Are we cooks or chefs

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Are we “cooks” or “chefs”?


This is a fundamental and philosophical question that needs to be debated, as I believe the truthful and accurate use of the terms “Cook” and “Chef” is in many cases inappropriately applied throughout the commercial cookery community.


The confusion between the designated cook and chef has been particularly compounded since the term “Chef” has been hijacked by many people to fit their self inflated view of entitlement and because they believe the title “chef” brings to the table creditability and respectability.


“Chef “ is evolving into a pretensions and a diluted title, because everyone uses the title “chef” irrespective of their role, experience or position in a commercial kitchen and sadly many times chef is also used to describe people whose primary role may not even involve earning a living by the commercial preparation of food.


No wonder commercial cookery continues to be in disarray with declining standards and not seriously accepted as a specialized professional career when, even its artisans exploit confusing pretentious titles, or are unwilling to accurately use the terms cook and chef in their appropriate positions.


I would argue that people who prepare and cook for a living are “cooks” and not “chefs” further, I also argue in most cases they should be honest and face reality by calling themselves a cook and not a chef.


“Chef “used to clearly define a position of responsibility and experience and “Cook “was to describe a noble career or vocation that led to the ultimate responsibility of being the chef. Unfortunately and wrongly, a professional cook is now considered by some to be an inferior title to that of a chef, where in reality, a cook should be an equally legitimate professional title. Oddly, the title cook should be even more revered by genuine chefs, as they cannot run their kitchen without their cooks.


A cook is a trained professional who prepares food in a commercial kitchen and chefs are first and foremost professional cooks. There is a paradox here, as cooks can earn their living without being a chef; however a genuine professional chef must first be a cook and have cooks on their staff.

What I believe are the facts:

As defined by acknowledged global dictionaries “cookery” is the art and practice of cooking and a “cook” is defined as a person who has studied the art, and practice of cooking.


The name of the trade is “commercial cookery” and a person who has successfully studied commercial cookery is a cook, not a chef.


The definition “chef “is traditionally recognised and used in many other countries to acknowledge a skilled cook who manages a commercial kitchen.

The etymology or historical derivation of the term “chef “ (in several languages and originally a French expression) translates to chief and therefore should be exclusively used to describe the supervisor of a commercial kitchen brigade.


Both titles cook and chef have existed for hundreds of years and traditionally and globally differentiate the role of people involved in the commercial preparation of food not their career title.


There are some amazing inconsistencies and inaccurate descriptions such as: An apprenticeship in "chefery “or “cheffery” which does not exist as a technical description in acknowledged dictionaries.

Subsequently, I am an apprentice chef” is obviously misleading, as one cannot train to be an apprentice chief.


The technically accurate title of a person training to be a cook is an "apprentice cook" or a trainee cook and the person is employed in an "apprenticeship in cookery". They are not an apprentice in chefery nor employed in the trade of chefery.


Secondary schools, colleges and cookery institutes, who I contend ,may well be doing more harm than good when advertising they teach students to be chefs, they do not help the industry nor their students and only encourage a continuing misunderstanding of correct titles and career paths.


Just as "I am "chefing" - doesn't follow as it literally translates to “I am chiefing”?


When asked what do you do for a living? It is illogical to say only I am a manager, foreman or supervisor without qualifying where at, or what you actually manage, just as "I am a chef" is also technically inaccurate of one’s career, unless the persons role is to actually manage a kitchen brigade.


In my opinion no one is entitled in commercial cookery to call themselves a chef. (Unless they are actually responsible for the operation of a commercial kitchen), however an exception to the rule is, one may be called a "chef" by their colleagues, even while working as a cook, when and only when, the term is used as a compliment to acknowledge a persons experience and knowledge in commercial cookery. In this case it is a momentary title bestowed as an accolade only and should not be used by the individual to define their career.


Chef de partie, is a metaphor for a supervisor or foreman cook or the cook in charge of a team within a brigade, chef de parties are still cooks by trade, and cooks by title.


Chef de Cuisine is a legitimate title only when in charge of a kitchen brigade and executive chefs are legitimately titled only when responsible for multiple kitchen brigades. One cannot be an Executive chef when responsible for only one kitchen, no matter how large the brigade.


Sous chef or executive sous chef is a legitimate title, provided the person is actually the understudy to the head or executive chef.


If asked, what one does for a living, a legitimate statement maybe; “I am a cook, but sometimes called a chef by my colleagues”, identifying oneself as a chef, while not being responsible for a kitchen brigade is frankly downright pretentious and possibly dishonest.


Even the misnomer “World Association of Chefs Societies”; originated a few years back, when the "World Association of Cooks Societies", as it was legitimately named since its inception, made a difficult decision (while attempting to be politically correct and bowing to a pressure group) to change their name from cooks to chefs and in doing so alienated a lot of professionals in the commercial cookery industry. Even today the description “World Association of Chefs Societies" although a great organisation, led by passionate people who are attempting to make a difference to the commercial cookery industry globally is still considered to be incorrectly titled by many practicing cooks and chefs.


While there has been a community shift in the interpretation of the title “chef” the evolution of the change in the interpretation has been basically driven by self interested people outside the real commercial kitchen. I suggest it will be in the professional interest of all cooks and chefs to rechristen themselves and return to reality.


I take the liberty of adding the two top lines to the renowned quotation by Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st earl of Lytton (1831–91)

We may live without chefs and live without bars

We may live without phones and live without cars

We may live without poetry, music, and art;

We may live without conscience, and live without heart;

We may live without friends; we may live without books;

But civilized man cannot live without cooks.


Four case studies and food for thought:

I am 36 years old having enjoyed a total of 22 years in a commercial kitchen, My career commenced with an apprenticeship and worked my way up the ladder to now have 48 staff within my brigade. I am responsible for 7 apprentices and 30 who cook on various shifts. My kitchen is open for 18 hours a day and seven days a week. I decide when the menu s change, who we purchase products from, what dishes look and taste like, a budget of over 4$ million a year . What am I called -? I am a chef


I present a TV program. Though I have never actually managed a commercial kitchen, I am very good with communication and demonstration skills having a trained media background. My producer and assistants decide what I will present each week on the show and I am well known by my audience to be able to produce a great recipe. What am I called -? I am a chef


I have a great personality and would love to enter the commercial cookery world and yearn to one day own my own restaurant. I can memorize and produce a great dish from a recipe. I demonstrate that I am also quiet creative with food preparation. I appear in a weekly TV show as a contestant. What am I called -? I am a master chef


I was 16 years old last week. I have just left school to enjoy my first job in a kitchen. During the week I even washed some garden greens and assisted my chef plate up the entrée for a function. I am passionate about my future and very sure that one day I will lead a kitchen. I look forward to attending school soon What am I called -? I am a chef.


I leave it up to the reader to decide if the four examples above should enjoy the same title CHEF

Now if you don’t agree with this philosophical position provide the appropriate evidence that demonstrates why we are all chefs!

To add your own opinion to this article, please join the Salonculinaire.com group at LinkedIn where you can place your comments

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