Chef or Cook: What’s the Difference?

22nd Jun, 2020 | Resources

To anyone outside of a kitchen, the difference between a chef and a cook may seem pretty interchangeable – but it isn’t so in the world of culinary arts.

Chefs are in hot demand right now on Sidekicker. Hundreds of businesses are posting a request for cooks and chefs to perform a variety of tasks.

But with dozens of specialties to choose from, often beautifully titled in French, how do you know who you need in your kitchen?

To most people, the main difference that springs to mind when you hear ‘chef’ rather than ‘cook’ is that they get to wear a fancy hat.

It’s best to know the difference if you’re looking to hire someone to cater an event, to make sure you’re getting someone with the skills you require, while not hiring someone who may be overqualified for the job.

Although both are undeniably skilled in the kitchen, it all boils down to the individual’s qualifications;

  • A chef will have had between two and four years worth of training and experience in a professional kitchen
  • Whereas anyone who enjoys preparing food can be referred to as a cook

Even the semantics play a role in defining the boundary between the two. Calling someone a cook is a very colloquial term; we’d refer to someone as a ‘good cook’, but never a ‘good chef’.

Equally, the title ‘chef’ derives from the French phrase Chef de Cuisine, literally meaning ‘Chief of the Kitchen’, whereas ‘cook’ usually refers to a more domestic setting, and historically means someone who was employed to prepare the food in a grand house.

In a professional kitchen, a chef will have a team of people working under them, known as the Brigade de Cuisine, who they’re in charge of. In this team, each person will know exactly what they need to focus on to get the dishes prepared and served at the right time, to the highest standard. In contrast, a cook usually works alone, taking on every part of the meal preparation and cooking.

Here are a few titles you may come across when looking for a chef:

Sous Chef – second in command, assists the Chef de Cuisine and supervises the kitchen staff

Pastry Chef – master of desserts and generally a bit more creative

Garde Manger – responsible for the restaurant’s cold dishes (salads, terrines, etc)

Chef de Partie – also known as line cooks, they are in charge of one specific section (such as cooking the meat or sauces)

Commis Chef – usually an apprentice or trainee who will spend a lot of time slicing, dicing and chopping so the food is ready to be cooked when ordered

If a cook is working in a professional kitchen, they won’t have any say over the creative process involved in preparing the dish, and will be completely under the chef’s direction: the hierarchy is always maintained to keep the kitchen running smoothly.

Last but not least: the rate of pay for a chef is higher than for a cook due to their training and professional experience, as well as their management skills in running a kitchen.