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What is the difference between a cook and chef?

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?

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  1. 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

      I've worked in professional kitchens for 15 years.

      1. re: polyglot

        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

          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: ipsedixit

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

      2. 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. 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

            "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

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

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                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

                  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

                    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.

              2. 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_...