Definition of the Word, Chef

Real Chefs versus Phony Chefs

Beware! There are a growing number of online characters out there (some sellers of food, some sellers of kitchen supplies) who use the word chef in front of their names in order to appear credible so that people will buy their products. In short, it’s a scam.

The problem with phony chefs is that they tend to lack adequate knowledge of safe food handling principles, which means they are more likely to sell food and spread ideas that endanger the health of consumers. Phony chefs often publish impractical techniques advertising specific ingredients or newfangled gadgets because their objective is for you to buy said ingredients or gadgets. Out of the mistaken belief that these types of recipes or tutorials come from a legitimate source, laypeople are subsequently more inclined to share and copy those ideas online. Thus, the phony chef’s lie becomes more abundant than the real chef’s truth.

It doesn’t help that the U.S. is without a rule system for recognizing professional chefs. Whereas there are clear guidelines for earning the title of electrician, pharmacist, or lawyer, there are no regulations on who qualifies as a chef. Most laypeople probably misuse the title without even meaning to.

Within the U.S. food industry, there exists no such confusion. The chef is the boss – the leader in charge of the kitchen. Everybody else is called a cook, baker, or assistant.

About Professional Chefs

Definition and description of the Job of Chef

Definition of “chef

A title used to identify the person in charge of a commercial food operation.

A chef is the manager of the following

  • Leadership in the kitchen
  • Food production or manufacturing operations
  • Food safety according to HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points)
  • Packaging and presentation of all food products
  • Analysis of food costs
  • Ordering of ingredients and equipment
  • Development of menus and product lines
  • Hiring & firing of kitchen staff
  • Training of kitchen staff
  • Scheduling of kitchen staff
  • Delegating all tasks within the kitchen, including cleaning

A chef is also responsible for the following type of knowledge/experience

  • Many years of commercial employment working under one or more professional chefs
  • A culinary degree (not required but is a considerable asset)
  • The scientific or applied knowledge of how ingredients interact

The Independent Chef

There is one more category of chef that is on the rise in the age of cottage laws and the internet. That is the “Independent Chef,” in other words, a chef who operates solely out of a licensed home kitchen. There is no hard and fast rule here but it’s fair to say that an individual who’s already worked as a chef in the commercial food industry is also entitled to call him/herself chef of a home business.

With zero prior commercial chef experience, the best way for a home cook or baker to earn the title of chef is to complete ALL of the following tasks:

  • Earn a legitimate culinary degree or certificate (this does not include Wilton courses)
  • Acquire a food handler’s card (such as ServeSafe)
  • Develop a unique menu or product line with cost analysis
  • Operate a properly licensed and insured home-based business, ideally for 2 years or more

* CHEF *
The Unofficial Job Description

Here are some of the unofficial aspects of the job of chef, including the nitty-gritty, not-so-pretty parts.

  • Pounding out orders during busy shifts
  • Wolfing down food
  • Standing, stooping, lifting, & bending on the job
  • Sacrificing nights, weekends, and holidays in order feed the masses
  • Working occasional seven-day work weeks with no day off
  • Laboring for a straight month with no day off (common when opening a new kitchen)
  • Sizzling skin wounds and scars on the forearms from handling hot pans and hot racks
  • Nursing knife wounds on the hands (then covering them with finger condoms)
  • Bristling from heat rash due to working in a hot kitchen
  • De-crusting the treads of kitchen clogs or no-slip shoes with a toothpick and a hose, because old kitchen sludge is kind of like dog poop
  • Gagging from the putrid smell of an open grease trap
  • Cringing when customers or friends casually ask for recipes that were earned via blood, sweat, and many years of all of the above
  • Raging over ludicrous customer requests
  • Abandoning all delusions that being a chef is an easy or glamorous profession
  • Enduring the hard parts because that’s your job
  • Never losing the joy of the challenge
  • Feeding & Nourishing people as a way of life
  • Preserving the integrity of scratch cooking and baking
  • Relishing in the art of it


If you’re not a chef, what do call yourself? Titles that are up for grabs are cook, baker, culinary artist, cake decorator, or kitchen goddess. If you can’t come up with something juicy enough, you can always spin the Chef Name Generator wheel for a pseudonym. When I tried it, I got “Missy Mix-It.”

If you have something to add to this discussion, feel free to leave your comment below!

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Definition and description of a Chef


Definition of the Word, Chef — 11 Comments

  1. Thank-you for this article. It was the pick-me-up I needed today! I am increasingly annoyed by waves of people in the industry with little to no experience other than a few weeks of culinary training, and absolutely no restaurant experience who then feel entitled to call themselves Chef. I agree the tv shows are misleading. A Chef is not only a kitchen manager, HR specialist, trainer, educator, order placer, inventory export, product coster, recipe developer and menu writer, but also the trouble-shooter and repair person for every single glitch that happens within a kitchen. Ask one of these self-proclaimed ‘chefs’ to get elbow deep into a clogged grease trap and see how that works out. Between their gagging and coughing the will quickly relinquish their shiny chefs title, if they can even find the grease trap.

    I would be embarrassed to think that I had any more right to teach people cooking after a mere few weeks of culinary school, let alone call myself a Chef. Could I fly a plane with a few weeks or training? Probably. Should I call myself a professional pilot
    and fly commercial flights? Absolutely not.

    I am a Chef. I have the arm scars from oven racks, carpel tunnel in wrists and sore back and hips from hours of standing, bending and lifting. Not to mention the gray hairs from the stressors of staff and customers. But more importantly, I have the training, experience and overall knowledge to be called a Chef. Like most professions, earning the right to use the title is just that, earning it. There is a HUGE difference between being able to make a pretty cake, or being able to offer 20 selections of French desserts to a customer, within their budget, preparing them all the while making sure they are costed correctly so you make money as well.

    So folks, put in your time, pay your dues and then take your title. But don’t impersonate, because a real Chef will know, and most customers will too.

  2. first of all, i love your emails. its a nice end to a busy day for me, especially when talking about the word chef so loosely. that makes me so irritated. i dont like the reality shows of cooking and totally agree. am so glad you voiced it, well said.
    iam a cottage baker out of my home. but ive also been a manager,sous chef, prep and line cook etc etc for 25 years. it was shoulder surgery that prevents me from cooking commercially anymore and i miss it horribly. some who know me consider me a chef. i didnt go to school. so i refuse to hold that title. i wont eat out alot because like you said, alot of folks even with a health card have not been in industry long enough to handle food safely IMO.
    in wa. state we have very strict cottage laws governed by thE WSDA. paperwork and red tape a mile long. yrly inspections and big brothers a watching, believe it! i dont do it to get rich. i do it because i love to cook. if i cant cook for people, you might as well tell me i cant have air. i hold very high standards and have always lived by “when in doubt, throw it out” and “if i wont eat it myself im sure not serving or selling to anyone else” but thats me. ive worked harder at my home bus than i ever did in a commercial setting. anyone taking this venture….be ready. cause when the folks in your area find out you are a from scratch no fillings from a bucket cook, ur gonna get busy.and on that note i have pies and cinnamon rolls due tomorrow!

  3. It’s such a cut throat field. People who don’t have talent and rely on those who have a passion for the art. Financially try to hustle the art because of this sort of dissention. And the safe handling course can be taken online from the comfort of my home. At a cost, but it can be taken. I am an artist, and take extreme passion in my work. It’s this crap that ruins it for all and for those who love it.
    Turn it around, make positive and then pass it on or pass it forward. Arts are dying because of this sort of thinking. Baking a cake really isn’t that hard to do, really.
    Anna Marie Matos

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