The Difference Between a Cook and a Chef

Difference between a cook and a chef

Do You Know The Difference Between a Professional Chef and a Cook?

To most people, a cook and a chef are the same thing. The two terms are used interchangeably to indicate someone working away in the kitchen, regardless of whether that individual is cutting vegetables or masterminding the entire menu.

For those who work in the culinary field, however, there is a big difference. Although there is no single professional organization that determines exactly who is a chef and who is a cook, most agree that the difference lies in education and experience.

If you have 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.

What Makes a Cook a Cook?

Most people agree that a cook is lower-ranking than a chef, and that chefs themselves vary in rank. For example, an executive chef is the top of the line, while sous chefs, chefs de partie, and other professionals might have the right training, but are still working toward their top professional goals.

If you still aren’t sure exactly what it is that makes a chef a chef, consider these qualifications:

  • A two- or four-year culinary degree
  • Extensive training under a 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
  • 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 someone else’s 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 will 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.

Famous Cooks vs. Famous Chefs

In fact, many of the celebrity chefs we have come to know and love as a culture aren’t really chefs at all. Rachael Ray and Nigella Lawson are two of the biggest names in the culinary and Hollywood world, but both women profess that they aren’t trained chefs…and have never pretended to be anything other than cooks. Self-trained, self-motivated, and never having worked in a long-term chef capacity (such as overseeing a restaurant), they are just two examples of cooks who have hit it big.


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  1. Guest Speakers and Visiting Chefs at Culinary School | GatewayGourmet Blog | September 21, 2012
  1. Chef Website says:

    Yeah! I agree how you differentiate between chef and cook. So the cook can’t be compared with the chef as the chef has lots of knowledge, experience and degree too and the cook is the person who just knows how to cook the simple foods and recipes in home or in low level restaurants.

  2. george stray says:

    A chef is trained to know how certain herbs and spices affect taste. A chef works for a long period of time under an experienced chef prior to gaining the title of CHEF;as well as having good deal of practical experience. A chef also understands dietary needs of those he is cooking for. These factors are only the tip of the iceberg when differentiating between a cook and a Chef.

  3. Chef bill says:

    In my view that a chef is well trained professional who have the education and earned a degree from a culinary arts school. But cook has no formal education in the industry but basically perform the same job and same time better than the chef but he can’t get the same salary or position in the kitchen or industry.

  4. Granny says:

    A guy who’s dating my husband’s niece claimed to be a hoity-toity chef. He brings over stuff at christmas bought in ritzy restaurants and cafes, but has never brought anything he made himself. At a wedding in the family he met my son by a previous marriage. They got to talking and he told my son he was a chef at a restaurant in Jack London Square. My son asked him where he went to school, and the question was neatly side-stepped and the subject changed (same as when I asked him). My son told him he was the executive pastry chef at a country club in wine country with a four year degree. The guy avoided him after that, and doesn’t push that he is a chef anymore! He also doesn’t think it’s possible to work an 18 hour day. Yeah – most chefs I know do work more than 18 hours sometimes. My son does on a regular basis. We found out he runs a taco truck and has never been to school.

  5. gramps says:

    restaurant # 1 has a Chef——that worries what the food looks like

    restaurant #2 has a cook that makes sure the food is down home GOOD

    I’m eating at # 2—

  6. Stuart Holmes says:

    So do chefs cook things?

  7. olabisi says:

    I work as a cook but some who call their self chef can not with stand me in aspect of cooking or menu plaining

  8. andrea kay says:

    I was told whilst at college, training to be a chef, was that the difference is that a not formally trained and has no qualification. If you have a “cooking” qualification, then you are a chef rather than cook

  9. Shelley says:

    As in any profession, a piece of paper is just that, a piece of paper. Some pieces of paper are just more expensive than others. A chef, a true chef, is someone who can taste a combination of ingredients before it is ever actually cooked. A chef can look around a storeroom or walk in and put together a menu with just the ingredients on hand. Additionally, a chef is the one who directs and guides the cooks in how to and what to prepare. True chefs have an inate ability when it comes to creating and no amount of “formal” training or piece of paper will ever give you that.

  10. tony says:

    I know a friend who went to culinary arts school. He. Succeded in the first couple of monthes and was beginning to learn alot! But as his time grew on so did the demands to have total focus on school and less time for his work and family. He had much support in the people around him to continue school. But his demands at his jobwere now becoming apparent. He ended up having to focus on his job. But in the short time he did spend at school he learned alot. My friend is older like me. Us old folks look back and wish that the time wasted on stuff was better managed and a real focus or dream was formed and sought out. I believe anyone can cook. But a true Chef i one who can bring the perfect meal to the perfect setting. And that takes schooling and experience in the arts of food.

  11. George Hill says:

    There is no actually no difference between a cook and a chef in terms of their knowledge, skills and attitude the only difference lies with “leadership”. A chef is a cook who has leadership responsibilities. It is the trade of cookery not the trade of cheffery.
    You need to read my book “AM I CHEF?”

    See chapter-by-chapter summary and how to obtain the book on website:

  12. Terry says:

    I’m living with a self proclaimed chef. I myself worked as a cook for years in a couple different kitchens. However I do not have the ability to pair different spices nor whip up something w/o first trying it prepared by somebody first. The person I live with CANNOT do either of the above as well. We just had a debate about this subject and still my roommate insists she’s a chef. I have asked her when she is cooking or grilling chicken or salmon if she knows what the internal temp should be, she replies yes 180 for both!!
    We just had a convo about what is the diff between a cook & a chef . She said a person who worked with a chef and that chef told her she is a chef. (15 yrs ago) She hasn’t worked in any kitchen in the last 15 yrs that wasn’t a bar menu. I explained my opinion of a chef is a person who has a good palate ,can adjust & adapt seasoning & sauces for those that may not be tolerated by some ppl , not have to look up recipes to cook something diff. Most importantly absolutely know & adhere to cooking temps , cleanliness & food expiration.
    Plz tell me, is my roommate a chef or a cook? This is causing tension even tho she no longer is doing it for career.

  13. winston says:

    A doctor is not a doctor without a doctorate, just as a cook is not a chef without completing internationally recognized training for the title. i don’t lay claim to being a plumber because i’ve unblocked a few sinks. And lets get one thing straight, a properly completed apprenticeship is horrifically low payed, with incredibly long hours in arduous conditions. You are taught to be a master of your trade in these years and the years following. It is insulting when cooks (so basically any unqualified random) claims the title, and a lie. You want it? Earn it.

    Having said all that, i don’t claim that all chefs are superior to cooks (there are plenty of sub par chefs out there), i just despise it when a cook claims to be something they have not earned. Chef and cook, they are not one and the same.

  14. Terry Roberson says:

    I have been cooking for many years and have been around many chefs. Most of the chefs i know can’t cook anything but fine dinning food. That to me don’t make them a better cook. However they can get a better paying job. But in most cases Chefs and Cooks don’t make a lot of money anyway. Give a chef 20.00 and see how many meals he can make with that. Give the same 20.00 to a cook and he will know what to do. Just saying

  15. brandee says:

    I disagree with some of the assessments between being a cook and chef. I don’t think a formal education or apprenticeship are absolutely necessary to obtain the title of chef. I think it is possible to have just as much knowledge, skill and experience without having to spend thousands of dollars on schooling, or having to be a puppet in somebody else’s restaurant. Look at chef Gordon Ramsey. He is a world class chef without any formal training. I aspire to follow his track… to be dubbed a self taught chef. It is attainable.

  16. Frito says:

    The major difference between a cook and a chef is administrative. A cook and a chef can have the same formal training, and yet be on different levels. A cook is expected to know how to, guess what…….. COOK. A chef is expected to be able to cook, write menus, train cooks, and understand the business aspects of a kitchen. The Chef of a kitchen may not be the best, or fastest cook in the kitchen but they are the ones who can inspire their cooks to present the highest quality plates and create more profit for the restaurant.

  17. G. Jones says:

    Thank you for sharing these comments Frito. Good observation.

  18. Teresa says:

    I work with a man who went to Culinary arts school and has a degree…I was bypassed for a promotion because i have not been to school for culinary arts…I have worked and trained for and under some awesome chefs and just have a passion for food and cooking. When we are asked to do private parties and caterings I (the one without a degree) am always the cook that is asked for and requested to prepare the food for these events…I agree with another comment, ya either got it or you don’t, food is like art, it is creative, and it is in my opinion a God given talent …

  19. Ronald B. says:

    It’s been my experience to note; a chef will compose a recipe to proportion, a cook will follow the recipe and find someone else to figure out the proportion. A Chef has cooked this meal at least 100 – 500 times to perfection. Also has had culinary training a minium of 2 years. Very well versed in the kitchen…. hey I’ve been cooking for the past 50years…..

  20. Brigette says:

    Gordon Ramsey is a chef or was. He was slaving at Chef White’s kitchen and that will explained quite a lot about his ol’skool kitchen temper. This article touched on either of the one or both – academic and actually able to get paid position or stagier in a reputated/well-functioned kitchen.

    Just because your friends or family members like your cooking, you won’t be able to walk into any reputated/well-functioned kitchens for a paid position. For a start, they wouldn’t even allow you to cook anything. You’ll definitely disrupt the hectic kitchen flow during service time and one wrong plate/taste is a reflection of all the Team’s hardwork + reputation down the drain.

    Chefs also come in many levels. For many, they wouldn’t even have a chance to stand in the same event/function ground where the elites gathered. Those are the one who doesn’t need or even have time out from kitchens to appear on a TV cook shows regularly for the home cookers’ amusement. They do appear from time to time on biography or documentary specials. That also, you’ll find these chefs are at their own restaurants to make sure all food serving out by their standards without mistake.

    In a different field, line cooks are also essential and respectable members in a well-functioned kitchen. There are some who works their way up by sheer hardwork and born talents.

    Many of the elite chefs still alive from older generations are just that. Only at later years, are they “awarded” with “academic” distinction from (e. g.,) WACS, MDF, MOF, etc.

  21. Anthony says:

    A Chef is someone that understands and executes culinary skill at a level above and beyond the final product. There is no set bar, only passion, love and a consistent level of chemistry, cleanliness and a clear directive… the ultimate goal is to serve the soul of the person’s senses and provide a memorable experience through taste, texture and pleasantry..

  22. Anthony says:

    Sorry Brigette..
    Disagree.. Food is an art.. not unlike a renissance man.. in reference to time, period and culture… as well as I can tell… Art and obsession

  23. me says:

    A cook cooks food and serve it. A chef planned the best recipe by differentiate their product, organize the staffs and tasks, monitors and controls the process of cooking which ended up as what the cook makes with less portion and a bit of “artistic touch”. My point is, I think cook is about talent and chef is about schools.

  24. Robinson Khundrakpam says:

    Yes, I agree how you differentiate between Chef and Cook :) (y)

  25. David Ferree says:

    Cook and Chef…. I didn’t go to culinary school. I didn’t just spend money to be a steward or prep cook. Self knowledge and an love of dazzling people comes easy. I live in the heart of America. I am of French Decent. A Chef is not an expo. Food with passion the normal broken the love poured into it. a piece of paper is just a piece of paper. I don’t need people who look like they just came back from an 1756 voyage. This is an art of survival over 37000 years old. be great and let people know wonderful food. sounds f–ked but kiwi puree over twice baked yam..

  26. David Ferree says:

    Me. An Executive Chef who has any type of grasps of culinary will ask you how you think a dish should be plated. Then would give feedback..

  27. David Ferree says:

    Also, a Chef is not a kitchen manager which you think a Chef might be… Me… what about small plates tasting spoons wine pairings? So. someone without the black pants from another Chef is a cook? You fail to realize most line cooks are better than you. Ego…. Have yours. I teach my aces to their places….

  28. Dorothy Green says:

    Having spent a year at college, I was fascinated to find out that much of the stuff deemed as complex was rather simple for me compared with what I had privately tackled, interested to discover recipes which had passed me by (bavarois, consomme,braising steak), and amazed at the depth of questioning by the City and Guilds.

    I luxuriated in reading up about food presentation for fine dining, tried to pick up speed (not difficult when you have played your own part in making a meal) and struggled greatly with having to produce food in a room shared with other people, some methods of assessment and submitting a portfolio.

    However I did enjoy the experience because I could share the level of understanding of culinary arts which I had personally gained in various ways (trial and error, catering experience, recipe books, celebrity chefs etc on TV programmes,foodie events, teaching students myself) with other students and staff at the campus.

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