Top Cook?

by moderndomestic on December 4, 2008

HK2007。街 | a chef in street

Are you a chef, or a cook?

Photo courtesy of solar icon on Flickr.

Marcella Hazan, the Julia Child of Italian cooking, had an op-ed in the New York Times last week that discussed a crucial yet often glossed-over culinary distinction: when is someone a cook and when is someone a chef?

Chefs, Hazan maintains, are professionals who run professional kitchens. Chefs are constantly pushing the dining experience to new heights and working to surprise and delight their customers. They craft an experience where food is theatrical, exciting, and provoking.

Cooks, Hazan writes, create wonderful food, but they aren’t trying to push the envelope in the same way. Think of the way your mother made the perfect roast chicken, or the small restaurant you went to in college that made the perfect pad thai. The food was excellent, soulful even, and the memory can haunt you (I still dream of the Pad Thai from a restaurant we frequented in college). But it was delicious in a different way than, say, Grant Achatz’s highly technical and highly brilliant Caramel Popcorn, Liquefied that  transforms the county fair staple into a high end dessert-shooter.

I am glad that Hazan addressed this issue, because I often feel that there is a giant gulf between the kind of cooking I try to do at home (comforting, homey, a mixture of what my mother made and what I read in books) and what I experience out at a fancy restaurant. And in a world where cooking is increasingly becoming a spectator sport, maybe we need to expand our focus from the brilliance of chefs and start idealizing the cooks who put food on their families tables.

Does this mean Top Cook could be in Bravo’s future?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Vulcanella December 4, 2008 at 7:59 pm

I am a cook. No doubts about it. But what is Martha Stewart? I guess she is a cook, but in my head I think of her as a chef.

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moderndomestic December 4, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Actually, if you ever watch Martha chopping carrots or something on her show, you can tell that she didn’t go to culinary school and hasn’t worked in a professional kitchen. Her knife skills are in a whole other world from, say, Mario Batali’s expertise, or the contestants on Top Chef. So I would say she’s a cook. Although I kind of feel that the right word for her is “mogul.”

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