Chef vs Cook: Unveiling Culinary & Role Distinctions


For those not well-versed in the culinary world, the roles of a professional chef vs cook may seem indistinguishable at first glance. They both don the classic chef’s coat, toil away in the kitchen, and whip up delectable dishes. However, when you delve into the daily duties of these positions, it becomes evident that they exist in separate culinary spheres. One represents a highly skilled artisan, while the other embodies a guiding force, often seen as a culinary visionary.

Let’s embark on a journey to uncover the pivotal disparities that set apart these two vital figures in the kitchen, and to delve into the distinct sets of talents required for achieving success in each realm. Read on to explore the fundamental difference between chef and cook!

Cook or Chef?

To put it plainly, a chef is someone who knows a lot about flavors, cooking methods, makes new recipes with fresh stuff, and has a big job in a kitchen. A cook is someone who makes food by following recipes.

However, there’s a deeper layer to this narrative. Chefs and cooks diverge in several aspects. In this piece, we’ll delve into the numerous distinctions between these two culinary roles.

What are Professional Cooks?

Skilled cooks are like food experts who make delicious dishes. They use their hands to change raw ingredients into yummy meals.

There are different types of cooks, and they have different jobs. A prep cook helps by cutting veggies, measuring meat, and creating tasty sauces. Line cooks, on the other hand, cook the food, put it on plates, and get it ready to serve.

Cooks can also be known by where they work. A fry cook takes care of the fryer to make crispy fries and other snacks. A grill cook cooks things like burgers, chicken, steaks, and some veggies on the grill.

What is a Professional Chef?

A professional chef is like a cooking pro who knows a lot and has worked in a real kitchen. They usually have a big job, like managing their own kitchen or leading a group of cooks. Chefs have more responsibility than cooks, and they need to be leaders and problem solvers. When things get busy, they have to figure out problems quickly.

Chefs don’t always cook themselves. They spend a lot of time making sure everything runs smoothly and helping their team. They can step in and cook if needed, and they also teach and guide their team members. Sometimes, chefs create their own special recipes and menus, which make the restaurant famous and give it a unique style. So, even though they have more work than cooks, they also get more credit when the kitchen does well.

Kitchen Hierarchy

To figure out what makes a chef different from a cook, let’s look at their career paths. Chefs and cooks might do some of the same things in the kitchen, but the big difference shows up when they’re not in the kitchen.

When a cook leaves the kitchen, their work for the day is usually finished. But chefs have more to do outside the kitchen. They have to think about changing their menus and taking care of administrative stuff like schedules and payroll.


Chefs can have different jobs in a kitchen, starting from basic roles to being in charge. They do many things to keep the restaurant running smoothly.

  • Chef de Partie (Station Chef): These chefs handle specific parts of the kitchen, like making certain dishes, sauces, or sides. They might even create their own recipes with guidance from the head chef or sous chef.
  • Sous Chef: The sous chef is like the kitchen’s deputy. They oversee the cooking and kitchen operations daily. If there’s no head chef or the head chef is absent, they step in.
  • Chef de Cuisine: The head chef runs the whole kitchen. They handle management tasks, supervise the staff, buy ingredients, and work with the restaurant manager to make new menus and recipes.
  • Executive Chef: The executive chef holds the highest position in the kitchen hierarchy. They oversee kitchen operations, manage finances, handle multiple locations, and are responsible for the business aspects of the culinary enterprise. They usually don’t cook every day, but they can if needed. Becoming an executive chef requires numerous years of hands-on experience.


In a kitchen, there are different types of cooks. We can group them based on where they work in the kitchen and their experience.

  • Stagiaires: They are like kitchen interns. They might be in a training program or just out of culinary school.
  • Kitchen Porters: These cooks work in higher-level kitchens. They help with basic cooking tasks like cutting veggies and some cleaning. They are similar to prep cooks but might have culinary training and are moving up.
  • Junior Cooks/Commis: These individuals assist a line cook in mastering a particular kitchen area, and their culinary training may vary.
  • Line Cooks: Line cooks manage a designated section of the kitchen referred to as “the line,” focusing on the preparation of a particular type of cuisine. This specialization constitutes their daily responsibility.

Chef vs Cook Experience

You can call yourself a chef if you have enough experience. Furthermore, your personality matters a lot. Chefs need to be determined, hardworking, and able to inspire and lead their kitchen team. The best chefs love being in the kitchen, learning new things every day, and are always trying to make their dishes better.

These qualities help you become a chef. You can become a chef without going to culinary school, but it takes many years of learning, trying new recipes, and gaining experience in the kitchen. Going to school can make you a chef faster and more efficiently, but if you’re a cook with experience and the right qualities, you can also become a chef, though it might take longer.

Salary Disparities

If you’re a new chef with no experience, you might make about $12.18 per hour on average, which is around $23,000 a year. With more experience, you could start at around $15.00 per hour and earn more as you go. Here are some average salaries for different cook roles:

  • Line cook: $13.51 per hour (about $39,429 a year)
  • Prep Cook: $12.38 per hour (around $28,878 annually)

For chefs, the average starting salary is about $15.00 per hour nationally. As you advance in your profession, your income has the potential to rise, and it may also be influenced by your work location. Here are the average salaries for some of the chef positions we’ve discussed:

  • Head Chef: $17.11 per hour (approximately $35,588 a year)
  • Sous Chef: $16.08 per hour (about $33,446 annually)
  • Executive Chef: $28.53 per hour (around $59,342 a year)
  • Personal Chef: $27.71 per hour (approximately $57,636 a year)

Chef vs Cook – Find the Best Career Path for You

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a budding cook, the culinary world offers a myriad of opportunities and distinctions. Embrace your passion, develop your skills, and keep honing your craft because it’s not just about what you cook but also how you lead, inspire, and innovate in the kitchen. So, whether you’re embarking on a culinary journey or already well on your way, remember that the kitchen is a place of endless possibilities.


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