Whether they are wearing a professional chef coat and toque (the tall hats worn by professionals) or simply a cook shirt under their apron, we see them all in the same light. However, did you know that in the culinary world there is a big difference between the two designations?
For one thing, the uniform that they wear is vastly different. A Chef dressed in his professional uniform of a Chef coat and pants and tall Toque commands the respect and honor that his experience and expertise bring. The Head Chef will usually have the tallest hat, and its height will reduce as they go down the line, while a cook may simply wear a skull cap or beanie to cover their head, and a kitchen shirt rather than the usual double-breasted jacket. Hence to most laymen like us, the only difference we see between the two are the hat and the clothing, even though the actual differences go far deeper into their skills and experience.
Usually, a Chef is someone who has finished culinary school and gained many years of experience, and a cook is someone who either simply enjoys cooking (possibly a home cook or something similar) or is still in culinary school and is learning the ropes, or are probably still apprenticing under a professional. In the hierarchy of the kitchen a cook is considered a lower rank than a chef, which is why they do not get to wear the tall hat and Chef coats and are simply attired in cook shirts and beanies.
What defines a chef?
They should be in possession of a culinary degree from a recognized culinary school.
Have had extensive training under a professional (apprenticeship).
Have greater responsibilities in the kitchen and are usually in a supervisory or managerial role.
They are able to create and implement menus.
They are able to create new dishes which are signature to them.
Chefs have many specialties as well, and different professionals are needed in a commercial kitchen to carry out different activities or head the different sections of a kitchen. These areas of specialty and the hierarchy of the kitchen may include:
Chef de Cuisine – He or she is the absolute head of the kitchen and takes on the role of the Manager. Overall kitchen operations, and all staff under the kitchen department come under their purview.
Sous Chef – The second in command in the kitchen and assistant to the Chef de Cuisine. They take on a more supervisory level responsibility and report back to the head of the kitchen.
Pastry – These professionals are creative geniuses who specialize in desserts and cakes.
Garde Manger – They specialize in cold dishes such as salads and salad dressings, terrines, cold hors d’oeuvres, cold platters, sandwiches and canapes.
Chef de Partie – These are line cooks and will be placed in charge of a specific section of the kitchen such as meat preparation, sauces etc.
Commis Chef – They are apprentice cooks who will assist in the more menial jobs like chopping, cutting and dicing ingredients, and preparing the ingredients for cooking.
While Chefs are generally creative and come up with innovative dishes and garnishing, cooks usually don’t have a say in the creative aspects of the menu items, and are always working under the supervision and management of the head of the kitchen or sectional supervisor. This hierarchy in the kitchen is strictly maintained in all commercial kitchens in order to have a smooth operation, and you can usually distinguish the different levels of the hierarchy from their uniform style or color.
A cook’s responsibilities or jobs include:
Preparing the food daily based on the recipe or the menu plan given to them.
Preparation of ingredients.
Cleaning and washing.
Follow directions and instructions given to them and carry out any other function as required by their supervisor or head of the kitchen.
Whichever job role they play, each person has an important function for the smooth operation of the kitchen, and each role is vital in giving customers a food experience of a lifetime. The learning process for a Chef is long and hard, with many years of endless hours put into it, and therefore when they finally come up to the standard of being referred to as a professional Chef, they certainly deserve all the honor and glory that goes with it.