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Cook vs Chef – What’s the Difference?

As local restaurants expand their businesses, they often look to hire more hands in the kitchen. However, if you’re a restaurant novice simply looking to gain experience, those job postings may seem a little confusing: Why does the job description say Line Cook or Sous Chef? Is there a difference?

a plate of food the differences between cooking positions

Photo by Janelle Santos

Yes, there is a difference and we’re here to help you figure that out. Here’s our quick guide to some of the basic roles between the different cooking positions, from the top Executive Chef to the entry-level short order cooks.

Executive Chef

food from hot italian pizzeria different cooking roles

Image from Hot Italian Instagram

Also called the Head Chef, this is the chef responsible for overseeing all kitchen operations. Simply put, the Executive Chef is the boss of the kitchen.

This position is generally filled by somebody with 10-15 years of restaurant and management experience and they work from the opening of the restaurant until closing time. So if this sounds like your dream job, prepare to basically live in the kitchen and work your way up to it.

Responsibilities include:

  • Planning menus
  • Supervising activities of the sous chefs, other chefs, and other cooks
  • Recruiting and hiring the kitchen staff
  • Planning employee schedules

Sous Chef

gourmet salad from propaganda different cooking positions line cook

Image from Propaganda Website

This chef is essentially the “Executive Chef In-Training” or the “Second-In-Command”. The main difference between the Sous Chef and Executive Chef is that the Sous Chef is responsible for training and overseeing the other chefs and cooks, whereas the Executive Chef oversees the entire kitchen.

A Sous Chef typically has 5 or more years of restaurant and management experience and works similar hours as the Executive Chef.

Responsibilities include:

  • Learning the creativity of the Executive Chef and his cuisine
  • Inventory management
  • Food costing
  • Managing and directly guiding the other chefs and cooks
  • Working a particular station when necessary

Line Cook

line cook position making food on the grill

Photo by Janelle Santos

This particular cook is in charge of a specific station in the kitchen line and learns to master one type of food preparation. For example, some common line cook positions are the saute chef, fry cook, pastry chef, and grill cook.

A line cook should have about 4 years of kitchen experience and tends to work in the morning or evening shifts. Often, people with no experience start as a prep cook and work their way to the line cook position.

Prep Cook

prep cook position

Photo by Janelle Santos

Prep cooks are those who start the cooking process and do the basic grunt work like cleaning produce, preparing ingredients for cooking, and cutting vegetables and meat. Simply put, the prep cook starts the preparation process and the line cook finishes it.

Prep cooks generally have one year of experience or less. They usually work early morning shifts in order to get the food preparation done for the entire day. If you aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and get things done, this is the cooking position for you!

Short Order Cook

pizza from hot italian difference between cooking positions

Image from Hot Italian Instagram

Short order cooks work mainly in restaurants where the food is simple and needs to be prepared fast, such as diners and fast food restaurants. They work on multiple orders at once and use all sorts of preparation techniques like frying, grilling, and microwaving.

No formal education is required for this position since most training is done on the job. The hours for a short order cook vary depending on the restaurant or diner. So start here if you’re looking to get your foot into the restaurant business.

These are just some of the most common positions in restaurant kitchens. Every restaurant has their own specific standards and methods, so be sure to do some research on the specific food establishment before you apply. Bon appétit!


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Cook vs Chef – What’s the Difference?


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