The Difference Between Home Cooks and Restaurant Chefs

restaurant chefIs there a fundamental difference between home cooks and restaurant chefs (except for the differences in resources and skill)? Charles Krautkramer in this book on the philosophy of food thinks so. He writes:

A restaurant kitchen, and those who produce its food, in the absence of a direct and personal relationship with the diner, have a specific duty to cook “to the food.” This means that they should intend to create food that is artfully made using expert techniques, drawing out optimal flavor, texture, and color, and in which the ingredients often produce complex, original and stimulating cuisine.

The home cook has a different goal;

The home kitchen and the home cook, on the other hand, have a duty to cook for the diner out of love and friendship …. The home cook’s intent values a fostering of comfort, providing abundance, and creating a dining atmosphere of conviviality. The ethics of the home kitchen place emphasis on honoring the diners first (and the food itself second) and accomplishing this by promoting an inclusive fraternity of the kitchen where cook and diner interact either at the stove or á table.

The restaurant chef tries to get the most out of her ingredients; the home cook facilitates love and friendship.

This strikes me as mostly right but too starkly drawn. Obviously home cooks are not precluded by “the ethics of the home kitchen” from optimizing flavor and honoring their ingredients by producing “complex, original, stimulating cuisine”. They have some duty, to the best of their resources and ability, to create good food. Similarly, restaurant chefs cannot ignore their duty to create a convivial atmosphere or to establish a relationship of trust between chef and diner.

The contrast between restaurant chef and home cook is not a duty to the food vs. a duty to guests. Both restaurant chefs and home cooks have duties to both. Rather the difference is in the kind of food one cooks and the purpose it serves.

Professional chefs must create food that is surprising, challenging, and that provides a new perspective or experience.  Their goal is entertainment. The home cook must create food that is pleasing, but accessible, comprehensible, and digestible, to avoid offense and discomfort. Their goal is friendship. The home cook can surprise and challenge, but only within the limits of what will sustain friendship. The restaurant chef can take more liberties but of course must be careful not to get too far out in front of the diners or she will find herself out of business.

One comment

  1. Perhaps I am biased because I am married to a professional chef, but I think this is a meaningless differentiation. Sure, there are a few molecular restaurants where wildly creative dishes seek to surprise far more than nourish, but they are the clear and obvious exception. Most restaurants, like most home chefs, try to create delicious food with the ingredients on hand, limited at times by budget, experience, and time.
    And based on his books and presentations, I suspect the Jacques Pepin would agree with me.

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