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What is the difference between cooks/chefs?

post #1 of 79
Thread Starter 
I love to cook and I aspire to be a chef one day..then I suddenly realized, I have heard the terms for different types of cooks/chefs but I have no real idea what the titles really mean?
line cook
sous chef
head chef chef steward

I'm sure there are more...can someone tell me them and a little about them?

Also, what kind of job would I be looking at if I had one?
post #2 of 79
I'll move this to a better forum.......

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post #3 of 79
Good question. The owner of the resturant calls me the sous chef. I say I'm the line cook. If I have a "chef" title it would be cold plate chef.I do all the salads & dressings. The prep cook can run circles around me :o She's good and would be actually the closest thing we have to a sous chef. A sous chef should be able to run the kitchen in the absence of the exec. chef.

I guess we're all cooks :chef:
Preparing a fine meal with quality ingredients is the most practical way we show our love. How we plate shows the depth of our caring.
Preparing a fine meal with quality ingredients is the most practical way we show our love. How we plate shows the depth of our caring.
post #4 of 79
I'm a cook by trade, a Chef by responsibility.
Traditionally the title Chef is earned by training and certification.
The lines have blurred, and a Chef with certification is just that, a Certified Chef.
These days, a restaurant owner can call himself, or anyone in his employ, Chef.
I do not consider myself in the same class as many Chef's in this forum, but I am the chief of my kitchen, so I believe the title is warranted.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
post #5 of 79


You can look up the brigade system to get official titles but as has been said there are blurred lines.

Derek and I could each be called one of the following things:

chef de partie - we are each in charge of our stations
garde manger - we are each working pantry
line cook - I am not sure about Derek but I have to cook fish and sear fois
gras for my station.
post #6 of 79
Good points. And all that is subject to change in the heat of battle. Especially if for some horrable reason a fellow cook "goes down" :suprise:
Preparing a fine meal with quality ingredients is the most practical way we show our love. How we plate shows the depth of our caring.
Preparing a fine meal with quality ingredients is the most practical way we show our love. How we plate shows the depth of our caring.
post #7 of 79
I believe I misspelled your name good sir... DIRK and I hold similar positions although I am sure somewhere someone named Derek also does.
post #8 of 79
No biggie :chef: You can tell I was ticked off :smiles:
Preparing a fine meal with quality ingredients is the most practical way we show our love. How we plate shows the depth of our caring.
Preparing a fine meal with quality ingredients is the most practical way we show our love. How we plate shows the depth of our caring.
post #9 of 79
Does the restaurant you work at have a website?
post #10 of 79
In America a "chef" is anyone who cooks. In a kitchen the "chef" is someone you're payed to say "yes" to. Chef means "boss" in French. The chef is the boss. The chef de cuisine is the big boss. Some kitchens have an assistant boss (or bosses) called (a) sous chef(s). It's really that simple. In the kitchen, everyone else is a cook. If you ask a cook what he does, (s)he'll usually say, "I'm a chef, well I'm a cook." Friends and family always refer to their cook friends and relatives as "professional chefs." Always.

By usage the sentence, "He's a chef" is as meaningless as, "She's a gourmet cook."

Take a look at Chef - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The descriptions of archaic station responsibilities in this article are as good as any and better than most. That being said, the kitchens described in this article probably don't exist outside of the very largest restaurants. Typically those are hotels or chains. Chain restaurant kitchens are only loosely organized around traditional brigade -- in that they're generally pushing some sort of theme food off on their customers and the kitchens are organized around the specific menu. Hotels with "fine dining" may be the last refuge of the true brigade.

In most modern kitchens the brigade roles are very blurred. There are also modern titles. For instance, the grill/roast station is called "turn and burn;" the saute station is called "hot pan," and most line cooks spend most of their time cooking hot pan; plating is usually done by the most senior chef in the kitchen at what's called "the hot plate;" some sauces are made to order at the saute station, but many (if not most) are made during prep by anyone or any number of people of various job descriptions -- and so forth.

The term "executive chef" always tickles me. Toque and a briefcase, I guess. Sous-chef might be the most elastic description of all. In some kitchens they're "men, equipment, time-cards and ordering" and almost never cook except to fill in for an absence or a rush. In other kitchens, the sous-chef handles more volume than anyone else.

The old brigade system worked best for kitchens with varied menus turning several hundreds of covers a night. That's seldom true of fine dining anymore; and most good kitchens are organized around the principle of whatever works best and cheapest.

post #11 of 79
It's the difference between a nurse and a doctor!
post #12 of 79
yep, but I gotta find it :o I'll try to PM you on Monday. I'll get it tonight.

See ya' around the board buddy.:chef:
Preparing a fine meal with quality ingredients is the most practical way we show our love. How we plate shows the depth of our caring.
Preparing a fine meal with quality ingredients is the most practical way we show our love. How we plate shows the depth of our caring.
post #13 of 79
I was a cook for 15 years and worked as a "chef" then I spent 4 years at college and became a chef. I then became a chef snob for a while, until i figured(for my own way of thinking, since my 2 older sons are not college trained, but successfull chefs) that a chef is a respected leader in the kitchen. No matter how large or small. There are plenty of self taught genius's out there.
If you truly think you deserve the monika then wear it i say.
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
post #14 of 79
means "Chief" in French and has nothing to do with cooking except for the fact that the "Chief of Food" at a restaurant is called the Chef de Cuisine or Chef for short.

Americans do make the mistake of equating a Chef with a Cook, which clearly must piss of any Non-Cooking French Chef...we should therefore keep up the good work.
post #15 of 79
This could be a 5-pager.....

I really think that "Chef" is probably one of the top 10 most abused words int eh English language.

"I Chef at the Dine-o-mite"....
"I wear a Chef's jacket when I'm Cheffing"....

My brother-in-law, who owns two dogs, swears by "Chef's blend" dawg food, it's the cheapest one that comes in 25 kg bags.
Last week the coffee sales guy wanted to fob off some "Economically priced" beans on us. Guess what it was called? Yup. "Chef's Choice"...

What all the others have said is true. Chef is the French word for Chief, Boss.
"Chef" in N. America is just double-plus-good newspeak for "cook". It carries about as much weight as "Professional photographer".... Somewhere along the line, it became common to call cooks--those who prepare food-- "Chefs". The media love it. Schools must love it too, for I have never seen so many "Chef's schools" as now.

My take on this? The Chef hires you, the Chef fires you. The Chef HAS to know more about the food and the business than the cooks. If s/he doesn't, s/he is a lousy supervisor, and therefore a lousy Chef.

Does this make sense?
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #16 of 79
Wouldn't s/he be a lousy c/hef?

post #17 of 79
Not for long....
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #18 of 79
Hi to the board and this industry!

This is actually a question I've been wondering about regarding I a chef or just a cook? I'll try and keep this short...

I work in the kitchen at a popular high-end nightclub, and I'm the only one in the kitchen. We have a rather upscale menu, and I'm in charge of prepping it all and cooking it all. Most of the food is purchased for me by the owners, but almost every week I run to the nearby market to pick up any missing items. I'm also given the responsibility and creative license of coming up with amuses bouche that go out with bottle service. Lastly, there are plans to hire another cook to help me out and that person is supposed to be under me being that I will train them and they will work in the kitchen as I have it currently set up and running. Here's the catch...

I've only been doing this since February. I've never been to culinary school. Before that I was working at starbucks, and have a minute amount of experience working in a kitchen. I'm lucky that they've given me this job, and so far, I feel I do it pretty **** well considering my situation.

So again, am I allowed to consider myself a chef or am I still just a cook?
post #19 of 79
There is no such thing as "just" a cook, unless you believe it to be so.
We are all cooks.
Cooks are the backbone of the industry.
I still recall my favorite Far Side comic, the one with a sinking ship, a rowboat with sailors and the captain, and on the bow of the sinking ship is the cook, who is saying "I wonder if that's really true, the cook always goes down with ths ship?".
Well, if they are worth their salt, they do.

In your situation, as the chief of the kitchen, you can call yourself Chef, or grand poobah for that matter.
Even though you don't have to do the ordering, you should aspire to learn how, to learn inventory comtrol, vendor relations, etc.

Even though I've been the Exec at a few places, helped open a few as well, and have proven to be better than some who freely use the term, if I don't currently have the position, I don't call myself Chef.
But people I've worked with still call me that when we happen to meet up.
And even though I am called Chef, I have a Chef.
Although I no longer work with him, he will always be my Chef.
So again, I am a cook by trade, a Chef by responsibility.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
post #20 of 79
yeah, that's kinda how i felt about it. i mean, if i'm the only person here, i'm the chef right? but thing is, i obviously know there are tons of other people that could run circles around me, but i guess the answer is that it's all relative to the situation.

Believe it or not, I'm actually at work right now this minute since it slows down towards the end of the night, but when it's slow like this, i use my computer to research things, peruse these forums, always trying to further my knowledge. I am indeed trying to weasel my way into ordering the food and working with the great vendors available in Chicago (as opposed to buying everything cheap at the local restaurant mega supplier...ugh).

what other things should i be learning about on my own? what indeed is the proper way of doing inventory? (i've had to do it a few times already...) my whole plan was to get into the industry by working under a chef to learn things, but in my case, i have to teach myself anything i want to know. i just want to be able to have something to show for when i move on and have on my resumé that i ran this kitchen.
post #21 of 79
I really think we should get out of what the "technical" and "traditional" meaning of what a Chef is.

A chef in my definition is more than the "chief" of the kitchen. The gentleman that works at a nightclub where he's working by himself with NO training (real life or school) is not even close to being a Chef and is an insult to me that one would even consider themselves one.

I made a comment earlier that Chefs and Cooks are simular to Doctors and nurses. Doctors go through years and years of training scholastic and real life on the job experience. Even though the nurses seem to do the bulk of the work, the knowledge and experience of the doctor far out ways what a nurse is really capable to do.

A Chef must have many many years experience and vast knowledge of the culinary world with the ability to continue learning new trends and cooking techniques. A Chef is a leader, one who has the ability to form cooks into Chefs. A Chef is a mathlete, a scientist and a historian. The abilities of a Chef outshine those of the cooks around him/her.

A cook is someone who lacks any of these qualities and when it boils down to it is a general laborer in the kitchen, or would be a home cook.
post #22 of 79
I think you've read into my post completely wrong.

It's not the fact that the gentleman is working in the kitchen alone and is wondering if he would be considered a chef. It's the fact that he's working alone with 2 months experience and his previous experience was at a starbucks. The fact the previous posts interprit a Chef as the chief of the kitchen would give someone who has yet to put in the time and effort into learning basic principles of cooking & management a job title of Chef to someone who runs a small kitchen with little to no experience is insulting.

Also, it's the time, skill, effort and experience that make a Chef. So yes someone who runs a one man kitchen with those atributes I would consider a Chef but not any Joe off the street someone is willing to hire to keep there costs down to run a kitchen.

It's an insult to people who have worked there asses off to become the best they can be to represent their fellow Chefs in a job that requires a lot more skill and determination than what many cooks have to offer.

I by no means think that someone who is a self taught Chef can not be as good or better than some of the top chefs in the would but they must possess the skills, have real world experience and put time in effort into obtaining the title of Chef.

I totally respect cooks and I'm a very firm believer in the training and nurturing them to become great Chefs. But I believe it's a title that needs to be earned and not just given to anyone off the street.
post #23 of 79
I see what Roc is getting at, and largely agree with him. To my mind, a "chef" should be someone with responsibility for the kitchen who can also cook. And I mean cook as in really cook -- not merely prepare food.

Have you ever heard anyone say, "He's a great chef, but a lousy cook?" I haven't. I worked for a couple of people who were great cooks but lousy managers and no one ever called them bad chefs -- even though everyone was in a big hurry to get better managers in there -- either by moving the owner/chef to FOH, but keeping his menu and perfected dishes, or by getting the talented chef a sous-chef who could run things. The point is, cooking is the primary but not the only thing. Otherwise, a great home cook would be a c/hef -- which s/he is n/ot. S/he's a c/ook. Strictly as an aside, Julia Childs would be considered a chef under this defintion. She, in fact, ran several large kitchens. How do you think cooking shows are made?

If you were considering someone for the job of chef in a small, one or two man kitchen, what skill set would you want?

As to budawg particularly, what can I say? What can any of us? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The reality of what you are is determined by what you do and how you do it, not by your job title or what you think it should be.

One small thing I noticed was budawg's use of the term "amuse bouches." Typo or telling? Quien sabe? Not me, but I'd like to. I'd also like to know specifically what passes for amuse bouche in the club. What does he do to make them? More generally, I want some information on what sort of cuisine he makes, the techniques he uses to prepare it, his level of mastery of the techniques he thinks he has, how important the microwave is, etc.

post #24 of 79
When I got the job, I looking up the proper definition of chef in the dictionary, at it has several listings...the first hit in a google search is "a professional cook". The second says the same and goes further to say "...the one in charge of everyone else in the kitchen."

Upon thinking about it more, I think chubyalaskagriz has it right in that there is indeed a broad spectrum involving the word "chef". Someone such as myself would certainly be on the low low end of it. Someone with years of experience and such; certainly on the other...the type of person people just call "chef"...that's definitely not me. Also, don't think I just waltzed into the kitchen without any ability at all. Cooking is something I've been good at for a while and have only recently decided to pursue it professionally.

As an example, (and this will either completely discredit me in the eyes of some, or hopefully prove my point lol), but watching ****'s kitchen, gordon ramsey is "the chef", but many times will refer to the competitors as "the chefs".

To reply to boar_d_laze , it was only this week that I got a microwave because one of the back of house guys wanted to warm up their meals from I could have sworn the plural of amuse-bouche was to add an "s" to "amuse". After a quick wikipedia check, I am indeed wrong. I usually prepare canapés with cheeses, vegetables, fresh herbs, miniature caprese bites, but nothing incredibly fancy. I think I do a pretty good job with what I have. I'd like to do more, but I'm limited with what i'm supplied with and frankly, what the stupid nightclub clientele will actually eat.

Menu items include things such as panko dusted lamb chops, pan seared chicken, steak and truffled grits, a trio of freshly made guacamoles and picos, handmade flatbreads, etc. I'll admit there's nothing technical about the food, but I'm trying to learn new things every day I'm there.

To be honest, I am wanting to get a new job in a full fledged restaurant at a place that takes the food as seriously as I do in the hopes of working under a chef and learning as much as I can. I think that'd be the best way to further my career.

And just to be clear, I in no way mean any disrespect to the tenured chef's on this board or piss anybody off...just trying to discuss our profession with colleagues.

And as an edit after reading chubyalaskagriz's reply, I'm indeed talking about a chef in the artistic sense of the word. Also, I thought I'd just add...people almost always dig my food. :)
post #25 of 79

I'll have to agree with BDL

I think most cooks confuse the terms. There is a huge difference between working as "The Chef" of a nightclub/restaurant and being "A Chef" by trade.
I know someone who has a job as "The Chef" of an Amtrak train, he solely preps food and microwaves it, though his business card reads "Chef". And on the fipside, If the restaurant I've run for the past 4 years suddenly sells (actually might happen), and I'm out of a job, am I no longer a Chef, even though I've spent almost 20 years studying and honing my craft?
The term "Chef" has become watered down over the years. A Chef to me, is a craftsmen, constantly studying technique, and improving his skills and palate.
Just as carpentry has it's levels of skill, "apprentace", "journeyman", and finally "Master", all of witch imply some level of education and accomplishment, we've got but two, "Cook" and "Chef".
I blame the Food Network, personally I think it would be great to still use the Brigade system, at least then someone could say, "I'm a "Friturier" at the local pub, rather than the "Chef".

So, I guess I've got no concrete answer for the question, only opinions as usual.
nel maiale, tutto e buono!
nel maiale, tutto e buono!
post #26 of 79
Julia Childs would be considered a Chef to me (but I'm pretty sure she didn't consider herself to be one) because she educated herself, had raw talent that she turned into a career and always continued learning the trade with passion. She put in her time in other ways other than in restaurants, but she put in her time! Plus you must agree Julia Childs is an exception to the norm.

That being said, I personally have a very hard time swallowing the fact that there are too many cooks trying to pass themselves off as being Chefs. And nothing bothers me more than when I get put into the same catagory as a cook when I've dedicated plenty of years working my way up from pot washer to executive Chef, not only been through school but have put in countless hours/days into learning everything I possibly can about my craft.

If you started calling Nurses Doctors, I think Doctors would start getting insulted and feel as their career and accomplishment are being downplayed too.
post #27 of 79
Julia Child was anything but self-educated. She studied at Le Cordon Bleu in post war Paris under the "grande beche" Mme Brassart and earned her toque there. She also took private lessons from Max Bugnard who was a disciple of Escoffier's. She was as trained as one could be.

On a different tangent, budawg, I have to admit to being slightly weirded out at Panko Dusted Lamb Chops. Do you mean crusted? As in the fat side of a rack is crusted with panko? Or do you mean dusted? As in the face of the chop is lightly sprinkled with panko dust? It's hard to believe you perfected the dish yourself, or even have much control over the techniques if you don't know the jargon.

There are other parts of your story that don't exactly scream "chef." For instance in your description of what you make you don't whine about the things most accomplished cooks mention right off -- like the amount of prep, making stock, etc. You don't talk about the improvement in your knife technique. You don't crow about your sauces or your newfound ability to hit medium rare every time.

I'm not trying to be hard on you, or run you down. In fact, I respect and admire what you've already accomplished, are trying to accomplish, and appear very likely to accomplish. You deserve all the praise and support in the world.

You also deserve an honest answer to your question, "chef or cook?" I'm a little more tight-@$$ than griz. My sense is you're barely starting to scratch the surface of cook, and aren't a chef yet. At least not in the meaningful sense of the terms where a chef and a cook aren't the same things.

That doesn't mean you don't have the talent or the drive -- or even that you can't turn your opportunity into bigger and better things. Clearly, you're learning a lot and learning fast. But the reality is you're just starting out and most chefs have shoes with 10 times the amount of time you have in the business. Give it a chance.

post #28 of 79

if cooks gotta talk fluid kitchen speak to become a chef then it's gonna be a rough road uphill.

No culinary schoolin'....
Thomas Keller
Alice Waters
Charlie Trotter

Last month I food styled for a visiting cookbook author, afterwards at dinner one of my cheesemaking farmers gave me grief about taking the job because I had no formal training. Well, using that mindset I would not have done personal cheffing, stage directing/managing, off-site catering, founding farmers markets, teaching culinary classes......
my staff call me by my first name, my culinary students call me chef,
my coat has my name/name of my company, my signiture is chef/owner.....
I cook. It's 8am on Monday morning and I'm off to cook a week's worth of food for a priest and his staff/make lunch for his buddies and take home a paycheck with insurence for working 5ish hours a week. I hate naming food, it is what it is....."goo" is in my dialect and used for a mydrid of stuff.
Last week it was rhubarb orange tart filling.

Just had to stir alittle. type on.......
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #29 of 79
So whats the difference between a Chef and a Mater Chef?
post #30 of 79
I worked for Alice Waters, Paul Aratow and Jeremiah Tower at CP -- and none of them went to culinary school. Paul Aratow taught himself to cook from an old French cookbook when he lived in France. He later translated the book. Tower learned to cook from Aratow mostly, from Aratow's favorite book, and from a different old French cookbook (which also happens to my favorite). The CP style of simplicity is not entirely the result of vision, but partly of necessity. There were things in those books the chefs and cooks simply weren't trained to do -- no matter how hard we tried. So we simplified. We pared things down to their elements and let the ingredients speak for themselves.

Waters had the vision and the drive. Aratow was a good and talented chef with the vision. You don't hear that much about Paul Aratow but an incredible amount of the CP style came from how he thought about food -- which he'd thought about extensively and studied in a uniquely academic way. Tower was a much better natural chef than Aratow, with the vision, the ego, and surprisingly to himself, the drive.

I'm not sure I'd credit Waters with being a chef. She never really ran the kitchen at CP. She did stick her head in plenty and had a lot to do with creating the menus -- which when I worked there changed (and I mean changed with no repetition of main dishes) daily. She was always FOH. She's a good cook, but I'm a better one and I'm not exactly God's gift. If you want to credit Waters for her real accomplishments, credit her for never settling; credit her for her passion for best ingredients (which shroomgirl seems to share); credit her persuasiveness in getting people to grow or make them (she was the prime mover in creating the high-end food industry in NorCal); credit her for knowing the difference between excellent and lesser; and credit her for talent spotting. Oh yes, she ran and runs one of the best restaurants in the world for almost four decades. Does that count?

The implication that Keller and Trotter weren't trained is wrong: Keller was born into a restaurant family, served extensive apprenticeships, and came up through the brigade. Charlie Trotter calls himself "self taught," but it is an interesting sort of "self taught." He worked years in all sorts of kitchen jobs before becoming a chef. He also attended the San Francisco CCA -- but dropped out before graduating. Beyond that, he's probably read twice as many cookbooks as who ever comes in second.

I'll agree that culinary schooling isn't the only way to make a chef. In fact, schooling doesn't necessarily make a chef. IMO very few recent graduates meet the standard. But if they came from a good school, at least they have some repertoire and the technique to learn more without every time being the first time. I'll also agree that you don't have to know all the French names for dishes, and that knowing the names of techniques in any language doesn't mean you can perform them. But, it's a sign. I guarantee you that Aratow, Waters and Tower knew all the words. We can be pretty sure about Keller and Trotter, too.

School is one way of getting the necessary training. Another is by doing. Knowing things by their name is a sign, at least. Most, if not all of us, don't get our first cooking job unless and until we feel pretty comfortable cooking. That doesn't make us chefs. It doesn't even make us competent professional cooks. And bottom line: While it's a start, two months in a night club kitchen doesn't either.

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