Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

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Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Bob Ross » Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:42 pm

Janet and I have been having this odd debate over the past several weeks, and perhaps more experienced cooks/chefs have a view.

Janet's my main customer, and she was clever enough to send me off to cooking school a few years ago, twice if truth be told. I learned lots of excellent technique points, and I'm pretty sure I can follow almost any recipe and come up with food that's at least edible.

I really fail in the imagination area though -- I'm still awestruck when Robin or Jenise or Stuart describe how they see a particular ingredient in the store or in a book or in their imagination and come up with a great recipe.

In my private world, Janet provides the inspiration, and I'm just the technician that does the work and serves the dish.

Simple example: we went shopping tonight after doing a little real estate business: Janet suggested a dinner of roasted salmon, roasted asparagus and baked potatoes. She picked the salmon and the asparagus and told me to find two really nice potatoes.

Prep of course was simple, I used the timer and a thermometer, and dinner was almost perfect -- the only missing element was we had to eat inside because we got home to late to eat on the deck on a perfect summer evening.

My position is that Janet is really the most important player in this dinner -- she contributed almost everything except a bit of work and technique.

Janet, who cooked for the four of us for over 20 years and now doesn't really care for it, thinks I'm under valuing the work and technique -- she finds it very easy to pick a menu she likes and even the ingredients if need be.

Any insights from folks who can combine both skills?

Thanks, Bob
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby ChefCarey » Wed Aug 23, 2006 8:41 am

Bob Ross wrote:Janet and I have been having this odd debate over the past several weeks, and perhaps more experienced cooks/chefs have a view.

Janet's my main customer, and she was clever enough to send me off to cooking school a few years ago, twice if truth be told. I learned lots of excellent technique points, and I'm pretty sure I can follow almost any recipe and come up with food that's at least edible.

I really fail in the imagination area though -- I'm still awestruck when Robin or Jenise or Stuart describe how they see a particular ingredient in the store or in a book or in their imagination and come up with a great recipe.

In my private world, Janet provides the inspiration, and I'm just the technician that does the work and serves the dish.

Simple example: we went shopping tonight after doing a little real estate business: Janet suggested a dinner of roasted salmon, roasted asparagus and baked potatoes. She picked the salmon and the asparagus and told me to find two really nice potatoes.

Prep of course was simple, I used the timer and a thermometer, and dinner was almost perfect -- the only missing element was we had to eat inside because we got home to late to eat on the deck on a perfect summer evening.

My position is that Janet is really the most important player in this dinner -- she contributed almost everything except a bit of work and technique.

Janet, who cooked for the four of us for over 20 years and now doesn't really care for it, thinks I'm under valuing the work and technique -- she finds it very easy to pick a menu she likes and even the ingredients if need be.

Any insights from folks who can combine both skills?

Thanks, Bob


Interesting question. There is no short answer. Let me quote from a piece I am working on right now.

The following is a *brief* description of the chef's job:

Devise a menu and recipes, procedures and presentations for all menu items. Hire and train all cooks. Provide job descriptions and task outlines for the cooks, prep cooks, dishwashers etc. Schedule all kitchen personnel with a minimum of overtime. Order all meat, poultry, seafood, produce, dairy, and grocery items necessary to execute the menu. Price the menu at a specified food cost. (Check in all these items against invoices – ensuring price and quantities are correct.) Control labor cost within specified guidelines. Make sauces. Butcher meats and fillet fish. Provide a soup of the day and daily specials. Make sure the dining room personnel understand the specials and can talk about them knowingly. Oversee the cooking line during service. Step in to assist at a station if necessary. Perhaps, work one of the stations. Provide pars and par sheets for the cooking line. Keep an abstract of items sold and/or wasted. Ensure the kitchen, to include all refrigeration, is maintained in a clean and sanitary manner. Expedite (*very* important job - the expeditor is the coordinator between the kitchen and the dining room) Ensure very few items are “86’d” but at the same time there is very little waste. Additionally, one is expected to be creative and innovative, not to mention, affable. And maybe even – gasp – attend management meetings.

The above would be minimum expectations if one were working for someone else. If one has one’s own business the list grows. Does it ever.


You make the call. :)
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby James Roscoe » Wed Aug 23, 2006 8:48 am

Isn't this the age-old question of labor versus management? Labor has traditionally been undervalued, but management has a lot more on the line. This is probably an unansweble question as it depends on the perspective from which the answer is given. I'll stop there and see if anyone can enlighten us further.
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Ian Sutton » Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:49 am

Bob
Rather than two half empty glasses it sounds like you put the two together perfectly to make one that's brim-full :)

I've never had formal training (apart from Home Economics class aged 14!) and am frankly a bluffer in the kitchen. However I enjoy it and like experimenting / learning as I go. Michelle's tolerant of my cooking as she hates doing it herself, which gives me all the encouragement I need.

regards

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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Bill Buitenhuys » Wed Aug 23, 2006 10:34 am

Good question, Bob.
I do most of the food planning, shopping and cooking in our house. But when Lill comes up with a dinner idea and all I have to do is shop and cook, it greatly simplifies things. I get great reward from both the inspirational end and the execution end but when we plan a meal together it's even more fun. But see, Bob, I think you are cutting your contributions here a bit short. You execute on the material and inspiration provided and my guess is that most all of your meals come out quite good. You are the quality control, which is a role of the chef (as noted by ChefC). You set the presentation, you give it the flair. Your role is much more than that of line cook. :wink:
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby John Tomasso » Wed Aug 23, 2006 10:39 am

IMO, the role of chef is more important.

The chef can get anyone (assuming he or she is properly trained) to execute the dish, and it should come out pretty much the same.

But change the chef, and the whole look, taste and feel of the meal changes, too.

No contest.
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Howie Hart » Wed Aug 23, 2006 10:58 am

I'm actually quite ignorant in these areas, and have a basic question. Years ago, I worked for a short time as the staff photographer at the local community college, which had a culinary arts program where one could receive an associates degree. Would such a graduate be considered a chef or a cook? Is the title "Chef" somehow codified like Doctor of Medicine or Journeyman Electrician?
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Scott Hinson » Wed Aug 23, 2006 11:15 am

Provide pars and par sheets for the cooking line


Pardon my ignorance...but....what does this mean?

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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby John Tomasso » Wed Aug 23, 2006 11:34 am

Scott Hinson wrote:
Provide pars and par sheets for the cooking line


Pardon my ignorance...but....what does this mean?

Scott


The pars are the par levels, and par sheets are the forms used to maintain them.
It means setting up a minimum stock level for each item on the cooking line. The chef must decide how many 7 oz filets must be cut and ready for service, for example, and likewise down the list for every menu item.

Otherwise, the cooks might run short during service, and have to prep on the fly, or conversely, prepped stuff will sit unsold and be in danger of spoiling.

It's the chef's job to estimate usage for each particular item.
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Scott Hinson » Wed Aug 23, 2006 11:39 am

...It means setting up a minimum stock level for each item on the cooking line....


I learned something new today! Thank you for your quick response...

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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby ChefCarey » Wed Aug 23, 2006 11:47 am

John Tomasso wrote:
Scott Hinson wrote:
Provide pars and par sheets for the cooking line


Pardon my ignorance...but....what does this mean?

Scott


The pars are the par levels, and par sheets are the forms used to maintain them.
It means setting up a minimum stock level for each item on the cooking line. The chef must decide how many 7 oz filets must be cut and ready for service, for example, and likewise down the list for every menu item.

Otherwise, the cooks might run short during service, and have to prep on the fly, or conversely, prepped stuff will sit unsold and be in danger of spoiling.

It's the chef's job to estimate usage for each particular item.


Thanks, John. :)
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby ChefCarey » Wed Aug 23, 2006 12:02 pm

Howie Hart wrote:I'm actually quite ignorant in these areas, and have a basic question. Years ago, I worked for a short time as the staff photographer at the local community college, which had a culinary arts program where one could receive an associates degree. Would such a graduate be considered a chef or a cook? Is the title "Chef" somehow codified like Doctor of Medicine or Journeyman Electrician?


There are several standards. There are codified, measurable achievements (American Culinary Federation) - mostly experience and education - through which ones acquires various levels of certification - "Certified Working Chef," "Certified Executive Chef" etc. I was certified by the ACF as an Executive Chef in 1986. However, this is not the whole story. There are many excellent, very skilled chefs who do not belong to the American Culinary Federation.

There is no degree. Most 2-year culinary school graduates are out of the business within a few years - and never become chefs (the larger culinary schools tend to be fairly mum on this topic.) I have hired graduates of all the major culinary schools over the years. Some of them can do the job of line cook, many can't. Line cook will be the highest any of them ever start, - and where most of them will finish - and not very many at that position. I start most in the pantry - which is probably the easiest station in the professional kitchen.

One is a chef when there is a basic consensus among those with whom one works and associates to call one "chef." There are probably hundreds of people who don't know I have a first name, I am just "Chef" to them. I really hear my name quite infrequently. Literally all my friends, employees and students just call me Chef.

*Any* school that says it can make you a chef is full of it. Just examine my partial list above.
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Howie Hart » Wed Aug 23, 2006 1:04 pm

Thanks, Chef! :wink:
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Simple - neither ...

Postby Bill Spencer » Wed Aug 23, 2006 3:32 pm

%^)

A chef creates what he/she cooks whereas a cook follows a recipe ... both are important ... Kathleen is a chef ... I am a cook ... we both make wonderfeul dishes and meals ...

Clink !

%^)
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Re: Simple - neither ...

Postby TimMc » Wed Aug 23, 2006 10:44 pm

If I may be so bold...the chef is most important, but the cook is the guy who makes it go.

But alas, I am but a mere patron of the Art...not an expert.



Take it for what it's worth....and damn me not.
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Carl K » Thu Aug 24, 2006 9:28 pm

My first instinct was that it was a team that works only if both are present, sort of like a sports team. You can have the best coach in the world, but if the team is made up of nothing but uncoordinated dorks you'll never win a game. At the same time even a Michael Jordan or Mean Joe Greene wouldn't get very far if the coach can't do his part.
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Aug 25, 2006 11:59 am

"The following is a *brief* description of the chef's job."

Thanks, Chef -- that's very enlightening. It's clear it takes love, inspiration and a great deal of hard work to be a success as a chef.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:01 pm

"Rather than two half empty glasses it sounds like you put the two together perfectly to make one that's brim-full."

Thanks, Ian. I suppose Janet's and my chatter about "issues" like this adds a bit of flavor to the glass as well. :-)

Regards, Bob
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:07 pm

"Your role is much more than that of line cook."

What a nice thought, Bill -- thanks so much. :-)

You've touched on an important point -- it is much more fun when Janet and I collaborate. Really, all she has to do is suggest the menu -- I can ask for details but generally can buy the ingredients and with my current level of training and experience, make just about anything she suggests.

What I lack, and haven't been able to develop, is a feeling for how the various flavors in a dish and between dishes in a meal will offer pleasure.

I suppose I admire skills in other people that I don't possess and can't seem to develop -- at least so far.

Your post captured what I do enjoy most about cooking. And, I suppose the most important test -- Janet and I both enjoy eating at restaurants much less than we did before I gained some technical cooking skills.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:15 pm

"But change the chef, and the whole look, taste and feel of the meal changes, too."

Exactly.

And in my case, Janet is always baffled when I change a recipe after it came out well the first time.

In a way, her preciseness takes me off the hook, and allows me to focus on doing all the mechanical steps as well as possible.

Thanks for the insight.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Simple - neither ...

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:19 pm

" Kathleen is a chef ... I am a cook ... we both make wonderful dishes and meals ... "

That's pretty much true here too, Bill, although I don't think a chef would ever admire a cook. It seems to me chefs have to be both excellent cooks -- and much more as well. I suppose that's what I admire about Janet.

Among many other things, as well, of course. :-)

Regards, Bob
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Re: Simple - neither ...

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:20 pm

"the chef is most important, but the cook is the guy who makes it go."

That's the way I started out thinking about the issue, Tim -- and I guess the way I'm finishing up as well. Thanks. Bob
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:21 pm

"sort of like a sports team."

I like the analogy, Carl, thanks. Regards, Bob
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Re: Kind of a troll -- who's more important, the chef or the cook?

Postby Stuart Yaniger » Fri Aug 25, 2006 1:40 pm

I always think of myself as a cook, and think of a chef as someone who can do what I do, but for 50 people, with a far greater assortment of tasks, night in and night out, maintaining consistency and timeliness, and all that while trying to manage profitability.

I would NEVER, NEVER, NEVER want to be a chef. And I would be as likely to be successful at that as I would being a diplomat.
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