An interest in pursuing a culinary career may have you curious about the difference between a certified cook and a chef. As you think about that distinction, consider that for many people, the true distinction seems to simply be between “cook” and “chef,” since either title, if you pursue education to become a professional, will likely involve certification. It’s not as though lower culinary jobs involve certification and higher culinary jobs award a more impressive title if you just have enough experience. So let’s first consider the difference between cook and chef, and then briefly explore some of the variety of certifications available to both.
The Roles of Cook and Chef
Although you may find some disagreement on the distinction between the two roles, two words nearly always associated with the title of chef are professional and chief. A chef is generally viewed as a professional cook who is in charge at a hotel or restaurant. While it’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone could become the chief chef at a restaurant after many years of cooking there, it is highly likely in today’s culinary culture that in order to truly earn the designation, that person also needs to gain skills at culinary school. Those skills go beyond mere cooking skills, as important as those are. They also include managerial skills, which involve issues such as nutrition, meal planning, and restaurant finances. If your main interest is simply cooking, and you don’t have an interest in a supervisory role over other cooks, then you might not necessarily seek certification as a chef.
A Wide Variety of Certifications
But it’s a little more complex even than that. Whether you decide to pursue work specifically as a cook or a chef, there are a variety of certifications available which are dependent on specific types of cooking or particular types of management and supervisory roles. To get a taste of these, check out the website of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) which provides details on fourteen different certification levels of culinary skills. These vary from Certified Culinarian (CC) to Certified Master Chef (CMC), and also include pastry chef certifications linked to those who are trained in baking and pastry skills. Some of the certifications also involve preparation for those who want to become personal chefs or for those who aspire to become culinary educators.
Most of these certifications include the word chef in their title, with the exception of the Certified Culinarian designation. A certified culinarian is an entry level designation that seems especially focused on cooking and not on the supervisory skills included in chef positions. Not all of the chef certifications, however, prepare someone to be completely in charge. A certified sous chef is usually in charge of a particular cooking station in a restaurant, but not the whole establishment.
As you can see, there’s a good deal of complexity involved in the training, roles, and titles available in the culinary world. While it is quite possible that you could become a cook merely through work experience, to be certified as a cook or chef will involve culinary school. The best way to learn the difference between a certified cook and a chef may be to talk with those who have culinary education and experience.