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.