What’s The Difference Between A Cook And A Chef?

What's The Difference Between A Cook And A Chef? thumbnail

Sometimes it takes a six year old to remind you of the inherent status that comes with having a penis.

For example, a friend’s daughter is doing a ballet concert where all the girls are cooks and the two boys in the class are chefs. I asked her six-year-old girl to explain the difference between chefs and cooks. “Chefs cook nicer food,” she replied.

In grade one, this little girl has reached the firm conclusion that chefs are boys, and that, by definition, they possess superior skills in the area of food preparation to the cooks who are girls.

But maybe my little friend has simply misunderstood. Perhaps, she’s been brainwashed by her mother’s feminist friends to create a gender distinction where there isn’t one at all.

Not clear on the distinction myself, I headed to the food and beverage industry publication eatdrink.com.au, which says that the difference between chefs and cooks has nothing to do with meat and potatoes and everything to do with qualifications and hard work.

“Cooks are not Chefs!”, proclaims the online resource for food & beverage industry professionals, “To qualify, earn and deserve the title of ‘Chef’ you need to have completed a full 4 year apprenticeship as a fulltime employee and also to complete 3 years of  TAFE 1 day a week. It costs money; it involves many hours work including nights, split shifts, double shifts and weekends. It’s hot and sticky, it’s stressful and tiring.”

That would be why the unqualified Nigella Lawson is referred to as the ‘queen of food porn’ but is only sometimes called a chef. And Julie Goodwin, Master Chef’s season one winner is so keenly aware of the distinction that when I referred to her as a chef several months ago during an interview she corrected me by saying, “I’m actually a cook.”

But Adam Liaw, winner of Master Chef series two, on the other hand refers to himself as a cook on his website but everybody else seems to think he’s a chef.  So we can all assume that he’s qualified. And he is. He’s qualified in, well…law.

Similarly, famous Australian TV ‘chef’ Geoff Janz has a pharmacy qualification and Peter Russell-Clarke who was the ‘chef’ for the Prince of Wales’ Silver Jubilee dinner began his career as a cartoonist.

Sonja Ebbles who has 18 years experience working in and managing restaurants can understand why people would prefer to be known as chefs rather than cooks.

“There is an extreme hierarchy in kitchens,” she says. “To get respect you need to be a chef. Cooks get very little respect and they are not paid anywhere near as well as chefs.”

Ebbles agrees that men who are not qualified as chefs are more likely to adopt the title of chef than are unqualified women.

“I’ve interviewed a lot of men for jobs who claimed they were chefs and expected to be paid at the chef pay grade. But when I asked to see their qualifications, it turned out they weren’t qualified at all and they were actually just cooks. In all my years in hospitality, I’ve never seen a female cook claim that she’s a chef.”

I’m sorry to get all pedantic on you, but perhaps it’s time we clarified the definition of chef to avoid any more confusion or contradiction. It would seem that as a general rule, in order to have the elevated status of a chef, a person must be:

a. Qualified as a chef or

b. In possession of a penis.

If you don’t have three years experience and a TAFE qualification, or a penis, then it seems most people are going to refer to you as a cook.

I’m sure many people will accuse me of manufactured outrage. It’s political-bloody-correctness gone mad! What does it matter if men are chefs and women are cooks?


Because all these little distinctions that elevate the status and entitlement (not to mention pay) of men and boys for no other reason than their gender, are noticed and internalised by our kids.

When I asked my friend if she was going to say anything to the ballet school she said she wouldn’t because she’s sure that it wasn’t deliberate. And I have no doubt that she’s absolutely correct.

But that’s just the point: the fact that these distinctions pass unnoticed and unremarked upon makes them seem entirely natural — and therefore beyond question.

Just because something’s not deliberate, doesn’t mean that it’s not wrong or harmful. While there are dinosaurs spouting a lot of sexist claptrap aplenty, sexism, as with other forms of ideology, works most effectively when it doesn’t call attention itself; when it just appears to be part of the order of things.

It’s the business lunch where a man sits at the head of the table. It’s the meeting where the women carry out the cups and saucers when the blokes just wander back to their offices.

It’s these small, everyday distinctions which makes male privilege appear natural and normal while women are rendered invisible. And, of course, when women do call attention to this fact and demand that it be corrected, they are routinely criticised for wanting “special privileges”, or else playing the victim card.

On the one hand you might argue that having boys in a ballet class in the first place is a challenge to these tiny ways in which gender stereotypes are reinforced everyday. But if the boys simply learn that boys have a higher status than girls for no other reason than they are boys, then we can hardly pretend to call this progress.


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