The difference between home cooks and professional chefs

Tomato Production Setup

My tomato peeling production setup

The other day I got pressed into service on a canning operation. My job was to peel 25 pounds of tomatoes and pass them on to be made into sauce. This required the set-up you see here: a pot of boiling water to loosen the skins, a pot of cool water to bring them back to handling temperature, a place for the discarded skins and a slotted spoon to make the transfers.

I had been told I didn’t need to worry about the stems but quickly discovered this particular batch of Romas was a bit woody. So when is the best time to cut out the stem-ends? If you do it after peeling the tomato falls apart. So, it needs to be done before they go in the boiling water bath. This is the kind of production-line decision that is made by professional cooks dozens of times a day and is why they are different than even the most accomplished home cooks.

You can do a job very well, but if it’s one-off there’s no guarantee that you will be able to repeat with identical results. I can reliably cook steaks because I once worked in a steakhouse. But I have no such experience with deep frying so my results are more experimental. I expect it’s the same for most of us. In particular, it’s why there’s such a difference between home and professional bakers. You can’t be assured of consistent baguettes until you have made dozens or hundreds of them day after day.

This is not to slight home cooks. It’s fun to experiment and discover new things. But predictability is nice, and if I’m paying for the meal I insist on it.

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4 Responses to The difference between home cooks and professional chefs

  1. JB says:

    I think the big difference between a home cook and a restaurant kitchen is the restaurant has STAFF. Prep, line cooks, etc.. They can turn out complex multi course meals because they’re a team. That’s why I go out to eat. I never order a steak at a restaurant. Any monkey can cook a steak in 10 minutes (hell, even I can do it!).

  2. That’s true. And you also have people who can clean up after you, so you aren’t subconsciously editing yourself to make preparation choices that will reduce the amount you have to clean up (though if you’ve seen my shots of dishes during preparation you can see this is not a problem with me).

  3. mikecsmith says:

    The difference between home cooking and going out to dinner is the expectation the the meal is going to be much better or if not not better a different experience.
    I love cooking and at least once a week make a meal that would challenge any restaurants, not that it’s better, but that restaurateurs would enjoy. my aim is always to create a dish that has colour, taste and design.

    • I like your strategy of, if I interpret correctly, challenging yourself to make a home meal that’s inventive and complex enough that you’d be proud to serve it to a skilled professional chef. A worthy way to stretch your talents.

      Apropos that, I was proofing baguettes for my wife’s New Years Eve open house when I discovered she’d invited our favorite chef. Moment of panic. Fortunately, the baguettes turned out great. And the chef never showed up.

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