You cannot call yourself a nurse simply because you are generous enough to care for people, nor can you be rightfully called a doctor simply because you work in a healthcare facility. A master plumber is not a self-appointed title, nor is a master auto mechanic such because he or she enjoys working on cars. Just because you make recommendations to friends about their diet does not make you a dietitian, and the title of professor does not refer to everyone who chooses a career in teaching. Titles do mean something and it is not simply pomp and circumstance. Official, professional titles reference the scope of a particular job and the process through which a person builds a certain level of expertise. In nearly every case there are organizations that validate this process and these skills before such a title is bestowed, or at least deemed appropriate.

Yet, restaurants, the media, and individuals throw around kitchen and restaurant titles without paying due respect to this process and the scope of positions that carry those titles. So, as a point of clarification, I thought that I would try to set the record straight.


These are, by far, some of the most commonly misunderstood titles. Both positions carry significant responsibility and those individuals are to be respected for their breadth of knowledge, however, they are significantly different in scope. The working chef in a property is responsible for the menu, for hiring and training employees, for building effective operational systems, for the quality of food produced and served, and for controlling the costs associated with operating a profitable restaurant. A person with this title has demonstrated culinary skills of the highest level, is accomplished as a team builder and operations manager, and a knowledgeable interpreter of a restaurants concept. The hours invested in accomplishing this are sometimes limitless with a significant portion spent in the actual preparation of food. You will likely see the working chef engaged in advance preparation, line work, and anything that requires his or her attention during service.

The executive chef is a person who is responsible for multiple food outlets and is in a position to direct a team of sous chefs with individual responsibilities for those outlets. You would typically find an executive chef at the helm of the kitchens in a club, full-service resort, large hotel property, or chain of restaurants offering a similar concept. The executive chef’s breadth of knowledge is at least as extensive as the working chef, with likely a strong understanding of the art and science of cooking, a deeper understanding of business management, a proven track record of leading large teams of individuals, a bit of marketing savvy, and noteworthy organizational skills. The executive chef spends little time with the actual preparation of food and is far more invested in strategic planning, oversight of a complex organization, training, brand building, and customer interaction. This is first, and foremost, a management position.

So, it is unlikely that a person responsible for the kitchen operations at a single focused independent restaurant (regardless of the business volume) is, or should be referred to, as an executive chef.

This is in no way a slight towards the skills and demands placed on the chef in that single-focused restaurant, simply a delineation of the titles. Many working chefs go on to accept positions in complex organizations as executive chef.

[]         PASTRY CHEF vs. BAKER:

Another common misrepresentation is referring to a baker as a pastry chef or, for that matter, a pastry chef as a baker – they are different. Pastries are a unique segment of the bakeshop repertoire and include many items that professional bakers will often admit are not part of their bag of tricks. Yes, many of the items that a baker and pastry chef is responsible for are “baked”, but the intricacies of some of those items is significantly different depending on the background behind the title.

Both will likely be responsible for yeast breads, laminated dough, cakes, pies, cookies, custards, fillings, and frozen desserts, but the level of expectation and the breadth of knowledge demonstrated by the two will likely differ. The art and science of bread baking alone is enough to separate the two titles.

Mastering the preparation of laminated dough can be a lifetime pursuit and understanding how to effectively work with tempered chocolate even more so. In a larger, more complex property such as a hotel, resort, or club – the pastry chef is likely a systems and production manager first with oversight of training and consistency. Nearly everything that falls under the production responsibilities of the pastry chef is science oriented leaving very little margin of error. The pastry chef will undoubtedly understand the process of making quality artisan bread, but will likely have a bread baker working for him or her as the resident product expert.

You may find it very difficult to attract a baker with the skills or interest in making sugar or chocolate centerpieces for an elaborate dinner, and at the same time those highly experienced pastry chefs might stumble over making biscuits or cookies.

It is certainly possible that a baker will be diverse enough in background to accomplish this and there are certainly examples of pastry individuals who are perfectly comfortable with those foundational baked goods such as quickbreads, biscuits, scones, and cookies, but be cautious about using titles unless the experience and skill set is a match.


Most full-service restaurants will have a comprehensive wine list. Some may go way beyond a basic offering providing a breadth of wine types, vineyards, represented countries of origin, and vintages. Simply because a restaurant has invested in this breadth of offering, and simply because a person is responsible for the management of those offerings does not mean that he or she is a sommelier. A sommelier is a professional title that is earned through testing of knowledge associated with grape varieties, the impact of terroir, familiarity with the skills of the vintner and winemaker, an understanding of the nuances in wine vintages, and a highly refined palate that is able to evaluate those nuances.   Sommeliers are certified and as such the title should be reserved for those who successfully go through the process of validation.

[]         PREP COOK vs. LINE COOK:

Some would argue that a cook is a cook and the distinction between line cook and prep cook is not valid – try telling this to either person. It is possible that the prep cook has a deeper understanding of the processes of cooking than a line cook. In some cases this may not be true, but understand that it is very likely that the prep cook in a restaurant is the one who is engaged in stock and sauce preparation, roasting and braising, meat and fish fabrication, assessing the quality characteristics of delivered ingredients, and building flavors through marination, curing, and smoking. The line cook, on the other hand, is a magician who is able to insert the element of timing, is the owner of a sophisticated palate able to adjust seasoning in the moment to meet a certain standard, is an incredibly detailed organizer, and artist able to paint beautiful food on a plate even under the stress of a very busy service. Where the prep cook may work alone with the aid of production sheets, the line cook must operate as an important member of a team that must work in unison – understanding and anticipating what each member of this team is and will be doing at any given point in service. There are no official professional titles associated with these positions, but each is proud of what those labels do mean.

[]         CHEF vs. SOUS CHEF:

Sous chefs are oftentimes under-valued for the important role that they play. Depending on the size of an operation – the sous chef can range in responsibilities from production manager to full leadership of an outlet.   In a larger resort, hotel, or club the sous chef will likely take on responsibility for a restaurant, banquet operation, or freelance responsibilities for various operations on a rotating basis. Sous chefs are the second in command and will likely have many of the same skills as the executive or working chef, but simply lack a bit more time in the position before moving up to the lead role. In all cases, the sous chef position is a steppingstone for chef and is likely the driving motivation for the individual in that role. Most property chefs would agree that their success is totally dependent on the quality of sous chef(s) in the organization.


Master chef is a registered professional title. Using this title outside of the professional process of validation is a real disservice to those who have put themselves through a grueling process to earn the designation. Master Chef is, as one would assume, a title given to individuals who have an incredible breadth of knowledge, first class experience in the highest quality operations, unsurpassed leadership skills, and a brand that speaks for itself. There are less than 70 Certified Master Chefs in the United States and less than a dozen Certified Master Pastry Chefs. Worldwide there are more who have gone through the European Guild System, but those who carry the title in the U.S. have done so through the 10-day intensive testing through the American Culinary Federation. Although there are likely many other talented chefs in the U.S. who could pass the certification process, those who have chosen to do so are limited and thus deserve exclusive use of the title.

Titles, when they involve a professional position are important. They signify to the employer that the person has validated skills, portray to the consumer that the property has invested in a consummate professional, and provide a source of pride to those who are committed to their field. Using titles freely without concern for process is a disservice and misrepresentation.


Kudos to all professionals in any field who work every day to improve and meet the expectations of the title that they hold

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting BLOG

LINK to: American Master Chefs Order:

LINK to American Culinary Federation Certification:

The COURT of Certified Master Sommeliers:



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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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