The Chef and the Cook: Which are You?

Now I know that many of you probably won’t look at cooking as a career, but as a method of making the food you survive on something to look forward to. But in the spirit of the culinary patron, a little history can’t hurt.

I can’t possibly tell you how many times I go to a restaurant, even a sit-in diner, and overhear, “My compliments to the chef.” In these settings, more often than not I can assure you, the person preparing your meals is not a chef, but a cook.

 

There is a difference.

 

To become a chef a person must first have the resolve to take the heat, so to speak. It’s a tough job. Being vocational, there’s no sitting in a four year standard university like most students, it’s a real hands-on trial. It’s not enough to decide to want to spend your livelihood in the kitchen, but to decide what you’d like to specialize in: sweets, main entrées; side dishes? It goes further, suppose you become a pâtissiere –a pastry chef: would you like to focus on sugar sculpture, chocolate tempering, or maybe fruits are more your passion?

It’s detail within detail within detail. Speed and efficiency are paramount.

 

A cook is someone that has a recipe and follows it out with the sole purpose of it tasting good.

A chef is someone that has devoted their life to their craft to turn a meal into an experience. The plate a dish sits on is a stage, the garnish the ensemble; the main portion is the star of the show! This is not directly linked to the chef’s satisfaction. Rather, it comes from the customer that paid time and money to have such an experience, to taste a work of art. A poor critique can mean two things: the food was not to their liking, or they couldn’t appreciate the perspective of the piece. A good critique means that the message was taken to heart, and it was worth the trip.

While it certainly doesn’t do anyone any harm in a less formal setting to offer their “compliments to the chef,” it’s still largely misused. It would be more appropriate to thank the staff for a wonderful meal. –At least, this is what the so-called experts would say.

As for myself, be it a cook or a chef, this matters little. Anyone, even those who haven’t picked up a saucepan in their life, can cook. Practice makes skill, same as anyone, but desire makes mastery.

You’ll come to find that if you cook only for yourself, to get by, to have something to eat after a long day, then you will hardly improve. But if you make it for the sake of another, even a snack in the hopes that it will be enjoyed not only for its taste but also with whose hands it was made, then your results will improve by leaps and bounds.

 

This is not about the cook at a diner in the middle of nowhere. This is not about a chef in a five star restaurant.

This is about you.

 

Do you cook for the sake of satiating yourself, or do you create for the sake of the satisfaction of others? Does is make you happier when things taste good, or does is make you happier when others think so?

The answer to these questions can determine which you are. It’s not something that people often think about, but if you’re just having a dry spell in your culinary world, or find yourself frustrated by a recent lapse in progress, a little change of perspective is sometimes in order.

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