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Occupation: Cook

On my recent trip, there were tons of forms to fill out. Each country usually has a landing permit form and a customs declaration, and some have a visa application, or a visa-on-arrival application. Hotels have forms for your permanent address. Most of these forms have a box or a line for "Occupation:", where after some consideration, I decided to enter: "Cook". Even though I qualify as someone who cooks in the broadest sense, and those forms will never be reviewed by anyone, I have some baggage about the term, and I never got 100% comfortable with writing in "Cook." I felt like a bit of a trespasser. But computer repair guy didn't seem appropriate either, because I'm trying to close that chapter.

For most Americans, our occupations are a large part of our identity. When we ask the vague question, "What do you do?" we mean, "What is your profession, or your occupation? What do you do for a living? How do you make money?" As if what we do for fun or our passion doesn't really count, and isn't even worth mentioning - unless we get paid for it. I don't think I'm alone in carrying these beliefs. We are capitalists, after all.

By contrast, I've heard that in Europe, people respond with their passion first, and their occupation second, as in, "I'm a poet, but I'm also a bank teller" or "I'm a painter, but I'm also a teacher." I like that kind of thinking.

When I explain to people that I'm leaving the field of information services to become a cook, quite a few of them say, "Oh, you're a chef!" But really, I'm not a chef. Chef is the French word for chief. Most of the time, I explain that I'm a cook, and chef is a title for the person who's in charge of a kitchen, or has responsibility for a part of the kitchen, like section or a station. But sometimes, it's too much work to explain, and it's easier to let them go on uncorrected.

With the higher profile and status of chefs and cooks, all the cooking shows on TV, and all the cooking gadgets in stores in the last few decades, I think the term chef is thrown around a bit too easily. I understand the point of it is to make it seem like anyone who cooks is a chef. I suppose the justification is "everyone is the chef of their own kitchen". That sells a lot more gadgets, cookbooks, and recreational cooking classes. But even Julia Child (a tremendous cook) described herself as a cook, not a chef, because she never worked in restaurants.

These are terms from a particular industry and craft. Some may think that this is all semantics, and they're right. Cooking ability is quite separate from what title one may hold. I'm talking about nomenclature. In my opinion, to use the title chef or cook imprecisely diminishes the accomplishments of people who have put in the time, worked hard, and sacrificed much to earn those titles.

What I'm leading up to with this convoluted rant is, the other day, with help from Amy and her instructor Chef de Castro, I got a job at a well-known restaurant, as an entry level line cook. Not a chef, a cook. I have so much to learn, but I can finally say, without any qualifications:

Occupation: Cook


Now that is something to be immensely proud of. And you are a first rate cook, at that :-)

Congratulations! You're definitely first rate person and a cook.

I mean to say first rate person and cook. without the "a". sorry. darn it i'm ruining your blog already.

Thank you both for the support.

Joan, I'd take either version as a compliment. [singing]But what a difference an "a" makes...[/singing] Ha!

Congratulations! Though I may sometimes call myself a cook (I'm more of an eat-and-drink) you truly are one! And I believe that you are well on your way to becoming Chef one day!!

Thanks, SAM. I've had your food, you definitely can cook!

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