIP.

              1. re: bushwickgirl
                Chemicalkinetics Jun 6, 2010 07:52 PM

                Bushwickgirl and Sal Vanilla,

                This is going to be a dumb question, but do we still have human dish washers in restaurants? Are they not machines these days?

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                  s
                  Sal Vanilla Jun 6, 2010 08:05 PM

                  There are machines... and some dreadful places with plates caked with eggs and pasta where the dishes are done by hand - sigh. Still, even with the machine, it is the dishwasher that keeps the restaurant running smoothly and happily. No forks - then people have to eat with their fingers! Then there are the piles of prep dishes and saute pans and all the other little things that keep the food going out. God bless the thankless job of the dishwasher. When he does not show up, panic ensues because the evening will be bumpy, owners cranky and everyone will be requiring an extra drink at the end of the night.
                  No joke.

                  I have gone out, tracked down my dishwasher at a party, drove him home and demanded he shower to sober up and then dragged him to work. Drunk DW is better than no DW or GOD FORBID Sal Vanilla DW!

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                    s
                    soupkitten Jun 6, 2010 08:36 PM

                    the dishwasher is a human being, and irreplaceable. sometimes the dishwasher (person) has a hobart machine and dish racks to load and unload, and sometimes there is an overloaded triple-sink. but sorting, queuing, spraying, rinsing, scrubbing, sanitizing, checking, stacking, stocking-- a zillion little kitchen tools and implements: you actually need a very disciplined person, ideally with an orderly, anal-manic personality, coupled with a masochistic sense of humor (very rare to find all qualities in the same person). a good dishwasher is worth her/his weight in gold and is just as essential as *any* other member of the crew.

                    1. re: soupkitten
                      Chemicalkinetics Jun 6, 2010 08:39 PM

                      Thanks Sal Vanilla and Soupkitten.

              2. johnb Jun 6, 2010 03:56 PM

                This is a description of the formal meaning of the word.

                Chef is French for "chief." In other words, a chef is the head of the entire kitchen (chef de cuisine), or one of its components where specific dishes are prepared (chef de partie). Assisting the chef de cuisine is often a sous-chef (literally "under-chief"). The sous-chef probably watches over the actual cooking and bosses the chefs de partie while the chef de cuisine attends to administrative duties, dish development, etc etc. It's basically equivalent to the term executive chef as used in the US.

                Everybody else in the kitchen has a title more specific to what he does, and these do not include "chef" in the title.

                Like so many other words borrowed from other languages, the term has become bastardized as used in the US (and Britain???). Now anybody who can cook half well is called a "chef," even including including home cooks in their own kitchens, and the term has lost most of its original meaning, at least outside of big kitchens with a structured workforce. Today "chef" mostly means "cook," particularly one who cooks for others for a living, whether or not anyone works under him.

                If one is interested in further description, the Wikipedia entry on the subject is pretty good. The link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigade_...

                1. s
                  Sal Vanilla Jun 6, 2010 07:57 PM

                  My husband and I owned successful restaurant for a long time. Although we put out some of the most beautiful and delicious food in our area and were very proud of that - I think my husband (who was behind the line most of the time) considered himself a cook. Maybe it was because we did not treat food like it was some jargonny mysterious thing only a few are capable of creating. Or maybe because when you own the place you just do what needs to be done and pray others who work with you will instinctually do the same. Maybe others would refer to my husband as the chef to others since he ruled the back end.

                  I am sure more formal places like resorts or huge restaurants have a more formal hierarchy. More frequently, there are people whose heart and soul are invested in your enjoying their creations.

                  Cooks all.

                  I am sad to read the post below about older, sicker, tireder and needing a break. I hope that is not the description of a chef.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Sal Vanilla
                    bushwickgirl Jun 7, 2010 08:06 AM

                    "about older, sicker, tireder and needing a break"

                    That was the description on me after 25 years in the industry. Although I wasn't "sick" just sick of burning myself, and the break part meant was 10 minutes away from the line for a potty break, which seldom happened. Something about sweating behind the line all day allows one to go for hours without needing a bathroom break, regardless of how much water you consime on the line. Least wise it did for me. It is a career than can wipe you out, physically. You don't see many 50+ year old line cooks, just chefs, as it can take many years to get to and deserve that title. I did work with a few 70+ lifer guys, though, and their stamina was remarkable. French and Italian guys, mostly.

                    So no, not a "description" of a chef by any stretch, but a comment on the small parts the calling can bring into your life, aside from great joy and personal fulfillment, which is priceless.

                    All that didn't mean I wanted to quit, either.

                    1. re: bushwickgirl
                      Chemicalkinetics Jun 7, 2010 08:25 AM

                      So French and Italian guys have better stamina?

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                        bushwickgirl Jun 7, 2010 09:10 AM

                        "...French and Italian guys have better stamina"

                        Well, that I don't know, and haven't read any particular studies done to indicate that one way or the other, but the older guys I worked with were French and Italian. The Italian guy was close to 80, God bless him, and moved a little slowly but got his work done. No one in the kitchen could get over on him.

                        Work longevity may be due to personal physical stamina, it could be cultural thing; I think many older individuals who immigrated to the US, (and younger ones as well) have a very strong personal work ethic; or it may be just financial necessity, maybe the unwillingness to succumb to older age or a combination of all of the above. I think the older one can continue to work and be a viable part of something, the longer your life will be (bushwickgirl says as she is a retired person at 56, due to disabilities.) So I realize the value of hard work and how meaningful it can be. I had a German chef who was pushing 70, and he was rockin'ihis job every day. It may be that the concept of retirement is not so well understood by Europeans as it seems to be to Americans.

                  2. roxlet Jun 7, 2010 10:50 AM

                    We have a good friend who is a famous chef. A couple of years ago, he opened a very upscale restaurant in NYC, and when we went there to eat for the first time, we noticed that every single person who addressed him, addressed him as "Chef." He was in the kitchen, and he certainly conceptualized all of the dishes, but above all, he was the head of the operation. Actually, a couple of years later we went to a birthday celebration at his country house and he brought staff from the restaurant to help out. Even in that more relaxed setting, all of the people working addressed him as "Chef."

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: roxlet
                      bushwickgirl Jun 7, 2010 11:06 AM

                      Yes, this is an appropriate way, and in many food service environments, the only option, of addressing the chef. In culinary school, we were told to refer to our instructors as "chef" and were taught that the usage of the term is a sign of respect, and that other kitchen employees accept his or her authority. Not all chefs require it, but it's common usage in better restaurants.

                      1. re: bushwickgirl
                        f
                        FrankD Jun 8, 2010 12:14 PM

                        This is interesting to me, because Food Network Canada used to re-run a series called "Cook Like A Chef" (which I particularly liked because of the close up photography that focused on technique, and the very useful tips provided by the chefs) that was discussed in an old thread on the "Food Media" board. All of the helpers on the show would respond "Yes Chef", and "At once chef", etc., which some of the board posters thought was artificial and pretentious. I suggested that this was the way they probably spoke in the restaurant, a suggestion which was roundly pooh-poohed.

                        1. re: FrankD
                          bushwickgirl Jun 8, 2010 12:32 PM

                          No, it's a very common salutation and a sign of respect and courtesy. Many chefs won't even give you the time of day if you don't call them chef.

                          1. re: FrankD
                            s
                            soupkitten Jun 8, 2010 12:44 PM

                            no more "artificial and pretentious" than sailors on a ship would respond "yes captain" or the soldiers in a company would respond "yes sir/maam" when given an order by an officer. wtf? did the respondents to the old thread think that kitchens are autonomous collectives where everyone votes on everything fifty times a day? the head of a military company is its commanding officer, the head of a ship is its captain, the head of an orchestra is its conductor, the head of a kitchen is its chef. pretty clear and easy to understand, i think?

                            1. re: soupkitten
                              f
                              FrankD Jun 8, 2010 01:27 PM

                              That's pretty much what I thought, but I was in a distinct minority.

                              I don't know if any of the shows are on youtube, or anything like that, but if you can find them, I think they're a treat - they focus on an ingredient or a technique, and you actually learn stuff. Plus, it has a great score.

                              1. re: FrankD
                                s
                                soupkitten Jun 8, 2010 07:41 PM

                                sounds fun. i'll try to check it out. :)

                      2. b
                        beevod Jun 8, 2010 08:46 AM

                        What's the difference between a garbage man and a sanitation worker?

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: beevod
                          bushwickgirl Jun 8, 2010 08:47 AM

                          Salary.

                          1. re: bushwickgirl
                            roxlet Jun 8, 2010 09:55 AM

                            lol

                            1. re: roxlet
                              bushwickgirl Jun 8, 2010 10:05 AM

                              "...difference between a garbage man and a sanitation worker?"

                              That difference is really not a fair comparison to the chef/cook definition, which is much more than just a "what's in a name" thing.

                              I know the great and good sanitation dept in NYC would much rather be called sanitation workers than garbage men, and their nice salary certainly commands the respect of the more upscale job title they use.;-) But they're still garbage men.

                              1. re: bushwickgirl
                                b
                                beevod Jun 9, 2010 07:14 AM

                                One of my best friends is a "chef" at an very upscale restaurant. He considers himself a "cook" and the use of the term chef embarassingly pretentious. Kind of like a doctor of theology demanding that he or she be referred to as doctor.

                                1. re: beevod
                                  bushwickgirl Jun 9, 2010 09:51 AM

                                  Well, there's absolutely nothing pretentious about being a chef or being called chef, given the the fact that you've spent a major portion of your working life in a very demanding career, and especially if it indicates you are managing the kitchen in that (chef's) capacity, as described by soupkitten in her response post upthead. Your friend's idea of the title being pretentious is purely subjective and certainly his choice. I personally was very proud to be called chef.

                                  Maybe your friend embodies this point of view: all chefs are cooks, but not all cooks can be chefs.

                                  1. re: beevod
                                    s
                                    soupkitten Jun 10, 2010 09:27 AM

                                    i'm thinking that Beevod's use of words (*a* 'chef') indicates that his friend is in fact a cook at a very upscale restaurant, and not *the* chef. so yes, it would be incorrect to call this person the chef of the restaurant, s/he is a cook, the chef would be her/his boss, and it's quite right of her/him to make the distinction.

                                    calling every person who wears whites "chef" is as incorrect as calling everyone who wears scrubs "doctor"-- but lots of folks who would see the error in the latter do the former and don't see a problem. cook and chef are not synonyms.

                                    as i've stated in other threads a chef by definition needs to be in charge of at least three full time employees, and a sous-chef in direct charge of at least two full time employees. if it is an extremely small kitchen, with one person in charge of cooking, and one person in charge of dishwashing, mopping, prep, taking pizzas out of the oven, and filling in in a pinch-- then it indeed borders on the farcical for the dishwasher to be calling her/his co-worker "chef" instead of "Floyd" or "Bob" or "Nina." lots of american kitchens don't do the "yes chef" "no chef" military-style form of address, especially small independent ones--but the stations are still brigade-style, and someone's still giving orders, people are just responding "okay dude," or "you got it," or "on the money" or "screw you soupkitten (and then doing it anyway LOL)" or whatever. and even in kitchens where everybody refers to everybody else by first name or more commonly their inside-joke kitchen nickname, everyone will know who the chef of the establishment is, and have their opinions on whether s/he is "a good chef" or "a bad chef," employees will have opinions: "he's a fantastic chef, i learned a year's worth in two months there, but he's murder to work for because of his temper," etc.

                          2. ipsedixit Jun 8, 2010 11:14 AM

                            Ego.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: ipsedixit
                              Chemicalkinetics Jun 8, 2010 11:16 AM

                              How about body height?

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                bushwickgirl Jun 8, 2010 11:18 AM

                                Ipsedixit has a good point, plenty of ego in kitchens. Body height, not so much; girth maybe, but not height.

                                1. re: bushwickgirl
                                  Chemicalkinetics Jun 8, 2010 11:48 AM

                                  I am thinking if ego is a function of body height.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                    bushwickgirl Jun 8, 2010 12:35 PM

                                    I thought as much, but it doesn't seem to matter, tall, short, everyone's got an ego.

                                    Sometimes girth exceeds height, though.;-))

                                2. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                  s
                                  soupkitten Jun 8, 2010 11:22 AM

                                  naw, then you'd be seeing a lot more female exec chefs.

                                  oo. wait a minute. or are you saying that the tall (white/european) dude is always the exec?

                                  1. re: soupkitten
                                    Chemicalkinetics Jun 8, 2010 11:40 AM

                                    :) I were thinking about the so called Napoleon Complex about shorter men, but then I won't mind expanding this into the "tall European dudes are always the exec" if you like :P

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                      s
                                      soupkitten Jun 8, 2010 12:30 PM

                                      LOL that's what i thought you meant but wanted to make sure-- historically there sure have been a lot of short in stature but not in ego male chefs around, many happening to be french. . . in u.s. at least it's starting to spread out across ethnic/gender divides. still not enough female or latino exec chefs, as measured by general ability.

                                      1. re: soupkitten
                                        c
                                        Chef Jimmy J Sep 7, 2010 08:29 AM

                                        "not enough female or latino exec chefs" So true, my professional mentor was a classically trained 5 foot tall German female fireball. She was 60 at the time and was probably the only female apprentice for a hundred miles in post war Germany. I was the only male cook in the restaurant, two other ladies on the line and me in banquets. She would literally give me a slap on the butt when I messed up. You get lots of respect for Lady Chefs in that environment. I have TWO daughters in Culinary school that have been training since they were 5 years old. I have however made it very clear that upon graduation they are NOT Chef's they have to earn it like the rest of us. Look out Boys these times they are a changin'. JJ

                              2. f
                                FrankD Jun 8, 2010 12:26 PM

                                Despite some of the points raised elsewhere, this is my dividing line:

                                I've worked in lots of chain restaurants (mostly steak/seafood/prime rib type places). I consider the people who work there "cooks" - they don't come up with any recipes, they don't create any new dishes, and they don't go out and do the shopping. I'm not saying getting 100 meals out in an hour, with all the rare steaks rare, and all the well-dones perfectly shoe leathery, is easy; it certainly isn't, and I respect their skill and timing.

                                But a chef creates dishes, goes to the market, creates a menu based around specials, and has the ability to adapt and change if ingredients run out, etc. in the middle of a service. If whoever is making the sauce keels over in the middle of the shift, the chef can pick up the slack. If the sommelier shows up drunk (that *never* happens), the chef can go out and recommend a wine. He is more than a "jack of all trades" - he's a master of all, and as such, deserves a bit more appreciation and respect than a standard line cook (a profession which I emphasize I am NOT disparaging).

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: FrankD
                                  bushwickgirl Jun 8, 2010 12:34 PM

                                  "...dividing line"

                                  All those things and twenty more.

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