Chef or cook?

Chef or cook?

In your wildest dreams of effortless cooking genius, are you an aspiring cook or an aspiring chef?

Would you rather be a chef or a cook?

It's a question I have been wondering about for a while... are you, my dear readers, thinking of yourself as cooks or chefs? In your wildest dreams of effortless cooking genius, do you see yourself as an aspiring cook or an aspiring chef?

Entirely up to you, of course... but it matters to me if I want to choose the right words in my writing.

It's also a question I have been pondering about for myself, sometimes brought into sharp focus when reading or listening to other 'cooking folk' and the way they define themselves.

If you have been following me for a while you may know that I love anything Nigel Slater writes. So I just had to get his new book as soon as it came out: rather aptly, it's titled 'A Cook's Book'.

The first line reads: "I am a cook who writes."

A phrase that keeps showing up in his other books too, and headlines his website. And it's that simple line that stopped me in my tracks when I first stumbled over it while leafing through one of his early books in a book shop, many many years ago now.

Gosh... Nigel Slater defines himself as a cook! Despite his culinary training and his stints in professional kitchens, he calls himself a cook, not a chef. A cook like you and me.

Even though the current food culture seems to be nudging everyone to aspire to being a chef. Even though if you cook at home, somehow being cheffy in your kitchen is the ultimate badge of approval (Whatever being cheffy at home actually means.)

If you look online, there seem to be chefs galore among us home cooks, calling themselves home chefs, home-made chefs, self-taught chefs, and so on (and inevitably #notachef too). Being a mere (home) cook has somehow become a derogative. Anybody who takes their home cooking seriously must surely aspire to being a chef, while everybody else, well, should better leave cooking to the chefs, at home or otherwise.

I find this very odd. Regardless their culinary skills, to me a chef is someone working in a professional kitchen. (I do realise that within the culinary profession there are hierarchical grades that are reserved for the 'chef' title... but that's not the point here.)

Hence someone can be a chef by trade and still a cook at home. Which makes sense because the goals and challenges in a professional kitchen are completely different to the goals and challenges we have when cooking at home. Why on earth would I - as a home cook - want to take on these goals and aspirations when I'm cooking for myself and my family, and no for the paying patrons of a restaurant?

Obviously, there are methods and principles that apply to any kind of cooking, whether you are a chef or a cook. For example the art of properly seasoning your food. But (in my humble opinion) comparing home cooked food with that cooked by a chef in a restaurant is missing the point. Not because home-cooked food is of any lesser quality than restaurant food. But because it's like comparing apples with oranges.

Of course, I expect anything I cook to be tasty. And nourishing. And generally to be the best it can be. But I don't even try to make it perfect, pretty, photogenic, the 'right way' or 'authentic' (whatever all this means). This would just distract my limited time and energy when putting dinner on the table day after day. And would make me feel like a failure when something doesn't turn out quite as I imagined, or doesn't look quite as perfect as the (super styled) photo that comes with the recipe.

I much rather approach my cooking with curiosity and an open mind. And I much rather aim for simplicity and flavour, rather than looks and perfection. (Btw, simple doesn't have to be boring, nor simplistic.)

And this is how I immediately felt connected to Nigel Slater ever since I opened his first book: by describing himself as a cook I immediately felt I found a kindred spirit, someone who cooks and eats like I would. (Interestingly, my other much admired kitchen hero, Samin Nosrat, also defines herself as a cook.)

Because I'm not a chef and don't aspire to be one. I'm quite happy being a home cook.

What about you?

Categories: (RE)THINK


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