Difference Between Cook & Chef

Cooks and chefs are similar culinary occupations that differ mainly by seniority and skill levels. Compare and contrast the two careers, including salary expectations and job growth.

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Comparing Cooks and Chefs

With an interest in the culinary arts, you might want to check out a career as either a cook or a chef. If you plan on pursuing either profession, take a look at the statistics in the table, and read beyond for details that can help aid in your decision.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Annual Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Cooks No formal education required (Postsecondary training optional) $22,850 4%
Chefs and Head Cooks No formal education required (Postsecondary training optional) $43,180 9%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Cooks vs. Chefs

These two jobs are sometimes thought of as one in the same, probably due to the fact that a chef is technically a cook, but just a more skilled one who's in charge. While both prepare food, a chef has the final say in the kitchen. Chefs lead a team of cooks, whose duties vary by the establishment where they work. Without proper supervision from the chef, the whole process could lag, thus chefs must be able to coordinate a team. Aside from cooking and giving direction, a chef creates menus and recipes, which cooks follow when creating dishes. Both cooks and chefs hone their skills through training and experience, and their jobs are often demanding, fast-paced, and somewhat hazardous.

Cooks

Cooks exist in many different settings, including fast-food outlets, restaurants, cafeterias, businesses, hospitals, military services, and private households. Since each establishment has their own set of procedures, the cook's duties vary, as does their skill level. A cook may make the food on order or ahead of time. Short-order, fast-food, and institution cooks usually have the least expertise, but a lot of work on their plate. Conversely, those working in small restaurants or people's homes may have less to do at a time, but these positions often require more expertise. In a public establishment, cooks are usually assigned to the station of their specialty, such as a fry or grill cook.

Job responsibilities of a cook include:

  • Storing and gathering ingredients
  • Cleaning their work stations
  • Handling various kitchen appliances
  • Following recipes and carrying out customer orders
  • Preparing, heating, and arranging food

Chefs

Chefs are the cooks with the highest amount of experience and are in charge of the kitchen. They generally approve every dish that goes out, ensuring it meets their standards. Unlike most cooks, chefs have often undergone training from a culinary institute or other type of school. Chefs may be promoted to their position or land the job directly. They formulate cuisine that appeals to them and according to what they think patrons will enjoy. Just like cooks, there are also different kinds of chefs, such as executive chefs, sous chefs, and private household chefs.

Job responsibilities of a chef include:

  • Training and hiring crew members
  • Inspecting food for freshness and sanitation
  • Ordering and maintaining the inventory of food and supplies
  • Promoting their business
  • Addressing customers' concerns

Related Careers

If you're starting out and not ready to become a cook just yet, consider a job as a food prep worker, wherein you'll prepare the ingredients and perform other basic preparation duties. An aspiring chef may want to concentrate in one area such as baked goods, where the baker works exclusively with breads and flour-based foods.

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