HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Chefs versus cooks

Once upon a time, in my much younger days, I was a dirty line cook. I never EVER referred to myself as a chef. Though my wife, any time I cook something "fancy," and someone's over tells our guests I was a chef.

In my mind, I always looked at the exec, or sometimes sous who did the ordering, the menu writing, and scheduling as the chef. I worked the line. Hot apps, saute, grill, sometimes desserts and garde manager.

It seems to be more common these days with food tv and all of these crazy food shows, to throw around the term "chef." What do you all think?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. That is a little bit like calling any Native American "Chief", isn't it? Given that you do have a working knowledge of commercial kitchen practice, you've probably got most of us beat in the production-chops department, but you were working FOR the chef or sous-chef at his or her direction, and while it may strike some as a tad pedantic I think in your position I'd throw a little education at'em. "Chef" is in fact French for Chief, and you never made that rank, which is no more to be ashamed of than if you were a cop who retired as a sergeant.

    Of course in your OWN kitchen you may be functionally the chef, but as far as the restaurant universe is concerned that's like a guy who owns a rowboat calling himself "Captain".

    1. The difference is pretension. Good friend's a fairly prominent cook....he find the "chef" mania laughable.

      2 Replies
      1. re: beevod

        Chef is short from the French "Chef de Cuisine, The chief, or head, of a commercial kitchen, as described by Escoffier, makes all the executive decisions, such as menu direction, final say in staffing, supervision of ordering, etc. Supervises the Sous Chef, who in turn directs the line cooks,(fish, roast, fry, garde mange, pastry, butcher, etc.

        Having said that, today there are really great cooks, those who have never supervised a commercial kitchen nor owned a restaurant and worked the back of the house. I admire great cooks who understand food and the ingredients that make for superb finished dishes.
        As for the "Phony Chefs" I guess it is the trend, as in children being "Stars, and Special, Number one", it is a cultural slide to demphasize true achievment and make us all equal, regardless of our individual ability.
        I salute the great cooks ; as well as some very capable Chefs that I know.....and for the few Phony Chefs I have met "You are very special and a star".

        1. re: ospreycove

          To: ospreycove on Sep 2, 2010 11:16 AM
          You made a couple of comments that I would ike to quote because they are so applicable to our society as a whole. May I have your permission?


      2. Whether someone actually arrives at the title of Chef de Cuisine or Sous Chef.....I would argue they are merely cooks in many instances. A chef can cook.....however, it doesn't mean he knows how to run a kitchen or execute production to run a kitchen line smoothly.

        1 Reply
        1. re: fourunder

          Fourunder.....Exactly!!! It is a loose throwing around of a title with nothing behind it!!!!!!

        2. I would say that a cook just follows a recipe, whereas a chef is able to adapt and create recipes.

          It may be wrong, but that's the way I see it.

          29 Replies
          1. re: Soop

            Some of the best and most well respected *chefs* have never received any formal training....other than observing others in preparation or cooking.....and they can also create great recipes and cook as well. Either you have it in you....or you don't.

            1. re: fourunder

              I guess a formal training can hamper creativity. But I agree. A chef is maore like an artist, a cook more like a craftsman?

              1. re: Soop

                But i know lots of home cooks who regularly adapt and create recipes, myself included. Doesn't make me a chef.

                1. re: flourgirl

                  I would say it did. Really.
                  I'm not talking so much "maybe I'll put parsnips in this stew for a change", but if you make a recipe from scratch and actually experiment, that's a chef to me.

                  I tried some cheffing once, but I'm just terrified of making terrible food.
                  It was baked cod wrapped in really thinly sliced potato. The fish cooked way faster than the potato :(

                  Oh and it was with a cream and shallot sauce which was ok.

                  1. re: Soop

                    so. . . do you go to the gun range for target practice, and then get to call yourself an army general?

                    bandage your kid's scraped knee and call yourself an m.d.?

                    build your own doghouse and call yourself a structural engineer?

                    sure, you'd expect an army general to excel at target practice, an m.d. to be able to competently bandage a kid's scraped knee, and a structural engineer to be able to build a great doghouse-- but you're ignoring all the other parts of the job and reducing it to just one component/qualification. very insulting. if everybody who can dabble around in a home kitchen and execute one new (to her/him) recipe is a chef, then everyone who can throw, catch, hit, or dribble a ball is qualified to coach.

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      Oh, I'm not a Doctor, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express, last night!! Ba,ha, ha,ha. I don't care what you say, that there's funny!

                      1. re: soupkitten

                        It clearly wasn't intended as an insult, so don't make out as if it was.

                        Secondly, I'll disregard your silly comparisons, as all a chef needs to know is how is how to create food. It is unneccessary for them to know about the restaurant business, although many do. Anything else I can think of that a chef might be capable of is a secondary requirement.
                        If you can think of anything else a CHEF needs to be able to do, which there is no way around, then I'm willing to listen, but I have to say I'm not happy about someone seeing my post as an "insult".

                        1. re: Soop

                          As I said, I feel the difference is 1. professional training and 2. a diploma of sorts attesting to 1.
                          Does this mean all chefs are superior to all cooks. No, many cooks are more capable than many chefs.
                          The analogies of target practice/general, bandaging/MD, doghouse/engineer are all very good, but do not tell the whole story.
                          Take engineer for example - in Canada, you must posess a diploma from a recognized institution then become a member of the Order of Engineers in order to practice the profession and call yourself an engineer. Does this mean all engineers are more capable than all technicians. No, but there is criteria associated with the title. This can be said of almost any profession to some degree.
                          As the cliche goes "I don't need a piece of paper on the wall to know the job". No, but you do need the paper if you want the title to go along with it.

                          1. re: Soop

                            "all a chef needs to know is how to create food"
                            Soop, You are absolutely correct! IF and ONLY IF that Chef is the only person in that restaurants kitchen and is not the owner. Otherwise the Chef by definition " Chef- in a professional kitchen setting, the term is used only for the one person incharge of everyone else in the kitchen." Wikipedia. Without question if there is more than one person in the Pro kitchen the Chef is a supervisor, menu designer, recipe developer, expediter, exclusive liason to owner, manager and service staff. Chef manages purchasing, product quality, sanitation standard, kitchen staff instructor, human resource director-kitchen, cost manager, team coach, faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and if the floor is wet, "walk on water"! These things are not "secondary requirement" they are the ONLY requirements. If being able to cook was the only requirement to be a Chef then everyones Mom, Grandmother, Father, Aunt, Uncle, etc., could open a " 3 Michelin Star,"restaurant! If every home cook is considered a Chef, then many, many, Men, Women and in the most traditional sense Children, mine included, have waisted their Blood, Sweat, Tears and Lives, over the last 500 years or so, working, studying, and often being verbally, emotionally, and in some cases physically abused, all in a huge effort to obtain the honor of placing the term "Chef", infront of their name . I respect the opinion and input you have given across many threads here, but in this situation I hope you will reconsider your choice of words. JJ

                            1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                              Hi JJ
                              As I say, I'm perfectly willing to bow down to superior wisdom, and I'd agree that in many (if not 99% of) instances, a head chef is expected to perform all of those duties you mention. And please don't think I'm implying that all chefs are required to do is cook food. But in 100% of instances, a chef must know how to create food is my underlying point.

                              Apologies if my choice of words intoned a lack of respect, it's meant in kind of a logical sense.

                              In my mind (at the moment) if someone can do all of the things you mentioned, but was only able to cook by rote, then that to my mind is a head cook, rather than a head chef.

                              I could be wrong, but that's my way of thinking.

                              1. re: Soop

                                Soop, Fine hairs are difficult to split, I think at this point we are so close to agreement that I feel we educated the folks that were unclear and I offer my hand with a hardy, "Thanks for the stimulating conversation and in the event that I cross the Pond the PINTS ARE ON YOU!" :) JJ

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    What? All are welcome to play! The Pint's profound the World Around! LOL

                                1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                                  you forgot several qualifications, but yeah-- creating food is 10% or less of the job. holding a team to the same standard, teaching employees (continuing development of staff skill ability and general training), keeping the establishment current with licensing and sanitary codes/inspection, scheduling, representing the restaurant in the community and the media, outreach, haacp, employee safety, ordering, kitchen economy, relationship with purveyors, sourcing, research/development, hiring/firing, promotions (employee), promotions (restaurant), customer service, seasonal events, catering, charity fundraisers, special dietary menus, writing menus, pricing, inventory. fucking organizing the paper goods shelf area again. generally knowing about everything there is to know, or at least about the culinary corner the restaurant occupies. that's all before lunch service, folks.

                                  see, i wouldn't say about a bank manager, or a ceo of a major corporation: "all s/he needs to do is email"--that completely misses the point of the person's abilities, even if 10% of the job *does* involve emails. this type of statement would be **insulting** to say that about the ceo or bank manager, because the email is not the whole story. the plate of food is not the whole story. there is an entire enormous human team machine in place that produces the plate, and if everybody does their jobs correctly, it all appears effortless and choreographed and nobody realizes that there's anything to the job other than a few folks messing around in a kitchen together, and wow-- oh here comes another perfect plate, just like last time.

                                  i suppose successful professional athletes & musicians must be just a bunch of lucky bastards, and none of them had to work their tail off to be better than their competitors to get where they are-- because they make it look easy, too ;-P

                                2. re: Soop

                                  Part of the widely accepted definition of "chef" includes running a professional kitchen. You can make up your own definitions, but I think you'll find that's a part of the widely accepted definition.

                                3. re: soupkitten

                                  "if everybody who can dabble around in a home kitchen and execute one new (to her/him) recipe is a chef"

                                  Well, sweetie, I may not be a chef, but I don't call cooking for my family for 18 years "dabbling" in the kitchen either. Whether you realize it or not, on occasion you come across as unbearably insufferable.

                                  1. re: flourgirl

                                    flour Are you a Good cook? Good cooks are a pleasure to know.

                                    1. re: flourgirl

                                      Flourgirl my apologies, i intended no offense. i have nothing but respect for great home cooks who are serious about food and feeding their families. home cooking is enormously important, and i would be the first to say it's more important than restaurant cooking. i do think home cooking and restaurant cooking benefit each other constantly, which is great by me.

                                      my point is that it is *completely* different to cook meals for 100 people than it is to cook meals for 4. it is not merely a matter of chopping up a few more onions and using a bigger pot.

                                      the problem illustrated in this part of the discussion is a serious one, & it's been on the rise with the popularity of food shows. namely: everyone who can bake a batch of cookies at home (or has put together a nice meal for 2 in an hour, or what have you), and has watched a food network show or two, believes that *they* are (or are nearly) qualified to cook professionally, or "be a chef." whatever that means to them. when that isn't even remotely what the job is about. a great many folks, some of them my own family members whom i consider to be great home cooks, have come to work with me for an hour or a day. the fact is they just can't hack it, they don't have the skill set. that's all, and sorry if you find the idea that home kitchens and restaurant kitchens are very different indeed, to be an offensive one-- but the skills that make a good home cook good don't translate to pro kitchens any more than a person's 20 year good driving record translates to a career on the indy 500 track. yes, they are both drivers, yes they are both good, but they are doing completely different things. you can choose to understand my point, or you can choose to think i'm an a-hole. it's important to me to make the point, for everyone who has worked their tails off in this difficult business. people just want to be treated with professional respect, as i do, and it's more important to me that people see me as a professional first, and then as a nice person, or an a-hole, or insert your own descriptive. that's pretty much all i wanted to say. have fun w the rest of the discussion.

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        Thanks soupkitten, for explaining exactly what it's like to work in a professional kitchen. It's hard for people that haven't had that experience to get it, but if they take to heart half of what you've said here, it's a good start.

                                        1. re: coll

                                          I think that's more or less a given. I count among my friends 3 head chefs, and about 10 others that work in a kitchen. While we love to talk about food, it's quite clear that cooking for as many people as they do is completely different to anything I do.

                                          In fact, in one of the more ignorant things my mother has said when I mentioned my love for cooking was "oh, why don't you become a chef". Right. I like looking at the sky too, lets get a pilots license.

                                          I think what I've (hopefully) made clear by now is not that I think a chef's job is easy, or that all they do is cook food. However, food is the lynchpin. Without that, even with everything else, you can't be a chef, right?

                                          1. re: Soop

                                            Plus chefs and cooks just don't get to look at the sky much either...

                                        2. re: soupkitten

                                          Well said, soupkitten. As many hours of sweat that I put into family meal planning, budgeting, cooking and baking (not to mention processing food for preservation, such as freezing and canning -- which can also be time consuming and take care and skill), being a great home cook is not the same as running a professional kitchen. In fact, when a friend tells me "You should open a restaurant!" (meant as a compliment), I demur, and if they insist, I say to them that my home cooking is hardly the same as food planning, preparation, staff management, etc for 100 or X number of people, day in and day out.

                                          Many years ago, I worked in professional kitchens as a cook. Doing it day after day without mistake (or well-hidden ones -- heh), it NOT the same as planning dinner for four at home, even if that responsibility is also daily. The emotions are different, the audience/customer base is different, working conditions are different, responsibilities are different, the training (formal OR informal) is different, the rules are different at home vs work -- no matter how much you love your work. My home kitchen is my own dominion and work space; a professional kitchen's workspace is managed by the chef and/or the sous chef. There's an ocean of difference between the two places and environments. Doesn't make my home cooking less important, just different. And because it's different, I do not get to call myself a chef.

                                          Home cooking takes dedication and skill and I will totally say I'm capable of being a very good home cook, but I am hardly a chef.

                                          1. re: team_cake

                                            Hear, Hear!!

                                            I am a damn good home cook. My mother owned a restaurant. I worked there in my teen years so I have a good sense of the work it takes to run a professional kitchen. I love to eat well so early in life, I had to learn to cook well in order to eat well as I couldn't afford to go out much. As I did better in my career, I could eat pretty much anywhere I want. But we still love to entertain and I enjoy cooking for company. Many of my dinner guests have told me that I should open a restaurant. My answer to them has always been no effen way. Running a restaurant is nothing like home cooking. Even if you're the best home cook, turning out dinner for 4-6 or even 10 every day is nothing compared to making separate dinners for 100+ paying customers every night. I admire the chefs and the work they do. Have plenty of them for friends and I tell them I can't do what they do for a living. Its too hard. They say the same thing about my job. To each his own.

                                      2. re: Soop

                                        I hear ya about being scared of making bad food. At least in my case, it's more about not wanting to waste expensive ingredients.

                                        But I have been cooking for many years, and even though I have hundreds of cookbooks I almost never follow a recipe anymore unless I am trying an unfamiliar cuisine.. I'm always changing and adapting things to suit my family's taste etc. And I long ago reached the point where I am confidant enough in my abilities and experience to pull ingredients together that I think will work well and combine them with the appropriate cooking technique. I still don't know that that makes me a chef. Cooking at home and cooking in a restaurant kitchen are two very different things. I think being a chef involves extensive knowledge of the restaurant business and how a commercial kitchen works as much as it involves creative cooking abiliities.

                                        That said, I take a lot of pride in being an accomplsihed home cook. Not that I don't still have lots to learn - there is always something new to learn about. One of the reasons I find food, cooking and baking so fascinating.

                                        1. re: flourgirl

                                          If a cook is a professional as opposed to a home-cook, then maybe there's such a thing as a home-chef?

                                          Taking some of the mor salient points of soup kittens post, there are many things that people wouldn't consider calling themselves unless they did so in a professional capacity. For example, if you work with wood as a hobby, no matter how skilled, you might not consider yourself a "carpenter" but as someone who is capable of carpentry.

                                          But I'd say in terms of culinary skill and knowledge, there must be some overlap between professional and amateur.

                                          1. re: Soop

                                            In carpentry, there is a designation of Master Carpenter, Finishing carpenter, or Cabinetmaker all much higher status than "Faming Carpenter"or general carpenter.

                              2. I think it's like many jobs - nomenclature changes over time. Clerks become administrators; rat catchers become rodent control operatives; cooks become chefs.

                                Certainly in the latter case, it's the word I'd now expect to see in an advert for a cooking job in a professional kitchen - head chef, sous chef, chef de partie, commis chef and so on.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Harters

                                  A true "Chef" is, in addition to being an accomplished cook, an administrator, a personnel manager and knowledgable of pand L statemants and operating budgets.

                                2. A cook is one that follows a receipe created by a chef.

                                  1. James, my experience is much like yours. I came up the "traditional" way: dishwashing, working up through the line, and by the time I made the decision to leave professional kitchens, doing the ordering, scheduling, creating recipes, menus, hiring, overseeing. I never thought of myself as a "chef" but as an extremely experienced cook with a good reputation. What brought me to leave professional kitchens was applying for a job at a well known pioneering organic foods farm in central PA, producing their own line of nationally distributed products. The interview went great with the owners. They had eaten and enjoyed my food on a regular basis at my most recent position and had hired my team for catering their events showcasing their own products. I lost out to a fresh graduate of a 2 yr culinary program from a rural tech school with no field experience whatsoever because I didn't have a piece of paper from a "higher institution of learning" that said "Chef"on it. In my opinion "chef" has become a seriously degraded term that has nothing to do with an individual's experience, creativity, abilities, reputation or credibility.
                                    These days I run a B&B, cater and consult, and conduct informal cooking and food preservation classes. I often get addressed as "Chef". While I understand that through my training and experience I'm entitled to be called a chef I tend to gently correct people that I'm a working cook and would prefer them to just call me by name. I prefer not to be associated with the (in this area where I live) plethora of community college grads with associate degrees swanning around in white coats in their off hours from the local burger/pizza joint.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: morwen

                                      Morwen, Where in central Pa ? I could make use of instuction in the fine art of food preservation, both canning and meat curing, if we are not too far apart. I live in Harrisburg. JJ

                                      1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                                        Sorry, JJ, but I live in southwest Virginia now. Actually pretty much of a straight shot down I-81, 6 hours south of you! But I'm considering running a package deal of lodging and class starting next spring. Contact me at morwen at swva dot net if you'd like me to keep you in the loop. In the meantime, check in with your local cooperative extension office. They may be running the Master Food Volunteer program which covers canning and preserving in return for some hours of volunteer work at extension sponsored events. Completion of the course allows you to add Master Food Volunteer/Preserver to your resume as long as you keep donating volunteer hours. A lot of the events are fun. A recent one here was the Taste of Roanoke food festival showcasing local produce, meats, dairy, artisanal products, and demonstrations by local top cooks and chefs.

                                    2. From "A Return to Cooking" by Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman:

                                      "A cook and a chef are different entities. "Chef" is a title. A chef can be good or bad or everything in between; he or she can be hotel chef, restaurant chef, tv chef, personal chef, corporate chef. "Chef" denotes a job. But when you are a cook, that is who you are. It's your spine and your soul. It suffuses all that you touch. When you see the soil bursting with young lettuce, with tomatoes, with light green vines of peas, all the molecules between your gaze and those vegetables are charged with the energy of cooking. The air sparkles." (pg. 16)

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: AndrewK512

                                        Morwen, AndrewK- This is exactly what I was looking for- both perfect.

                                        1. re: AndrewK512

                                          Perfect! Look, I've regarded recipes as good suggestions for about forty years now. If I follow one, it's because I'm navigating some uncharted waters, using techniques and ingredients with which I'm not familiar, or simply because it looks like a really good idea. I've been able to create good dishes on the fly from whatever's in the larder for almost as long as I can remember, and when someone asks me what skill I'm proudest of attaining that's it. But I am not now nor shall I ever be a chef. I am in command of my own kitchen, but I'd be totally at sea in a commercial one.

                                          I know some chefs, and enjoy their food and their company, but what we share culinarily is only incidental to our different roles. She runs a kitchen that has to send out a hundred or more perfect covers every meal, whether she's feeling up to it or not, and she has to keep her staff as focussed as she is. I just need to get food on the table without burning myself or the green beans. Keeping myself on track is enough work for me, thanks...

                                          1. re: AndrewK512

                                            i have had the privilege of meeting and working with many famous chefs, some totally old school, like jacques pepin. he learned his way around a kitchen by being brow-beaten as a potato peeler and floor scrubber from a young age. there was a hierarchy and you knew your place until the chef, the man in charge of the whole she-bang, promoted you. the system was as regimented as the military and the man in the biggest toque made everybody else quake in their clogs.

                                            of chefs over 40, i don't know a single one who called him or herself "chef" until they ran a large hotel kitchen or owned their own place.

                                            with the damn food network and the proliferation of cooking schools, i now have to deal with too many kids, wet behind the ears, who can't even bone a chicken but have a culinary diploma, so consider themselves "chefs."

                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              Reminds me of hiring a new cook a few years back. Its always the same - hire someone with no experience and work them up or someone with experience and the prospect of un-teaching them bad practices.
                                              So I hire this young man fresh outta vocational cooking school. He let everyone know how he had his "papers" - no one was impressed. He then went on to tell my No. 1 how she was holding her knife all wrong - losing a possible ally. He tried to give advice to my rotisserie guy (62 year old Italian man) - almost losing three fingers on his left hand. I was biting my lip the whole time, hoping he'd settle in and attempt to become part of the team. However, before noon on his first day, he was telling me how to compartmentalize the walk-ins....
                                              Through clenched teeth, I stuffed some cash in his hand and sent him on his way.
                                              OK, this was an extreme example and was due mostly to personality, but I agree hotoy, many times, kids with a diploma consider themselves chefs even when they're greener than the dishwasher...

                                              1. re: porker

                                                There's just too darn many of them lately! It'd be funny if it was only occasionally.

                                              2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                I'd love to know how one can obtain a culinary diploma without knowing how to bone a chicken.
                                                I love to cook and bake--I learned from magazines, books, trial and error, and I only cook at home for family and friends. I'm a cook, plain and simple.

                                                Sometimes my husband calls me "Chef".

                                                1. re: iluvcookies

                                                  Same way one can obtain a high school diploma without knowing how to add.

                                                  1. re: porker


                                            2. I'm with others who consider a chef one who is professionally in charge of a kitchen and a cook is anyone who cooks (which can then further be divided into categories like 'home cook,' 'line cook,' whatever).

                                              The interesting thing to me is not the distinction but why one should bother to make it. Calling anyone who can create a dish without a recipe a chef implies (usually unintentionally and with no harm intended) that all there is to running a pro kitchen is being able to create dishes. Kind of insulting to anyone who has worked their butt off to develop the MUCH deeper skill set necessary to be a professional chef. Likewise, defining a cook as one who can only follow a recipe is insulting to anyone who considers themselves a pro cook and who may well be a DAMN GOOD cook fully capable of coming up with spur-of-the-moment creations that would blow your hair back.

                                              I understand that people use these terms loosely with harmless intent. But as a sign of respect to those who actually work in the restaurant industry, I prefer to stick with the traditional definitions wherein 'cook' and 'chef' are job descriptions and not comments on the ability or value of anyone who happens to find themselves in front of a stove.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                also, i think non-restaurant people don't understand the responsibility for consistent execution that lies with line cooks. yeah, they get a a recipe and the chef will show them a finished dish, but they must prep all the items for their station pre-service (so all the carrot batons are the same size and the parsnip julienne just so) then make those dishes dozens of times in a night, in a hot, noisy, pressured environment, and every one should look and taste exactly the same.

                                              2. Hmm, I like to think of chefs and cooks as different titles for different job functions. More or less like a manager and a writer of a local newspaper. Most likely, the manager can write and the writer may manage when given the opportunity. It is not about their ability. You can have bad managers, and you can have good managers. You can have good writers, and you can have bad writers. Finally, you can have a subpar manager overseeing an excellent writer.

                                                In short, you can have a good chef and a bad chef and you can have a good cook and a bad cook. I won't necessary say a chef is better than a cook. I will say it is the chef's responsibility to oversee a cook. There is a power structure difference.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  I like Chemical's post.

                                                  I worked in a supper club for years in college, as sort of a line-cook doing appetizers, sauces, salads. I learned a lot.

                                                  Now, I'm a teacher in the college system, and the title "professor (as in full blown doctorate), vs "Instructor" (only a masters) is much like the debate between chef vs. cook. There are many professors who can't teach and don't even practice in the field what they're teaching. There are many instructors who REALLY know their material and/or are GREAT teachers with students who learn a great deal from them.

                                                  It all boils down to this: pay and a piece of paper. The piece of paper means NOTHING in my book, it's the talent behind the professor/instructor chef/cook that really matters.

                                                  Sadly, the pay is much lower for the people who don't have a piece of paper. In my field, it's 50% lower with little or NO benefits either.

                                                2. I do think the title of "Chef" gets claimed too loosely. I have been in charge of kitchens, and I've been the "dirty line cook", and to this day, I consider myself more a cook than a chef. I do think it's due to the proliferation of shows, and that most people don't really get how a chef is codified and certified.

                                                  1. We would talk about this very topic all the time in kitchens.

                                                    I never called myself a chef for the longest time. I liked cook or "food service professional" :).

                                                    But when the owners promoted me to Chef, I started to feel comfortable with the term. I was the one who had to sit with the diswasher in the Emergency Room for three hours on a Friday night after he cut his hand; I was the one who had to deal with the cooks, owners, purveyors, and customers; I was the one who wrote the prep sheet...So basically, the way I looked at it, I could not longer leave work at work like when I was a cook. As a chef, I couldn't make that distinction; work came home. It was a lot more responsibility.

                                                      1. re: Sinicle

                                                        $25 000 a year in term of what? Salary difference? I think it can much more than that.

                                                      2. I built a business from the ground up, a small take-out joint to a 42 seater/18 barstool full service restaurant. I was in the kitchen (cooking) from start to finish and never considered myself a "chef".
                                                        Did I develop recipes and dishes? Yep. Plan out the week's menu? Yep. Bring the young cook to the hospital when he blew himself up? Yep. I also did the ordering, inventory, and work scheduling.
                                                        Perhaps by some definitions I was a chef. I feel the difference is only formal education to a title - kinda like a doctor or engineer, a title only gained by generally accepted education.
                                                        Customers would say "This is great, chef."
                                                        I'd reply "I'm not a chef, I'm a cook."
                                                        "Whats the difference?"
                                                        "A chef went to school and has a certificate on the wall."

                                                        I agree with most comments and will say a chef isn't necessarily "better" than a cook or vice versa. There are some really great cooks and chefs and like anything else, really mediocre ones as well.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: porker

                                                          You have very good points. In fact, your points are so good that now I question my original definition. Maybe only certain styles of cooking can have the title "chef". I have rarely heard a barbecue master called as a chef: "Hi Chef, I want a pulled pork sandwich" It does not matter how many recipes he has invented or how big or small an operation he run, he is not called a chef, but I could be wrong.

                                                          Alternatively, you have sushi, which every person who stands there slicing the raw fish is called a chef. So you have like 7 sushi chefs in a restaurant, but not 1 sushi cook.

                                                          Now I am confused -- which is good because I need to think about this some more.

                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                            Funny...I look at New York's Blue Smoke and Daisy Mae and whos at the helm? Executive Chef Kenny Callaghan and Chef Adam Perry respectfully. I look at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous in Memphis, whos in the kitchen? Guys like Geno the Fixer, Mark the Shark, Big Jack, and Fred "Hollyrock" - no "chefs" to be seen. Same at other southern BBQ shrines.
                                                            Maybe north of Dixie, there are BBQ chefs, south are pit masters?

                                                            As for sushi...probably a big difference between Japan and North America in what makes a person a chef. I assume in Japan, the title 'sushi chef' is attained only through a strict regimen (taking 13 years to learn rice, etc etc). In NA, any tom, dick, or harrimoto slapping a hunk of fish on a plate can be called a chef...

                                                            1. re: porker


                                                              Yeah, on the other hand, "master" is not too bad a title compared to a "chef".

                                                              Very good point about the Japanese definition. I heard that in Japan, sushi students go through much more training (or abuses?) before they get to touch the fish in front of the customers. You are most likely to be correct here.

                                                            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                              although "sushi cook" is an oxymoron, you're forgetting about the guys in the back, frying up your tempura and making your soba.

                                                              from the new statesman:

                                                              In Japan, training to be a sushi chef is an arduous business. Before the apprentice even gets near a fish, he (and it almost always is a "he": there are fewer than 200 female sushi chefs in Japan) is likely to spend at least three years perfecting such apparently straightforward tasks as knife-sharpening and floor-scrubbing. Learning to wash and cook the rice then takes three years, and a further five are devoted to learning how to clean and dissect the 63 species of saltwater fish, eight kinds of shellfish and 18 freshwater fish that comprise the sushi chef's repertoire. In all, the passage from novice to professional takes ten years to complete.


                                                              however, you will find very few sushi "chefs" working in your neighborhood japanese restaurant that have actually gone through all this.

                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                In America, people learn faster, we become sushi chefs in 4 weeks to 3 months.

                                                                " Program Description 4-wk basic, professional & advanced sushi chef certificate programs"


                                                                "Our Professional Course is high-leveled contents to become a sushi chef in 2 months"


                                                                "Japanese sushi chefs traditionally undergo ten years of training--but if you're aiming for a sushi chef career, a three-month American program should do the job. "


                                                          2. "I was a dirty line cook" is maybe the funniest thing I've read in a while...

                                                            For me the title chef has as much to do with respect as it does skill. It's been my experience that most people who insist on being called "chef" do not warrant the respect the title denotes.

                                                            A true chef is a leader, inspires his staff and is passionate about food. In 20 years I've met a handful of people I would be happy to address as chef. I suspect it's fairly easy to graduate from "Le Cordon whatever" but a certificate doesn't translate to respected chef in my book.

                                                            With all my successes (and failures) I still consider myself a "dirty line cook" and wouldn't have it any other way. Just sayin...

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: nolapark

                                                              Speaking of "dirty line cook". You know how Anthony Bourdain says he can spot a cook? Well, my friends and I went to see him in Berkeley. (He's even funnier in person.) Anyway, they went up to him to get their books signed, and he looked at them and said, not asked, "You guys are cooks." These were two women, too. Dirty line cooks, yes!!

                                                              1. re: nolapark

                                                                Again, I feel its a matter of a piece of paper on the wall. Perhaps compare it to the military: you can only call yourself an officer if you went to the academy (except for a battlefield promotion which is unusual).
                                                                Yet, some "officers" who come out of training "do not warrant the respect the title denotes." I don't think simply graduating makes you an officer any more than it would make someone a chef.
                                                                I feel that to be called an officer, there is a minimum of instruction required, same as a chef.

                                                                Now that I think about it, the military might be a good comparison. A "mustang" is a soldier who started out as an enlisted person, but rose to officer. These guys generally command some respect since they've been around the block, unlike the lieutenant fresh outta OCS.
                                                                I would think the same of a line cook who graduates from "Le Cordon whatever" - that guy might know a thing or two...

                                                              2. Most impressive discussion from a great wealth of knowledgable people. Here's my point of view... I have been a professional Cook/Chef for the last 20 years, piece of "Paper" for the last 12 and Culinary Instructor for 10 years. Culinary school owner/ admission staff tell students, "Come here, spend 2 years and 20 to 50 thousand of your dollars and you WILL be a Chef!" Then I get to tell them the truth. You may have all your dream's come true, you just might end up a broke, burned, cut, divorced, alcoholic, drug dependent, cashier/ Roller Dog attendant at your local Quickie Mart! I'll give most of you even money odds by the end of the week. This is the worst job you will ever LOVE, if it's in your Heart, your Soul and your Blood. I and many others in and, most importantly,out of school will give you the tools you need. So to continue with our introduction, Your money will save you 2 years of washing dishes! You are NOT a Chef until you pay your dues like ALL before you and earn it! So many of you Pro's are both, Papers or not, I don't remember Antonin Careme graduating from Le Cordon Bla bla. You know if your a Chef and your Peers know! Gordon Ramsey's MASTERCHEF?! Don't get me started!!! JJ

                                                                23 Replies
                                                                1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                                                                  My friend who definitely is a chef always makes sure to greet the head of any kitchen he visits/ dines as "Chef". Says it is a sign of respect between two professionals, I guess like a secret handshake. I know the staff has to call their boss chef, but this made me think of him and how serious he was about it.

                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                    or....he simply wants to make sure that attention to detail is given to his food order


                                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                                      True, he was usually in his civilian clothes!

                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                        Whenever I dine/dined at a friend's restaurant, I always announce/announced I was in the house and to sent the owner and kitchen staff a drink......

                                                                        It always gets me a larger portion.....or a couple of extra shrimp on my plate......which I do not need, but graciously accept. I used to have a friend of the family who owned an Italian restaurant, but has sadly passed on. He made an excellent Linguini with White Clam Sauce.....using only fresh chopped clams. Whenever I ordered the dish, he would include on top of the pasta, a dozen extra whole fresh clams in shell...included with the heaping amount of fresh chopped clams. I really miss that....

                                                                        The only other time I do this is when I order steak in an unfamiliar place. I like RibEyes, so I always request a center cut from the large (eye) end , as it reduces the amount of gristle I would receive.....and specifically tell them if they give me one from the small (eye) end, it will be sent back.

                                                                        1. re: fourunder

                                                                          "and specifically tell them if they give me one from the small (eye) end, it will be sent back."

                                                                          If you did that in a place I owned, you'd find yourself eating dinner elsewhere. There are some customers you can just do without.

                                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                                            I have a friend who always asks if there's an end piece available, because he likes the crust, and if not, he just leaves. One time a lady guest was in his party, heard him order it and asked for the same. Only one end piece left, so none for him, boy was he mad! ( because he was too polite to walk out on his guests, of course ).

                                                                            1. re: coll

                                                                              I guess you're talking rib roast, coll? I knew a guy working in a golf course kitchen nicknamed Bomber (I don't know why). Someone had asked for and end-piece as well, but there was none left. Bomber, being the crafty guy, sliced off a piece and proceeded to carve it into an end piece. Unfortunately our hero didn't properly execute and his cloak and dagger method was guessed out by the customer....actually a funny story when told alonside a few glasses of wine...

                                                                              1. re: porker

                                                                                Surprised they didn't do that for my friend too (I might have been tempted), but it's a seafood restaurant so they probably don't know how to fake it when it comes to meat. They only make one rib roast a night so it's hit or miss. I admire Bomber for trying to please the customer anyway, and can imagine laughing about it later, especially if it came out badly.

                                                                            2. re: Harters

                                                                              I agree with you Harters. Drinks sent to the kitchen staff are a nice way to express appreciation and it was not an unusual gesture in the kitchens I worked in. Drinks, bottles of wine, rounds of beer, always sent after the patrons consumed their meals. But never before as a bribe or an announcement that "SO & SO IS IN THE HOUSE" so be prepared to give SO & SO special treatment. That usually just warranted an eye roll and a snicker. We tried to accommodate every individual's requests and dietary needs but there are occasions where sometimes it's not possible. Demands for special treatment were just not dealt with. And here's a little insider's secret fourunder : in my kitchens and any other kitchen I ever worked in, there was no drinking on the job. It's dangerous and slows the kitchen down. Those drinks, wines, and beers wait until the end of the night after the kitchen has been cleaned and closed. The restaurants supplied a free beverage for kitchen staff to enjoy during the evening's post-mortem. If someone wanted a beverage beyond that, it came out of any gratuity that was sent to the kitchen. But usually, the price you, the patron, paid for that round of drinks, beers, or bottle of wine went into the restaurant's cash drawer because we, the kitchen staff, wanted to get the hell outta Dodge and go do our drinking in a place where we didn't work.

                                                                              1. re: morwen

                                                                                I think it depends on the type of kitchen you're in. Most of the time, I've worked with people on the fringe where drinking and drugs was simply a way of life. So yeah, ground rules had to be put in place or else it would get outta hand. My crews weren't fussy where they'd party - at work or otherwise.
                                                                                To keep them happy I compromised - no drinking until an hour before closing the kitchen.
                                                                                This might sound crazy to some, but it worked. Its also not as bad as it sounds, there wasn't a non-stop party every night. Also no matter what, theres always somebody sneaking a drink here or a coupla quick tokes there...
                                                                                Story about tipping - a small wedding and the bride's father comes into the kitchen late (a cantankerous man from outta town who demanded that we stock 2 bottles of Tanqueray gin for him that evening - I had to make a quick trip for that). He looks around and eyes the dishwasher - a 16 year-old-kid.
                                                                                "I know how it works in the kitchen" he bellowed, "you guys share the tips, but the dishwasher gets shit"
                                                                                He pulls out a $50 bill (he was working on that second bottle) and hands it over to the dishwasher. Wide-eyed, the lad looks at me and doesn't know what to do. I laugh and tell him to take it.
                                                                                That kid told the story for the next 13 months.

                                                                                1. re: porker

                                                                                  "I think it depends on the type of kitchen you're in. Most of the time, I've worked with people on the fringe where drinking and drugs was simply a way of life. So yeah, ground rules had to be put in place or else it would get outta hand. My crews weren't fussy where they'd party - at work or otherwise."

                                                                                  Yeah, that was my experience too. If someone came in toked up, I pretty much didn't have a problem with it because there was a firm rule of no lighting up in the walk-in or anywhere else (get caught, get sent home immediately, lose pay for whatever hours were left) until after the night was over and I knew that they'd straighten up quickly. Once service started there usually wasn't time for a cigarette let alone a joint. If they came in drunk, tripping, or chemically high (and coke was a big problem) they were sent home. If they made a habit of it, they were 86'd. But no, there was no recreational altering of consciousness allowed until the work was done. Having to run an employee to the ER for an accident caused by distorted perceptions really pissed me off.

                                                                                2. re: morwen

                                                                                  And here's a little insider's secret fourunder : in my kitchens and any other kitchen I ever worked in, there was no drinking on the job.
                                                                                  That's too bad for you.....my experience is the the way owners act with each other, when reciprocating in each others place....is to buy each other and their staffs drinks.....it was also common to buy the entire bar drinks as well. My owner friends would never consider stuffing the money for themselves. You make it seem like one drink would disrupt the kitchen.....that's just silly.

                                                                                  BTW....I've been in the private and corporate sector of restaurants, catering halls and country clubs for over four decades as an employee, manager and owner.....here's a little insider's secret for you......drinking in the back of the house happens with, or without your consent(of the house)...

                                                                                  1. re: morwen

                                                                                    So morwen, if your parents and or grandparents entered your place of employ....you would treat them just as any other?...Rather than so & so is in the house?

                                                                                    Sorry grandma.....you have to take the sh*tty steak

                                                                                    I don't think so......


                                                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                                                      Boy, once the "partying at work" replies started coming in, that brought back a barrage of memories.

                                                                                      My experience was that in the kitchen anyway, we hardly ever got kuddos in the form of a "free drink" sent by patrons. Maybe our clientelle was just lame.

                                                                                      However, we WERE entitled, through our two owners, to have "one free drink" once the kitchen closed down and we were done around 10:00 pm from our bartender.

                                                                                      Of course, our bartender was always busy, because in addition to whomoever he had to serve at the bar, he had to accomodate the wait staff to the dining room, too. If we had an extra minute, we'd run the food out to his bar patrons.

                                                                                      This ensured us and extra drink after work rather than just one token free drink, behind that bar after our kitchen closed. Yeah, we wanted to get out of there and go party on our own time, especially if it was a Friday or Saturday night. But on a slow Monday night, who's going to turn down 2-3 top shelf drinks which are free?

                                                                                      We never had any druggies on staff, but it was the 80's and we DID have a lot of cig. smokers, and of course many responsible yet fairly heavy drinkers

                                                                                      Thanks for the memory to whomever brought this side topic up.

                                                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                                                        Of course not. Nor would they be treated as something beyond all the other patrons ordering off the menu. They all got treated the same, served the very best that our kitchen produced, with allowances for dietary and allergy related modifications where possible. No shitty anything was allowed out of the kitchen for anyone. If something *was* sent back (and it happened) all effort was made to rectify the situation. If any of my relatives, any of the staff's relatives, or any patrons wanted something special, it was arranged in advance by reservation and consultation as a catering job or tasting menu, served in the private dining room reserved for those purposes. Did we ever do anything for patrons in the main dining room? Of course we did. If we found out someone was celebrating, having dinner in our main room, they were likely to discreetly have drinks or dessert comped, or some special plate sent out to them in addition to their order. But never because they demanded or expected to be treated special just because they were present.

                                                                                        As for the beverages bought for staff that didn't get consumed. If it was a bottle of wine, if it was bottled beers, whoever wanted it was welcome to take it when they left. If it was drafts, mixed drinks, shots, if no one wanted it, it just didn't get consumed. No owners "stuffing the money for themselves", just no takers for the drinks. And, as I said, management provided staff with one free drink of the staff member's choice after every shift, generally consumed as we dissected the evening's service plus whatever drink tips were designated for the kitchen.

                                                                                        Reciprocating. Another cook and his team having dinner or drinks in our establishment was fine, and they could drink all they wanted and get either drinks or dinner comped or partly comped, BUT THEY WERE OFF THEIR CLOCK AND NOT WORKING IN MY KITCHEN! Well before the time I was running kitchens I had personally learned why it's bad to be working in them with a buzz on. I was no angel. My kitchen, my staff, my rules, no alcohol or drugs in the kitchen on my time. What the staff did on their own time was totally up to them as long as they were back to work on time for their next shift. None of this is unreasonable and a tight kitchen moving fast is not the place to be trying to function in an alcohol or drug induced haze. Had I been aware of your lax policies the next time I let someone go for those reasons, I'd have been sure to send them to work with your far more lenient, tolerable, intoxicated staff.

                                                                                        1. re: fourunder

                                                                                          @ Fourunder

                                                                                          If the restaurant served sh*tty steak full stop I wouldn't go there.

                                                                                          1. re: Soop


                                                                                            I'm with you and Chef Jimmy 100%.....and certainly not with Harters on this subject. I definitely do not believe the customer is always right and believe Harters has the right to ask someone to leave, but if he feels the customer cannot request a portion of the Rib Eye he prefers, but rather must accept what he decides to serve and ignore the request....he is only inviting an unhappy camper and the returned steak. If an owner or chef believes his customers must eat something they specifically do not want, then it's time to get out, and it's his arse that's going to hurt in the end.

                                                                                            If a restaurant does not purchase premium pre-cut and pre-portioned steaks from purveyor, but rather purchases the whole Strips, Tenderloins and Rib Eyes.....someone has to get the sh8tty steak on the end, but it's not going to be me. A good chef would not even consider selling this end piece as a steak, but use it for something else.....like a staff meal.

                                                                                            1. re: fourunder

                                                                                              Well, I guess sometimes we'd have to accept that the chef is an artist, and if he gets it wrong, it's his fault, but if he gets it right, he knows what he's doing.
                                                                                              For instance, you wouldn't tell Heston Blumenthal how you wanted him to prepare your food because when you go to the Fat Duck, you're buying into the whole experience.

                                                                                              We could say that Harters hasn't earned the right because he isn't recognised as one of the top 10chefs in the world, but I think this is a little unfair. I've seen restaurants on television who are too easily cowed by demands and try and please everyone all the time, and it's just not possible. It would be easier to maintain a consistent standard by refusing to concede to certain changes, and if I had to draw the line, I think I would personally draw it before customers ordering specific parts of specific cuts. Fine at home, but not in a busy restaurant. That's just me.

                                                                                              But to be honest, it's just semantics, and it's not worth either of you arguing over what is basically a difference of opinion.

                                                                                              You and Harters are both fine people so you should probably just agree to disagree, interesting though it's been.

                                                                                      2. re: Harters

                                                                                        Not to mention the "large end" with a big eye has a small deckle. Most "good" chefs know the deckle is the prime part of the rib loin.

                                                                                        Personally, I prefer the "small end" which has a small eye and is mostly deckle. THAT is where it's at.

                                                                                        I know this post is very late to the party, but it's never too late to call out a "chef" who thinks he knows it all.

                                                                                      3. re: fourunder

                                                                                        I love to find out industry people are in the house, a sign they appreciate my product, in addition I want to meet new potential friends that work and play at the same goofy hours I do. The extra treatment is also nice, I get out so infrequently. Guys, is it not "goodwill" to make even the most pain in the butt customer happy? I once reproduced a Strip Steak 3 times for a dissatisfied customer, then took the steak off the bill! My efforts and dollars lost were rewarded when this "Pain" booked his company Christmas Party, 200 guests, the following month! Big bucks no Whammy!

                                                                                        1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                                                                                          "Guys, is it not "goodwill" to make even the most pain in the butt customer happy?"

                                                                                          I have never owned a restaurant but have been involved in serving the paying public in different fields. I would not agree with you - some customers I could just do without.

                                                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                                                            Harters, I respect your point of view and DO agree with you. There are customers that I have told to leave, one woman insisted I comp her french fries because she found one of my hairs in with her last few fries,she was extremely abusive, at that point I removed my hat exposing my freshly SHAVED head and told her to get the f$%# out! I do try my best to honor food or cut requests. Thank you for your input. JJ BTW to Fourunder, I always request prime rib from the Chuck or Small Eye end, on the bone if possible, I relish the extra tender, extra juicy, extra marbled, meat that surrounds the small eye, in restaurants serving Black Angus Prime this is as close as you get to Wagyu under $300 a pound and everyone is happy, Mine extra fatty, Wifes extra lean eye, and nick nack patty wack give the Dog the bone! JJ

                                                                                  2. re: coll

                                                                                    I also use the term "Chef," when addressing such "cooks" as Alan Wong, Michael Mina, John Besh, Gary Danko, Joseph Lenn, and many more. It is a term that I apply, as a term and salutation, like Mr., but with a bit more meaning. Maybe I am wrong in that respect?


                                                                                3. It's like "architect" vs. "draftsman"

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: hsk

                                                                                    Let us not forget another difference between a chef and a cook: $600 per week!

                                                                                  2. The one that kills me is when they say I'm the Executive Chef. Not just the Chef, but the Executive Chef. Oh, how many people work for you? One?

                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                      An executive chef is often (but not only) a chef who oversees a number of kitchens and is responsible for continuity between them. For example, an upscale hotel chain may also have an on-site upscale restaurant. In this case, the executive chef is responsible for coordinating the continuity, expenses, and quality of all of them as well as being liaison between the restaurants individually and collectively to the hotel board. In which case he/she has many people working for them.
                                                                                      An executive chef may also fulfill the same function on a smaller scale in a large kitchen where each aspect of production has a head chef and the executive chef oversees the entire kitchen, again having many people working for him/her.
                                                                                      Executive chefs are also found in the food production industry. You know, those corporations that put out fancy frozen dinners, multiple lines of condiments, sauces, just about anything pre-made you see on grocery shelves and those that oversee franchises like Applebees. They have many, many people working for them.

                                                                                      1. re: morwen

                                                                                        since i have worked for executive chefs who are responsible for 1000's of employees and 100's of millions in dollars in revenue, i don't see the humor in the title either.

                                                                                    2. is old topic sorry.

                                                                                      i like the acf version, your not a chef till you have 2 years school + 5 years experiance with at least two as a managment or 7 years with 2 as management just to qualify for the skills and practical exams that you have to pass to be reconized as a resturant chef certified by the acf.

                                                                                      sous is less demanding but still 2 years school +3 xp or 5 years xp to qualify for the practical and written exams. that you have to pass to becom a certified sous chef under the american culinary foundation.

                                                                                      anyone else is a pretender with a title. not saying bad or anything but the current cullinary school craz is about money for the school owners and the more people belive themselves chefs because of them the more money they make off us. and like poster reported very experiance lost out because of a piece of paper.

                                                                                      1. That line is often blurred.

                                                                                        I refer to my wife as a "chef," and she is quick to correct me, by stating that she is "a good cook."

                                                                                        In the business of restaurants, there ARE differentiations.

                                                                                        I have family at many levels of food prep in various restaurants, and they are particular about their titles, and their roles. I tend to be a bit looser, but am not in the business. Still, I see many of the differences.

                                                                                        Good points,


                                                                                        1. If you have formal training, either from a culinary school or years in a kitchen under the tutelage of a chef, then you are a chef. Otherwise you are a cook.

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: PotatoHouse

                                                                                            Julia ChIld had formal training (and a certificate) from Le Cordon Bleu, and she said that she was not a chef.

                                                                                            1. re: GH1618

                                                                                              That is her choice. With her training and experience she had every right to the title of chef.