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The Difference Between a Chef and a Cook

Did you know that there is a difference between a chef and a cook? People who work in restaurants know that there is a distinct difference. Many other people don’t realize this and some still don’t agree that there is a difference at all.

When I worked in the restaurant business, I was both a cook and a head cook (as well as the other positions I held), but I was never a chef. What can make it especially confusing is the definition from the dictionary. You read that right; the dictionary actually doesn’t contain the correct definition, as it is used in the foodservice industry.

Here is the definition of “chef” from Miriam-Webster’s dictionary:

1: a skilled cook who manages the kitchen (as of a restaurant) 2COOK

Quite a few other dictionaries give a similar definition. A few dictionaries state that a chef is someone who cooks professionally. I cooked professionally and as the head cook, I managed the kitchen and the kitchen staff, yet I was not a chef. Here is why.

Although there is no one organization that determines who is a chef and who isn’t, in the restaurant business, a chef is not only someone who is highly trained, cooks professionally, and manages the kitchen, (all of that was true of me) but also a chef is someone who has graduated a school of culinary arts after a two or four-year period of formal education. As I said, I was highly trained, cooked professionally, and managed the kitchen and staff, but I never went to a culinary school, so I never graduated from such a school, therefore, I was never a chef. I don’t have a college degree in cooking.

I often will acknowledge that I was a professional cook, but never say that I was a chef. To me, there is a substantial difference. To many other people, though, they are the same thing.

  • Which definition do you normally agree with, in regard to “Chef”?

    • Anyone who cooks
    • Someone who cooks for a living (professional cook)
    • A professional cook who also manages the kitchen
    • A professional cook who manages the kitchen and has a two-year or four-year college degree in cooking

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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13 Comments

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    • I can understand that viewpoint. However, I rarely use a recipe to cook something. At best, I’ll use a recipe to get an idea going in my mind. That is why it is easy for me to post recipes because I’ve simply put things together and found that they tasted good.

  1. ok I have a headache now.

    I agree with the traditional definition but I would be open to a new definition.

    In college, I was the head cook at a fancy restaurant but I worked for a chef. I managed the people working when I was cooking, the chef managed everything else.

    I thought about becoming a chef but its more than I really wanted to do!

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