January 23, 2023

What’s in a name? Chef or cook?


Madrone Springs Ranch is a place to enjoy active elements of play, while also being able to recharge your physical and emotional batteries in a rejuvenating environment.

Hi! We're Bobby & Gail

Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet:  “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”  Or to paraphrase today… What’s in a name?  Would a meal prepared by a cook (and not a chef) taste just as yummy as one prepared by a chef?  And, as a retired physician scientist, am I a cook or a chef?  Let’s figure this out together.

  1. The classic definition of a chef

The culinary schools tell us that a chef is a trained and skilled professional who manages and oversees other cooks in his/her kitchen staff.  They might have a bias in defining it this way… since they get money for providing that training.  But, if we stick to their definition, I have not been professionally trained (other than to be a doctor), I guess that I am not a chef by their statement.

  1. Furthering the definition by including additional chef elements

Adding on to the “classic” definition above, a chef also creates menus, orders the ingredients, and ensures that the food that is prepared is of high quality.  Well, this seems a pretty easy bar to climb over.  Everyone’s beloved grandmother must be a chef because they figure out what to serve, get the ingredients, and do a superb job of creating beautiful and taste meals for us to enjoy.

  1. My definition of a chef (vs. a cook)

I don’t believe that formal training should be required in the determination of chef vs. cook.  I do believe that a chef can “create” recipes whereas a cook typically just follows them (and perhaps tweaks them a bit).  A chef can take a group of ingredients, build a wonderful dish, and then add elements to bring out the flavors they she/he wishes.  Is a bit of acid like lemon juice or vinegar needed?  Should some additional fresh herbs be included? Would shallots provide a richer flavor than onions?  As I reflect on my skill set, for some dishes I create the recipes (e.g., my Dr. Bobby’s Double Chocolate gelato) is mostly a creation that I put together.  Others, like my freshly baked scones, I use (and build off) the recipes of others.  Like Isaac Newton said in 1675 about his success, my abilities may be good, but they result from “standing on the shoulders of giants.”

  1. The etymologic definition

The word “chef” is French and is often referred to as “chef de cuisine”.  It literally means, head of the kitchen (or head of the food that comes from the kitchen).  Since I run the kitchen at Madrone Springs Ranch (since no one else wants to…), I must be a chef.

  1. Summing it all up: I am a chef

There are certainly levels of “chef” or “chef-ness”.  Although not classically or professionally trained; although I have not worked professionally in a restaurant, I do “head” the kitchen, prepare menus, acquire the ingredients, and in a growing number of cases, create (or greatly modify) the recipes.  So, on balance, I am now comfortable referring to myself as a chef.

This is very good news.  Before making this determination, my dear wife purchased  for me several kitchen outfits, which included the Madrone Springs Ranch logo as well as my name—“Chef Dr. Bobby”.  I either had to justify the name “chef”, or else discard the beautiful clothing.  I guess that I can keep the clothing.

As always, Shakespeare provides the words that influence how we experience the world multiple centuries after he wrote them.  What is in a name?  Well, I can call myself a chef.  But, my food will taste just the same, if someone calls me “cook”.  Somehow, it just doesn’t sound the same when the waiter responds to a guest request:  “let me ask “cook”….

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