what's the difference between a chef and a cook?It happens at least once in every chef's life: someone asks them about their job, and they go into how they prepare food for a living, sometimes at their own restaurant, sometimes on a line, but they are always proud of their work. And, inevitably, someone else will say "So, you're just a cook?"

At such times, it may be best to quietly change the subject. Do not stare at the pulsating vein threatening to burst forth from the chef's forehead. Do not lose track of any sharp objects, loose change, pens, or chairs in the vicinity of the chef for the next few minutes. And, by any and all means, do not proceed with that line of questioning!

It's understandable. After-all, what's in a name? Most people simply have no experience in the field of food preparation, so a little explanation is in order. A cook, simply stated, cooks food. Any food. Cooks run the gambit of ability, from a capacity to burn water to creating taste-sensations that dance across the tongue, but for all that they are quite simply . . . cooks.

Take the chef, by comparison. As a chef you will, in fact, cook food, but more than that, you'll create dishes, prepare courses, run kitchen staffs, delegate tasks to sous chefs, plan menus, order food for the next evening's service, greet guests who wish to compliment your abilities, and always, always, explore new foods, ideas, and skills. You can do any and all of this, but only if you're a chef.

So, why aren't cooks chefs?

Cooks in professional kitchens are often just starting their career in food preparation. They typically have little to no professional schooling and little to no experience. This is reflected by their pay. A cook in The United States has an annual median salary of $20,550 per year (that's only $9.88 per hour) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Is the Missing Link Culinary Education?

chef payA chef, on the other hand, has gone through sometimes years of schooling, on the job training, and studying with other professional chefs. They know what to do in a kitchen without being told, often have the menu memorized, have no problem with the break-neck-pace of a professional kitchen, and tend to have a fantastic sense of humor because of it. This is reflected in their pay, as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that a chef or head-cook in The United States has an annual median salary of $42,480 per year. 

In the world of cooking, nothing can compare to the value of a hands-on education that comes from years of experience as a professional chef. It's for this exact reason that there are so many culinary schools in the world. It takes a long time to develop and hone a good sense of taste, an accurate palette, and to detect the subtle difference from one dish to another. It takes years of practice to understand how to correct and modify a recipe or dish to fit the customer's ever-changing hunger for something new. Basic skills are important, after all and a chef who did not know the difference between julienne and chopped vegetables would be laughed out of the kitchen, but basic skills are just that -- basic. And a chef has been prepared with a culinary magnitude of information, allowing him or her to prepare dishes, even ones they have never prepared, with skill and an added allure. 

Lastly, a chef, as opposed to a cook, is a prestigious title. The BLS states that there are over 2-million cooks working as of 2012, but there are only 115,400 chefs or head-cooks. A Chef has earned their title and the respect of their peers. A cook, to be blunt, is just a cook. Can you see now why a chef may be a little touchy on the subject of names? 

Train to Become a Chef

Are you a cook? Are you interested in becoming something more? If you're interested in joining the ranks of this prestigious career, ECPI University offers an excellent program to get your Associate's Degree in Culinary Arts. Taking two classes at a time, you can earn college credit every five weeks. In as little as 1.5 years you could have your associate's degree and have a handle on the skills that make up the foundations of becoming a chef. It could be the Best Decision You Ever Make!

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