The Many Toques of a Chef
To most people, a cook and a Chef are the same thing. The terms are interchangeable to indicate someone working in the kitchen, regardless of whether that individual is cutting vegetables or masterminding the entire menu.
For those working in the culinary industry, however, there is a huge difference. Oddly enough, there is no single professional organization that determines exactly who is a Chef and who is a cook, most agree that the differences lie in education and experience.
If you hold a culinary degree and/or trained under a notable Chef and have moved up the ranks, you are typically considered a Chef. If you simply dabble in the kitchen at home or are just starting out at the bottom of the restaurant totem pole, you are almost always considered a cook.
Most industry professionals agree that a cook is a lower-ranking position than a Chef, and that Chefs themselves vary in rank. For example, an Executive Chef is the top of the hierarchy, while Sous Chefs, Chefs de Partie, and other individuals might have substantial training, but are still working toward their professional goals.
Still not clear on who qualifies as a chef? Let’s consider these qualifications:
- A two- or four-year culinary degree
- Extensive training under a notable Chef with the goal of gaining a culinary education equal to that of a degree (also known as a culinary apprenticeship)
- Responsibilities that include a supervisory role in BOH (Back of House)
- The ability to create and implement menus in a restaurant setting
- Management roles in the kitchen
A cook, on the other hand, can expect to:
- Prepare food on a daily basis
- Perform kitchen duties, as needed and directed
- Clean and wash the kitchen
- Use recipes and follow a preset menu plan
- Still be at the learning level of his or her career
There are some culinary institutions, including the American Culinary Federation, that offer designations and titles based on testing, work experience, and education. Although many organizations and restaurants recognize these distinctions (and may boost your career accordingly), they aren’t required to be a Chef or to be successful in your own culinary career.
In most cases, the cook is below the Chef in terms of prestige, pay, and career development. However, there are instances in which this isn’t true. Many home cooks or amateurs have skills and experience that surpass that of their Chef counterparts; they simply may not make claim to the title.
The term literally means “the chief” in French. Every kitchen has a chef or executive chef who is responsible for the operations of the entire kitchen. (A commonly misused term in English, not every cook is a chef.)
- Plan and direct food preparation and cooking activities of several restaurants in an establishment, restaurant chains, hospitals or other establishments with food services
- Plan menus and ensure food meets quality standards
- Estimate food requirements and may estimate food and labor costs
- Supervise activities of sous-chefs, specialist chefs, chefs and cooks
- Arrange for equipment purchases and repairs
- Recruit and hire staff
- May prepare and cook food on a regular basis, or for special guests or functions
This position means “the under chief” in French. This is person is second in command and takes responsibility for the kitchen operations if the chef is absent.
- Supervise activities of specialist chefs, chefs, cooks and other kitchen workers
- Demonstrate new cooking techniques and new equipment to cooking staff
- May plan menus and requisition food and kitchen supplies
- May prepare and cook meals or specialty foods
Chef de Partie
Also known as a “station chef” or “line cook”, is in charge of a particular area of production. In large kitchens, each station chef might have several cooks and/or assistants. In most kitchens however, the station chef is the only worker in that department. Line cooks are often divided into a hierarchy of their own, starting with “First Cook”, then “Second Cook”, and so on as needed. The Chef de Partie is in charge of any of the following kitchen positions:
The person responsible for sautéed items and many different sauces. Traditionally, it is the third person in command. This is usually the highest position of all the stations:
The bread cook
The candy cook
The fish cook–all fish and shellfish items and their sauces
The deep fry cook
The grill cook
Is responsible for cold foods, including salads and dressings, pâtés, cold hors d’oeuvres, and buffet items.
Pastry Chef (or Patissier)
Prepares pastries and desserts.
The soup and often stock cook
Roast cook (or Rotisseur)
Prepares roasted and braised meats and their gravies, and broils meats and other items to order. A large kitchen may have a separate broiler cook or grillardin (gree-ar-dan) to handle the broiled items. The broiler cook may also prepare deep-fried meats and fish.
The Butcher Commis
The common cook under one of the Chef de Partie. This level of cook comprises the bulk of the kitchen staff
Tournant (or Chef de Tournant)
The Relief cook. This term describes the cook in the kitchen who provides help to all the different cooks rather than having a specific job.
Prepares vegetables, soups, starches, and eggs. Large kitchens may divide these duties among the vegetable cook, the fry cook, and the soup cook.