We’ve all fancied ourselves a bit of a chef at some point or another. Whether carefully following a recipe in a new cookbook or experimenting with all sorts of food in the kitchen, cooking just comes naturally to some of us.
Although we definitely know the difference between a Michelin star chef, and someone messing about in the kitchen, we don’t necessarily know what the difference is between a ‘cook’ and a ‘chef’.
They might both be responsible for delivering us incredibly tasty and mouth-watering food, but chefs and cooks, as it turns out, are incredibly different from one another.
But what are these differences? Are these both interchangeable terms, or are they exclusively to be used to describe certain people?
Let’s prevent some accidental misidentification, and take a look at the discernable difference between these two categories of people, and why you should try to avoid mixing the two terms up to avoid offense! Read on below!
What Are The Differences Between A Chef & A Cook?
Let’s look at the two most distinct differences between the two categories: The functions they perform, and the origins of their names.
The most notable difference between a chef and a cook is the functions they perform in the kitchen. Chefs are often highly trained, highly skilled, and maybe even well renowned for their culinary know-how.
Chefs are able to demonstrate a good understanding of multiple cooking techniques, and how best to make use of certain ingredients. Chefs are also often at the cutting edge of the culinary world, by creating new dishes, techniques, or flavors.
Chefs aren’t expected to follow recipes, they are expected to make them. Chefs also often oversee an entire team of cooks in the kitchen, as the leader.
A cook, on the other hand, is expected to follow recipes. Though a cook may certainly have a high degree of skill and know a number of techniques, they most likely won’t have a high status in the culinary world.
Cooks often follow established recipes, to create dishes made by other cooks, or chefs.
However, being called a ‘cook’ isn’t an insult, and is definitely still a compliment. A cook has a lot of skill in the kitchen and knows best how to prepare certain foods to get the best out of their ingredients every single time.
This might be slightly more surprising to some of you. The etymology of the word ‘Chef’ suggests that the word was first established in the early 19th century, in France.
The word comes from the French phrase: “Chef de cuisine”, which directly translates to ‘Chief of the kitchen’.
This explains why there is such a similarity between the words ‘chef’ and ‘chief’. It also explains why ‘Chef’ refers to someone with high status within the kitchen.
The word ‘Cook’ has a much more extensive etymology because the word also operates as a verb: ‘To cook’. The word has very ancient Latin origins, from the word ‘Coquus’.
It’s unclear when the word was first used as a noun, to describe trainee chefs and amateur home cooks.
Is It Insulting To Call A Chef A Cook?
It would not necessarily be insulting to refer to an established chef as a ‘cook’, as they likely understand that the words are used interchangeably by many people, and have thus accidentally been called a ‘cook’ many times before.
However, you should still try to aim to refer to a chef as a ‘chef’, as a sign of respect. A chef has not spent many years of their life honing their craft to not then be recognized for it, after all!
Can A ‘Cook’ Become A ‘Chef’?
Absolutely. In fact, the word ‘cook’ is often used to describe a hopeful chef in training. Cooks operate under the guidance and tutelage of a head chef within the kitchen. After many years of experience, and with enough recognition from their peers and their higher-ups, a cook can definitely aim to achieve the category of ‘chef’.
What Does It Take To Become A Chef?
It’s tough to outline a definitive set of criteria that a person must reach before they can be defined as a chef. The criteria needed to obtain the title can be very flexible from person to person, or kitchen to kitchen.
Generally, if you were aiming to become a chef, you should expect to spend a good number of years perfecting your craft, before you earn the title. You want to prove your abilities, and earn a good rapport within your kitchen.
How long this takes may depend on the kitchen you are working in. If you are working in the kitchen of a massively prestigious restaurant, then it will likely take a lot longer to earn the ‘head chef’ role, than if you were working in the kitchen of a less renowned restaurant.
While the terms might commonly be used interchangeably, both chefs and cooks could not be more different.
Chefs have a massive degree of status within their field, earned over the course of an extensive career, in which they will have learned multiple techniques, how to make the most of certain ingredients, and even made some brand new and innovative recipes.
A ‘cook’, on the other hand, though not necessarily unskilled, does not have as much status as a chef. This is why you might refer to a loved one as a ‘cook’, rather than a ‘chef’. Cooks can also earn the title of ‘chef’, through hard work and dedication to their craft.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is A Line Cook A Chef?
Though the term might be slightly different, a line cook operates very similarly to an average ‘cook’. A line cook is responsible for following a head chef’s recipes exactly as they were written, to create consistent and delicious food for guests.
However, a line cook likely has more status than an average ‘cook’, as they are working directly under an established chef.
Can Anyone Be A Chef?
With the right skill, and masses of practice, yes, theoretically, anyone can be a chef. However, it really does take a lot of work and dedication to earn the title, so not everyone will be up for the challenge.
Why Do Chefs Wear Really Tall Hats?
It is commonly believed that taller hats represent a higher degree of skill within the kitchen. The higher your hat is, the more status you have in the kitchen!
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