Cook Not A Chef

Italian Spaghetti

Is there a difference between being a cook and a chef?

An immediate answer has to do with training, tutelage, apprenticeship or working in a professional capacity. I know several chefs, and they are among the best in the area. I eat at their restaurants, appreciate their presentations, and respect what they have learned.

Cooks know their limits. My main goal is to get a satisfying meal on a plate, matched to the individual tastes of diners. Even in a small gathering there is rarely a single taste. Working with well-known diners, attempting the satisfying rather than the sublime, makes me a cook first — a journeyman raw food processor if you will.

Understanding flavors that produce great meals is important and flavor is foremost in the mind of a cook. Will the diners welcome a dish? What from the repertory will please? How do I use a seasonal vegetable? Will diners notice when the flavor stands out? Above all, will they eat it? We worry less about replicating specific dishes and more about the making the routine sublime.

I recently bought a large bag of Mexican oregano on line. Used in many dishes now that it is on hand and convenient, it is mostly an experiment with taco fillings, red sauces and stir fry. I like it because of the mild citrus flavor it imparts. Although I’ve been using it a couple of months, the experimentation is just getting under way. A cook’s process can be quite long.

Cooking has to do with ingredient sourcing, cooking techniques and trying dishes with varying seasonings. I feel little pressure for repeatable tastes so a dish can be listed on a menu. Being a cook is living life in each moment, a prepared dish as its own reward.

If I am a cook, not a chef, then so be it. I’d rather be a journeyman and get the work done.

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2 Responses to Cook Not A Chef

  1. Steve Hanken says:

    From working around a person who went to school in Switzerland to be a chef, I can tell you this, a person who is a chef can fix near anything and save your bacon if you will! If you have something that has gone completely wrong and you are feeding 200 people the same meal, that is where they can earn their money figuring how to fix it! The school he went to was for several years and not Kirkwood, that is for sure. His first job was to clean wine bottles. You learned everything and I mean everything to be considered a chef in this school, that included all the business aspects of menus, sourcing, purchasing, book keeping, inventory, and keeping losses to a minimum. Scheduling help and supervising the kitchen, a whole lot well beyond a plate of food. Just to know the chemistry of what works together and with what result turns common dishes into something magic. Some of that can be learned, some of it comes by osmosis!

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  2. Paul Deaton says:

    Steve,
    Thanks for reading my blog.
    Nice story about your chef friend. Julia Child popularized the notion of the chef as fixer during her ten-year run as the French Chef from 1963 to 1973.
    I take note of your bacon comment. We’ve never prepared or served cow, hog, sheep nor fish at our house since we were married in 1982. If I had to serve 200 people today, I’d do potluck. The food is diverse and mostly better, and the prep work much less. I’ve never gone to a potluck where there wasn’t something I liked to eat.
    Hope you have a great weekend!

    Regards, Paul

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