How is a home cook different from a pro? Does professional instruction benefit a home cook?

The difference between home cooks and a professional chef (which needs defined) is on par with a high school and profession athlete. People here who think they compare are certifiable. It’s an insulting comparison to genuine chefs.

1 Like

My brother is a professional chef, with a long resume in restaurants and catering kitchens. However, as a busy widower with a young son, he doesn’t cook much at home, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that he’s not exceptionally good at it when he does. Cooking for 4-6 people is just an entirely different game than restaurant or catering kitchen cooking, and not all of the skills translate. For instance, he is not particularly good at timing a home meal so that all of the components are done at the same time. He prepares with mise en place, which is of course a necessity in restaurants but frequently a waste of time in home kitchens, where you can often prep one ingredient while another is sweating in a pan. He does not bake AT ALL. He hasn’t fully learned the tricks home cooks use to make up for fewer BTUs on the stovetop. Etc. Could he be an excellent home cook with a little effort? Absolutely - he understands which of his skills are lacking. But without the desire (or need, or time) to really practice, he remains a fairly average home cook despite his culinary school training and restaurant/catering experience.


My friend’s husband has worked as a cook (he is not a culinary school grad) and a short order cook, in a few upscale restaurants, but mostly in family restaurants, diners and chain restaurants.

His cooking is fast, and he makes a good clam chowder. He can make any pub food appetizer or main. He is mostly interested in things like ribs. When I’ve visited them, they want to go out for poutine or other pub food, and we once drove an hour in Metro Vancouver to seek out some Irish Nachos (potato nachos, these ones made with waffle fries) at a small chain restaurant.

He is now in sales, and he cooks all the meals for their family of 4. (My friend can’t cook)

He isn’t interested in the types of flavours or dishes I experiment with or seek out.

Working as a cook was more of a job than a calling for him.


I think this is true of many professional cooks, even those who have gone to culinary school. My brother now manages a restaurant/brewery and I don’t think he really misses the kitchen too much. He is a good chef (and a better home cook than he gives himself credit for, IMO), but it was never really a calling.


My bestie is a CIA grad, and still cooks for a living so I’m a front line observer. I would agree with everything you say, but would add in:

Cost…everything is about cost control for the pros.

Portion control…related to cost, but especially in this supply-chain-challenged Era, is also a key to not 86ing specials.

Scale…we can adjust our dinner for consistency, seasoning, etc…not as easy when you have a large batch already prepped.

An increasingly self-important clientele who don’t care that someone actually has to make a plate that meets their often ridiculous demands. I’m happy to see that the keyboard warriors who blast restaurants online for the most trivial issues are finally getting muzzled, but there’s a long way to go.

Having said that…I’m apparently doing okay with my skills that have never had professional training. I took a cooking class at the Ritz in Paris years ago, and my knife skills earned me a place next to the instructor, demonstrating while she talked…and my chef buddy chooses me as his sous when he caters because we work that well together. (Still intimidates me to cook for him though).


One of the main differences I see is that a professional chef has to create, source, prep cook & plate a dish at a level of productivity that allows the food to be sold at a profit. Thats not even 7on the radar for a home cook & is one of the main reasons home cooks’ restaurants fail. Running a kitchen at a profit is not an easy thing.


(post deleted by author)


I’ll never forget an early job where I was told bluntly, x shrimp on the plate, we make a tiny bit. X+1, we lose a tiny bit. If those tiny bits are added up, they really need to be positive. And then there was the prep cook, shamelessly piling them on his salad. He soon left. There are so many things a chef cannot watch. It is scary.


I like to add that professional chefs have a more difficult job. This is not a world where most people have access to, and of course without experience, no improvement. That being said, it is not like home cooks do not have their own unique challenges. I will just name three.

  1. Not a full time job. On the surface, home cooking not being a full time job seems to make it easier, but it isn’t. Home cooking is essential for many families, and yet many people need to balance home cooking within the household budget on top of a full time jobs. A lot of responsibilities, but not a a lot of recognitions.
  2. An ever changing menu for an ever unchanging audience. This is the opposite for a restaurant, where the menu is largely unchanged. For a home cook, he/she will need to keep changing the dishes and yet the family does not change. If your son hates celery and carrot, and your daughter is a vegetarian, then this is a card you are dealt with. You will need to find ways to balance the different food preference and yet provide an ever changing menu for years to come.
  3. Health, health, and health. Not to say professional chef cooking is unhealthy, but it is not unfair to say how food health is ranked extremely high for parents. Not only the foods need to taste good, within budget, and they need to be well balance and healthy. Having a three-courses meals of fried chicken + French fries + an apple pie probably is something a home cook need to avoid.


Professionals have to pay taxes, usually because they’re getting paid (formally).


I can tell you for a fact that my mom, as a homecook, could make her dumplings, zongzi, hand pulled noodles, steamed baos and stir fried “mi fen” repeatedly, blind-folded if she had to.


My guess is something along the lines of the amount of attention paid to an unfamiliar, attention-sucking side dish caused him to do something like let the meat go past the intended pull temp.

Not exactly the same as @Respectfully_Declined’s comment, but I’ve let a roast out on the grill go over 130°F when I meant to pull it at 123 due to getting distracted by trying to get 4 other things finished in the kitchen at the same time. Plus my remote sensor no longer reads the probe so I have to run out or have a kid run out and check temp. (I’ve gotten 15 years out of this thermometer so it’s really time to replace it.)

The low end to midrange restaurant industry, especially most Greek, Portuguese, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Thai, , Italian, Polish, Ethiopian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Columbian, etc restaurants and greasy spoons survives in Canada because so many taxes are not being paid.

At the midrange- upscale restaurants, I’m sure many are paying some staff under the table or paying cash for some supplies, even if the managment and chef’s salaries are on the books.

I can get 10 percent off at most Chinese restaurants if I pay cash. (Ontario’s current harmonized sales tax rate is 13 percent ). I know a few restaurants that are cash only. T

I tip in cash, for a few reasons I won’t write about here.

I’m going to guess more home cooks are paying sales tax on their groceries, and income tax on their wages (from non-kitchen work) than most cooks working in commercial kitchens in Toronto / Ontario/ Canada.

When I visited Greece in 2004, the tax officers were cracking down. Some (maybe many) very busy cafés had been reusing receipts over and over again, with new customers. Haha

I agree with the comments about pros needing to be focused on technique, repetition, consistency of product, organization (of the kitchen - ingredient prep and other staff, depending on where they are in the hierarchy), and budget with an eye toward profit. I have watched staff get sacked from bar kitchens because they didn’t respect the budget that went into ingredient inventory. They were making unsanctioned, off menu items for favored regulars. Until they weren’t.

Does professional instruction benefit a home cook? It depends on the priorities of the home cook. Some people take incredible pride in being able to wield a knife with precision. At 50 years old, I’m not going to get myself worked up about executing a perfect brunoise. However, whenever I can break down a whole fish now, I feel pretty good about it. But, I only learned because it was important to me for the kinds of dishes I wanted to make at this point in my life. Others might be perfectly fine with buying a fillet or a frozen breaded product for their needs. Heck, I still buy those. I’m not trying to turn a bunch of covers or get good reviews; I’m just trying to feed myself and my partner and feel good about what I put out.

And, as we consider priorities, while a home cook doesn’t have to consider a budget, at least from a profit side, for some they are going to be thinking about it in terms of avoiding loss. For example, I made macaroni and cheese and collard greens this week that were not on my original meal plan. Now I have two servings left. Do we just eat them again tonight? Eating repeat meals isn’t an issue for us, but there are some households for whom it is an issue for certain members. Do I and/or my partner eat them for lunches? Do they go in the freezer? I would worry less, except that I already purchased perishable vegetables for two other meals I had put on my meal plan for the week. I mean, I’ll figure it out (probably lunches…although the greens may need to become a ramen base at some point…which means freezer for a bit…). But my point is, for some home cooks, this kind of thinking/organization is a priority and as much a prized skill as knowing how to make all the mother sauces. For others, less so.


Depending on the type of restaurant management, these types of skills are used as well. My grandfather, who ran a restaurant, warned us not to eat meatloaf because that was where the older meat was used. I didn’t try meatloaf until I was in my 40s.
Soup du jour is often made from leftovers at independent family-style restaurants.

I laughed when a family restaurant in Tobermory, ON repurposed bran muffins into a ‘bread pudding’ for a group dinner when I took part in a hiking weekend.

1 Like

As I let all of these terrific insights soak in, a thought occurred to me. For the line cooks it is all about repetition and functioning in a world where every detail is so ingrained that it is automatic and never overlooked. For the chef, who inevitably worked her or his way up, including being on the line, probably at all the stations, it is about creative thinking about menus, tweaks, etc. and managing the business. That part of the creative process ought to be taking into account, probably automatically or close to it, “Is this something for which we can prep that my cooks can learn and nail and turn out quickly enough to meet expectations?” Of course there is always analyzing pricing. As inflation is such an issue of late, that is something more home cooks must consider.


Totally acknowledge that for professional kitchens avoiding loss is a skill they are absolutely going to employ. “Don’t eat fish on Mondays!” from Kitchen Confidential and all. I just think it’s interesting that when we talk about comparing home and pro cooks, a lot of the focus ends up being on the skill set related to the straight up cooking, when there is also so much about kitchen management that is worth (at least for me) strengthening as a skill set that gets left out of the conversation. No one talks about whether a home cook would benefit from professional instruction on how best to store perishable vegetables in their fridge. Or whether that fridge has the oomph that a restaurant walk-in has (versus someone else’s point about home versus restaurant cooktop BTUs).


Issues exist in the UK, particularly effecting South Asian restaurants. It’s reported, with some degree of regularity, of immigration enforcement officers raiding restaurants, succesfully finding undocumented workers. The owner of our favourite Indian restaurant has told us that it is quite common for South Asian chefs to want payment of part of their wages to be paid in cash (so income tax can be avoided) or other related “under the counter” payments given. It’s something he has so far resisted but says it is difficult as there is a chef shortage.

1 Like

I think foodie home cooks and non-foodie home cooks also approach cooking and food prep differently.

People who cook to get food on the table, as opposed to someone using food prep as a happy zone. Food prep is therapeutic for me. I don’t approach it the same way I might approach it the same way as if I had 8 people to feed each night. I can’t imagine what food prep each night was like for my Aunt Martha who had 8 kids, who did enjoy baked goods, but wasn’t much of a foodie.

I think it’s easier to get things done quickly if it’s a task, and of course there’s more pressure to get it done, if you have a boss and are being paid.


“How is a home cook different from a pro?”

Imho the distinctions aren’t that clear cut. What @naf is saying here, also holds for the family I grew up in. Restaurants need to be careful of money, well families too. There are critical customers in a restaurant but also in a family. Some home cooks make the same recipes over and over, so they will have repetition too.

For me home cooked meals are the ultimate - many of my best food memories were at homes, or in restaurants emulating home cooking (for example in Italy). Restaurant food can be good too, but there are a lot of poor restaurant cooks out there. So, I’d personally rate a good home cook higher than a typical line chef.

I think, in general, the difference lies in Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of needing 10,000 hours to develop a truly good skill set. Really good cooks have put in the time to develop their skills whether they work at home or in a restaurant. Cooking is not only being able to cut onions fast but also developing your taste and being able to break down a recipe and adjust, as well as adjusting what’s happening in a pan. You really need experience to be able to do this, and typically people working as a chef will be quicker to reach that 10k hours.

I sometimes wonder how it came to be that I have become a good cook, better than almost any friend or co-worker. Was it because my mom is a great cook? Or that I have traveled a lot? Likely. But a big part has also been my job giving me the opportunity to take extended gardening leaves from time to time: I’ve spent considerable hours in a home kitchen. I always notice my cooking becoming worse, the busier I am at my regular office job.