Photo by Donna

So many people commented on the distinction between foodie and cook in my post responding to the Michael Pollan essay, I wished I'd used it for its own post.  Then I realized I could!  And then from out of the Twitosphere came a lament from someone who didn't like to be called a home cook, feeling, I think that the term was inherently condescending.  And another who thought my description of what defined a foodie to be condescending.  (Guilty.)

Judging from those who commented to me, people were evenly divided between those who were proud to be called home cooks and those who felt, I don't know, as if being a "home" cook were akin to being a pretend cook.  But I liked what Chef Pardus had to say—on my facebook page (I can't keep track of all this stuff, facebook, twitter, email, blog, the center can't hold!)—it was right on the money, and I'm glad I didn't miss it: he says that he writes and he skis but he doesn't call himself a writer or a skier.

I think that's really all the distinction there needs to be. I don't like the term home cook for the very reason the Tweeter seemed to indicate.  There's something precious about it, and it grates.  Unless you work in a restaurant, where where else are you going to cook?  Why do we even need to call ourselves cooks, home or not.  Pardus doesn't say he's a home writer.  A guy who makes Shaker boxes on the weekend doesn't call himself a home carpenter.  On the other hand, if we're asked whether we cook, we say, Yes.  Cook is a verb.  It's what some of us do.  Not what we are. Unless we are, in which case we can pay our rent with the result of our cooking. I'm for abolishing the term "home cook." Or at least not using it.

If you're not allowed to call yourself a cook, then how to distinguish between those who are foodies and those who love to cook?  That as I mentioned in the earlier post, is an important distinction. What is a foodie? I like the Miriam Webster definition: a person having an avid interest in the latest food fads.

Foodie has only a tangential relation to cook.  Foodie is not an act, like cook.  Foodie declares specific interests.  (Food enthusiast is a good attempt at making the idea palatable, but it's too cumbersome.) Who first used the word foodie?  Well, Paul Levy, an American born journalist working in England makes the claim that he coined the word.  Is this something to be proud of? You're almost forced to wince when you say it. 

In fact, and Levy notes this, the first person to use the word foodie, according to Barry Popnick, a guy who studies origins, was none other than Gael Greene in New York mag in 1980.

True, Gael? (If so, it's still not as cool as being able to tell people you slept with Elvis.)

All this writing so early in the morning has made me hungry.  Think I'll go cook….


157 Wonderful responses to ““Foodie,” “Cook,” and “Home Cook””

  • Kristine

    This will be interesting. I just like to cook and read about food. I don’t really care what you call me, just call me for dinner.

  • katedecamont

    My French friends make teh distinction by introducing me as a ‘good cook’. Actually they say a ‘good cooker’! Either way you got it right- we cook.

  • Marc b

    What does the “home cook” have to be ashamed of? Am I now less of a cook because working in a kitchen paid for my law school? At the time I was cooking for a living, eating at anyone’s house was cool and usually an adventure. A cook is a cook no matter where they cook.

  • Tags

    I think the PBS show “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” actually lends the word some class, though I’m not sure I’d watch a show called “Gourmet’s Diary of Those Who Slept with Elvis.”

    “Home cook” is precious, and as such, belongs in a museum.

  • clotilde

    I don’t have a problem with “home cook” myself, because to me, a cook is someone who cooks for a living, at a restaurant. (Of course, now that everyone claims to be a “chef,” the word “cook” is up for grabs.)

    I don’t find “home cook” to be condescending, because I think it’s a good qualifier for the sort of cooking I do: simple, humble, but (hopefully) good. I practice home cooking, as opposed to restaurant-style cooking, which I don’t try to emulate, so yes, I’m a home cook.

    I also use the term “food enthusiast” (although I agree it is a bit clunky, it’s infinitely less grating that the “f” word) to describe the fact that I’m not just interested in the cooking part, but the world of food in general — all aspects of it, including the cultural, historical, political, and anecdotal ones.

  • ABC Dragoo

    Many foodies have no interest (at all) in cooking for themselves. They’ll proudly call themself a foodie because they go to all the hottest new NYC restaurants and appreciate the food.

    Why all these labels anyway? It’s like being a 38 year old self-professed “geek.” By the time you are that far out of school, you are YOU! You’re not the slot your classmates filed you in.

    If you enjoy preparing food to share with others and to nourish yourself – you’re a chef who cooks.

  • BobR

    How about stay at home chef, or meal maker? I think there are some parallels to be drawn from the stay at home mom/home maker labels that once caused a similar stir. What’s so wrong with saying your a Chef? Perhaps not a professional one, but I’m still the Chief in my own kitchen.

  • Adrienne

    I think Clotilde’s comment is fitting for a lot of us: “I practice home cooking, as opposed to restaurant-style cooking, which I don’t try to emulate, so yes, I’m a home cook.”

    I agree, and I think the distinction is often in the finishing. My plating and knife skills can’t stand up to those of a Chef, but the food I cook and feed to friends and family is as good as a lot of (and I dare say better than some) food you get in restaurants. I don’t care how clunky it is, I refer to myself, when asked, as an enthusiastic home cook.

  • joelfinkle

    I’m sort of partial to “amateur chef” — although chef implies I get to boss a cadre… and that’s not especially true.


    After reading books such as Buford’s “Heat”, I realize that although I have a wide cooking repertoire, and pretty consistently come up with tasty meals, there’s a huge disparity between my skills and experience, and the cook at the lowest station on the line.

    A lot of it boils down to the 10,000 hours/10,000 times needed to become an expert.

    So is “Cook” appropriate? “Home cook” still sounds lame. “Amateur cook” sounds more inexperienced than “Homemaker” and doesn’t seem to capture the love of a hobby. So I’m sticking with “Amateur Chef” even if “Chef” isn’t an accurate description of who I am.

  • latenac

    I don’t have a problem with home cook. Probably b/c I’ve known people I would call chefs insist that they weren’t chefs, yet, they were cooks and chef was something they aspired to. And these were people who are chef probably any measurement except for their own and some technical kitchen hierarchy criteria. I cook at home, I make good food at home but I don’t do some things that are better done at a restaurant. I don’t have chef or professional cook’s training, I am a home cook.

  • George Jardine

    How about “amateur cook”? I myself am proud to be an amateur cook, even tho’ I’ve done the culinary school thing. I find a lot more pleasure in taking the time to craft interesting dishes for my friends and family with as much love as I can, rather than slamming out dishes professionally night after night as a “cook”. The beauty of being an amateur is that I simply do it because I love sharing the fruit of my craft…. which is a much more interesting distinction (to me) than that of “foodie or home cook”.

  • Monsieur Ghislain

    If I agree with your points, and I do, then what do I call myself? I’m neither a gourmet, an epicure, a foodie or a food snob. I may be a gourmand, but I don’t have a gourmand’s budget. I know I don’t need to call myself anything, but what do I say when someone calls me one of these words? I like to cook and eat, and I’m curious and enthusiastic about all things food, but I don’t do fancy or trendy.

    So what do I answer when someone calls me a foodie?

  • clotilde

    Originally, the word chef is short for chef de cuisine, which means “head of the kitchen.” Of course, you can be head of your own home kitchen, but it’s a bit like calling yourself “the boss” when you’re self-employed. 🙂

    To me, a chef is the head of a professional kitchen: it’s the person who gives it a sense of direction, plans menus, places orders, and manages the kitchen staff.

    It’s a difficult, demanding job, and when the word is overused — as it tends to be nowadays — I find it loses significance, and takes something away from the actual chefs who wake up at dawn and toil at the stove until late at night for our dining pleasure.

  • Alex M

    Whatever happened to the title Gourmand
    1 : one who is excessively fond of eating and drinking
    2 : one who is heartily interested in good food and drink
    Or Epicure
    1 : one devoted to sensual pleasure
    2 : one with sensitive and discriminating tastes especially in food or wine
    Or my Favorite
    1 : the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life
    2 : a way of life based on or suggesting the principles of hedonism
    It is not the knowledge, or skill, or even the latest trend that draws us to preparation, cooking and sharing with others. Food with its abundance and possibilities is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
    I’ve been a card carrying Hedonist for over 40 years enjoying all that life offers.

  • elizabeth

    I prefer the simple, concise term “cooking enthusiast”–I found it in a research report on the subject, and I really enjoyed the term because it really is what it is.


    I studied philosophy as an undergraduate and my professors would always be very adamant about telling the undergrads that we were not professional philosophers with Ph.ds and published work. And I couldn’t agree more.

    Obviosuly, there’s a distinction between someone who has been trained to cook and who has had a series of professional cooking jobs and someone who cooks at home. It’s akin to the amateur versus professional philosopher example above.

    In turn, I actually like the term “home cook” and think it’s a pretty accurate description of what goes on with folks with cook at home!

  • ruhlman

    I’d like to reiterate what clotilde said: chef means leader of a kitchen. You are not a chef if cooking is a hobby.

  • Kat D.

    Until now, I do not think I have ever referred to myself as a home cook, but if I have to be called either a foodie or a cook, I choose the latter. My point is that I do not want to be called a foodie just because I like to eat (verb) and like to cook (verb). Although there is nothing wrong with foodies I am not one. Further, I am not persuaded by the point that a cook has to get paid. Many writers write before a publishing company cuts them a check, yet they are still writers, and many “home cooks” run circles around those who consider themselves professional chefs. My grandmother never worked in a professional kitchen but I can assure you that she is a great cook. 3 meals a day for 10 family members over 60+ years equals a lot of experience and if she cannot be called a great cook what should she be called, “maker of food.” I will stop there since these distinctions are making me dizzy.

  • Badger

    I have to agree with Clotilde and Adrienne on the use of “home cook”. That’s what I am, and I have no problem saying so. I’m not a frustrated celebrity chef wannabe. I have no professional training and no professional aspirations where cooking is concerned. I just cook food at home from scratch every single day, and most of the time I really enjoy it and think about when and how I can do it again. What ELSE am I supposed to call myself?

    All this hair-splitting over semantics! I think maybe the food cognoscenti are overthinking things a bit. Or maybe some of the folks who object to being called home cooks have aspirations beyond the home kitchen?

  • JB in San Diego

    I am almost used to the informal nature of blogs, but I still had to do a double-take when I saw that Gael Green had coined the word “food” in this entry. Ha!

  • Phil

    I don’t have a problem calling myself a home cook, and sometimes just say “amateur cook.” My friends are proud of my cooking and sometimes tell others that I’m a gourmet chef, but I immediately correct them, telling them that I’m not a chef, because I don’t do it for a living.

    And I don’t have a problem calling myself a foodie either. If people don’t like that word, that’s not my problem.

  • Laura

    I think that there should be a distinction between those who cook professionally and those who cook for their own pleasure and for that of their family and friends. They are two completely different activities. But I have to say, I think that expending too much effort trying to describe those who cook well at home is probably misguided. I, like many of the readers on this site, am one of those people who love to cook in my own kitchen and fancy myself to be pretty good at it. I personally don’t feel the need for a title. It is a hobby after all (much like skiing and writing) and so I think doesn’t need a formal descriptive title. Like the first commenter, my friends and family just know me as a “good cook” and that to me seems to be the most apt description.

  • Kathie

    People call me Kathie, which is my name and it is an easy acronym for my food/cooking enthusiasm. Kitchens Are The Havens I Enjoy (KATHIE). Works for me 😉

  • carri

    I’m a food geek and it’s a term I will happily take credit for… (even though I did not sleep with elvis)

  • Nicholas Hall

    Ruhlman – not to disagree with the statement regarding “chef” being reserved as a term for the head of a professional kitchen, but what about those who cook at home, but who consider their cooking to be more than a hobby? I, for one, consider cooking and food as more of a philosophy and way of approaching the world. Much as you have described the personalities of professional cooks in your triology on the subject, the act of cooking bleeds into every aspect of my life, changing the ways in which I perceive and react to my surroundings. Ultimately, it is my desire to become a cook professionally, and I think everyone would agree that there is a significant distinction to be made between chef, professional cook, and one who cooks only outside of a professional setting. Until I reach that goal, I choose to refer to myself as an “aspiring cook”, as I feel “aspiring chef” is too lofty, and a bit pretentious. One question nags at me, though. If the term “cook” ought to be reserved for professionals, what exactly does THATmean? Is a fry “cook” at McDonald’s a cook, simply because they prepare food for a living?

  • FrankN

    “Home cook” is only two syllables, it’s easily spoken, it’s descriptive, it’s accurate, and it can be qualified with any adjective that’s appropriate. I don’t think you’re going to do much better than that. FWIW, I’d guess that anyone who thinks the term “home cook” is condescending most likely spent WAY too much money on their knives, pots/pans, etc.

  • Ben

    Why must the qualifier be put on the lesser experienced person, or the person with less skill? We don’t do this with other activities. If I golf, I’m a golfer. If I golf competitively, I’m an amateur golfer. If I make my living from it, I’m a professional golfer. Yes, some descriptors imply profession (such as writer). Personally, I don’t feel that cook fits into that category. I cook at home. Whether I do it because I must or because I get immense enjoyment from it (which really depends on the day), I’m a cook. If I did it for a living, I suppose I’d be a professional cook. The term home cook adds nothing to the equation. It doesn’t distinguish between one who cooks from necessity or for enjoyment. If we need to distinguish between the two, we need a different term. Amateur cook seems silly to me; cooking enthusiast, cumbersome. Foodie, as has been discussed encompasses more than just cooking. I have no solutions at the moment.

  • kevin

    I describe myself as a profesional cook (as well as a professional writer) meaning I earn a fair bit of my income from both activities. But I don’t call myself a “chef” because I have no formal training and have never managed a professional kitchen.

  • Carrie

    When I read the comment Pardus left on facebook I was initially offended, honestly. It seemed condescending – the thought of little ol me ever having the nerve to call myself a real cook! LOL

    After reading through it again and thinking about it this morning I’ve realized it’s actually dead on. I spent years and lots of money in school getting a graduate degree in viola performance – I am a professional violist. If someone who truly loved to play viola and worked on it at home when they had time decided to also call themself a professional violist, I would be pissed. I earned the right to call myself a professional. Labels may seem silly but they carry weight.

    I am a home cook. I absolutely love food – love to read about it, cook it and eat it. But I will never work in a professional kitchen, will never attend a culinary school and will never rise to the level of the Parduses and del Grossos of the world. I’m not a cook – I’m a home cook. I’m good with that.

  • Dan cooks for friends


    Didn’t you call yourself (or someone else) a “hobby cook” in one of the ” … Chef” books? I found it very apt, and now use it often to describe myself.

  • clotilde

    For those who wonder why we’re even have this discussion, I agree that we shouldn’t feel the need to label ourselves — I know very well what I do and why I do it — but for writers and journalists who try to analyze and discuss food matters, it would be handy to have a generally accepted term to describe us non-professional, enthusiastic cooks and eaters.

  • I cook at home and at work

    A few months back, after wrangling with myriad fears, I moved from the cooking-very-well-at-home/food-enthusiast realm into the cooking-for-a-living one. A chef friend called me and said, “you can’t be called a foodie anymore, now that you’re actually being paid to feed people”. It was a good feeling.

    Before, however, I would usually just tell people, “I cook… a lot.” “Home cook” isn’t really pejorative, as far as I’m concerned, but it does seem to imply a certain measure of… wholesomeness, rather than… I don’t know. Perhaps there’s a bit of an issue with being too confident in one’s abilities, some kind of forced humility. “I cook well” is something I know, and am proud of, but perhaps not something most people are ultra-comfortable blurting out…?

  • Kristi

    Like Pollan, I also write and ski. But I ‘cook’ three times a day everyday and I love it. So, I’ll stick with ‘cook’ thanks.

    I have worked in a restaurant in the past. Does this negate the ‘cook rule?’

    I can’t put my finger on whose being the snob here, but it’s somebody…

  • Karen

    This is all so silly, at least in my opinion. “Cook” is either a noun or a verb. Just like most words in the morass we call the English language; it has more than one meaning, depending on context. If I call my mother a good cook, most people understand that I’m not saying she dices onions for a living. If I am talking about the cook who made my sandwich at the deli, most people understand that I’m talking about someone who cooks for a living.
    So what’s the problem? I love to cook (verb). It’s a hobby of mine, just like any other hobby, it requires some dedication and practice. My husband thinks I’m a good cook (noun). I also love to photograph (verb) stuff. It’s a hobby of mine. My husband thinks I’m a good photographer (noun). Is anyone confused by these statements? Does anyone think I actually cook and photograph for a living?
    What the heck else are we supposed to say? Do we need to invent new words so we can be sure people don’t make assumptions they aren’t going to make anyway?

  • digraph

    I enjoy reading blogs and books than can help me cook better. A little technique in the scheme of making a meal takes no appreciable time (might even save time) and elevates the final product. Plus I like to ‘do things right’. I’ll take the past few hundred years’ worth of cooking trial, error and refinement and apply it to my daily life!

    BUT: I’m not a cook, I’m not a home cook, nor anything else – I’m just the dad in the family who makes the meals.

  • Anne

    I tend to think of foodies not necessarily as people interested in the latest food fads, but food itself: people who love really good food. That’s what I mean when I call myself a foodie, anyway. If my definition is mistaken, then what am I? What are the people who don’t care much about fads, who just want to experience delicious, well prepared food, whether it’s high-brow or down-to-earth?

  • Connie

    Strange, as a professional, I’m completely adamant and defensive about cooking, food and kitchens e.g. telling my husband that “No, braising and boiling are NOT the same thing!”, or trying to explain to a wisea@@ customer that the sauce on her Eggs Benedict is in fact Hollandaise, not Bearnaise, and yes, there is only one Chef in a pro-kitchen.

    However, when it comes down to calling people “home cooks,” I have no issue with that. I couldn’t care less about the semantics, I just find it refreshing when a non-pro puts love and effort into this domestic ritual which is too often taken for granted.

  • Megan

    Personally, I see nothing wrong with someone who frequently cooks and who enjoys cooking to call himself a cook. There’s not typically any confusion about whether the person cooks professionally.

    I understand Pardus’s point about skiing and writing, but how often does he ski or write? Try to convince someone who runs nearly every day, who enjoys running, who occasionally enters races even if she knows she can’t place in her age group that she isn’t a runner… What’s the cooking equivalent of a race you know you can’t win? Maybe challenging yourself with a new recipe, maybe cooking for a crowd, etc.

  • kwakagy

    Just tweeted that this post brings to mind a riddle: I love to cook and I love food, but I am neither a cook nor a foodie. What am I?

    I think the problem isn’t so much with the accuracy or appropriateness of these specific labels as it is with labeling period. I never thought I was a cook notwithstanding my passion for cooking, and it would appear that Ruhlman would agree with my assessment. I have always thought of myself as a foodie, however, but since I don’t give a rat’s ass about food fads, I guess Ruhlman and others would beg to differ.

    I’ve become a huge Twitter fan, but it’s times like these that I think that the 140 character limit of Twitter isn’t so much a restriction on how people can communicate as it is a reflection of how people do communicate. We use labels to nutshell people in as few words as possible and I’m as guilty as the next of doing it, but I’m starting to think that rather than using one-size-fits-all labels and trying to figure out whether or not they actually fit, we should all just take the few extra words, the few extra seconds, to describe rather than label, to give context, color and meaning, to actually paint a picture rather than just show a thumbnail.

  • Spencer K

    I find this whole conversation really funny considering, that the derivation of the term probably came from laziness of speech.

    “For those of you that cook at home…”

    “For you home cooks…”

  • Paco

    Anyone who considers (and refers to) themselves as a “Foodie” is inherently lame. It’s like calling yourself a “hipster.” Foodie, hipster…either way, you’re just asking for a knuckle sandwich!

  • Dick Black

    How do you feel about Food Network personalities that insist on being referred to as Chef ? Like Giada or Guy Ferry ?
    Giada took a 2 week pastry course at Cordon Bleu and know insists Matt Lauer call her “chef”. Fee-eddi took hotel/motel management at UNLV, that wonderful turnip factory.

    I just feel sorry for the stiffs that pay mega bucks to go the CIA or Johnston &Wales to be upstaged by some of these people trying to cash in on the chef craze.

  • casacaudill

    I struggle with the terms “home cook” and “foodie” and how they relate to one another. I cook – a lot. I love it. I cook out of my home (um, where else would I cook?), but I don’t necessarily like the term “home cook” because it seems to connotate someone who does it Sarah Lee style and that’s certainly not what I am. On the other hand, I have friends who don’t cook but go to ever single new restaurant that opens in SF. They call themselves foodies and scoff at me because the last hip restaurant I went to hasn’t been hip for 4 years. But I can cook circles around them and frequently do. So maybe I’m not a foodie, and I’m not a “home cook” but I cook a mean breakfast, lunch and dinner. 🙂

  • Amy Sherman

    So if I plunge the toilet, I’m a plumber? I don’t think so! There is nothing wrong with the term “home cook” anyone who thinks so is pretentious and possibly elitist. Please reread Laurie Colwin’s wonderful books on the subject.

  • Jeem

    I write code, cook, make music, and play tennis and golf. I am a coder, cook, musician, tennis player and golfer. But I am a professional coder, and not a professional cook.

  • bill law

    in france they use the word “amateur” in an entirely different way than we do in North America. there it means an enthusiast and is used as a term of respect. here it seems to mean dilettante or something less than committed. hmmm…..

  • Dave

    Intent is what matters, I think.

    I have been paid for writing articles off and on for more than 20 years.

    I do not consider myself a writer, however, much less a professional writer. Writing about technology is just a part of being a professional in that field, to me.

    I have never been paid for playing music. On the other hand, I do consider myself a musician, and since I play in public on a regular basis, I suppose I could call myself an “amateur musician” if anyone cared.

    And frankly, “home cook” (or “hobby cook”) is fine with me. I’m not a professional, nor do I aspire to be one. The quality of what I produce is better than some restaurants, and my technical skills may be better than some people who are being paid to cook, but they certainly aren’t anywhere up to the speed and consistency of a true professional.

    I intend to turn quality ingredients into the best food I can, and to continue to update and upgrade my skills, techniques, and knowledge. That aspiration is the difference to me between a “home cook” and someone who cooks because they need to eat something.

  • Lauren

    I couldn’t decide for the longest time what I was, but for now you can call me “culinary student”. Not sure what I’ll be called when I graduate.

  • Tracey

    By spending this much effort in categorizing ‘foodies’ vs. cooks vs. home cooks, aren’t you culpable of the same criticisms of foodies — snobbery, meangingless exclusivity, and vanity? Foodies are people who have a strong interest in food. Some of them are asshats. Much like any other category of person.

  • applehome

    I have cooked professionally (up to prep and sous) – but that was over 30 years ago and I’ve had a long, prosperous and fully developed career (in IT) since. But I never gave up cooking (or eating) and have an extensive library as well as personal knowledge of food cooking and lore. I agree I’m not a chef. But I’m much more than the average “home cook”. And I suspect that many people who read and follow you feel the same way.

    I cook now in a home shared with several people. When others take a turn, they make things like shepherd’s pie, from mashed potato flakes, canned corn and hamburger on top (no clue as to the concept of using real mashed as a crust around some savory leftover meat). I don’t know if this guys is a cook, he’s not a cook and I’m a cook, if we’re both cooks, or we’re just both cooking. But I know there’s a difference between what he does and what I do, as surely as there is a difference between what I do and what, say, Keller does.

    Cooking is a necessity to some, an endeavor to others. As the tiresome adage goes, some eat to live and others live to eat. Yes, the term chef should only be used for professionals – although there are many forms of chefs – pastry, sous, exec. Like generals – (from basic training: Be My Little General – Brigadier, Major, Lieutenant, and finally – just plain general – 5 stars). So just plain chef should indeed be limited to the chef de cuisine or the exec – the guy on top. The 3-star (as it were).

    But cook ought to mean more than microwaving a frozen burrito.

    Ultimately, the proof is in the you-know-what – so you live (and die) by the comments and reaction of your diners, whatever you call yourself, whether you’re a chef or a “home cook”.

    Geez – I liked the simplicity of the military hierarchy. You knew who to salute and call sir, you knew who you could spit on or be spitted on by, (and I use the “p” euphemistically).

  • applehome

    Correction – a just plain general is a 4-star. 5-stars are Generals of the Army (or Air Force or Navy) and are basically an honorific or special rank used only during war. Our last 5-star was Omar Bradley – but there have been many, many just plain generals.

  • Vivian

    Although I have used the term foodie (for lack of a better term to use at the time the word comes out of my mouth) I really don’t like the word. Its right up there with the whole trekkie/trekker thing. I have been accused of being a food geek/snob and I guess I don’t mind that because its probably true. The term I would probably prefer would be Home Gourmande , and like Clotilde, I don’t really mind Home Cook either because that is what I do and I do not feel that it is demeaning in any way.

  • Sandy

    I find myself idly wondering about the age demographics of our fine respondents.

    I think there is definitely a negative connotation connected to the term “home cook” for people who grew up in the 60s. Pollan had it right when he tied it into the whole Feminine Mystique era.

    For me, personally, I adore being called a cook or someone who cooks well. You call me a home cook and I’ll throw pottery at you. However, I don’t expect to be called a chef and would not accept the honorific even if someone did go that far.

    It’s a strange thing, really. I’ve been considering where my reaction comes from. I’m clueless except for the 60s connection. My mother could not cook well and she was referred to as a home cook all the time. It was a derogatory then, and to my mind some of that element really does remain.

  • Snow

    Home cook, avid cook, hobby cook, cooking enthusiast? I think these are all honorable titles.
    Let’s face it: when you consider how many folks out there are only ‘re-heaters’ or ‘take-out specialists’, I think ‘home cook’ is something to be proud of.

  • NYCook

    Home cooks call yourself whatever you want, whatever you are comfortable with. Why do people feel the need to have a label for their hobby, just enjoy what your doing. Is your cooking at the level where you feel you need some sort of title. If a friend or family member says ” wow that was a great meal, especially from a home cook” are you going to throw a side towel in their face and say its executive foodie de cuisine thank you very much! No you would say “thank you”.

    Homegirl also slept with Gilbert La Coze, thats way cooler then Elvis, Clint Eastwood, and Burt Reynolds put toghther.

    Also im sick of home cooks, enthusiastic amatuers…. whatever, who are constantly trying to compete with Chefs/Line cooks. Every time I go to a friends house or a relatives to cook it becomes some sort of competition. Ok you can perfectly broil 4 pieces of salmon I get it, but they all need salt and acid, learn how to season. Do it with 3 lamb 2 duck and 5 octo working and 3 more salmon on order and still have time to bust the balls of they guy next to you and flirt with that cute new waitress then I will be impressed. Or the guy who says his or his wife’s mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, grilled vegetables etc. are good enough to be on any menu in NYC. A) No its not(learn to season) and B) just because I chose to make the salad and you mash potatoes doesn’t mean you can do what I do.

    All that being said I love home cooking, just don’t pretend it’s something it’s not and if you are not convinced and still think you can hang and bang with the big boys, you want to try and turn and burn like us…. Arrange a stage.

  • Ben

    I didn’t really see this as a discussion of what I should call myself, but rather (like clotilde said) how food writers should refer to someone like me. I don’t CALL myself anything, foodie, cook, chef, or otherwise. Other people may put a label on me, but, like you said, NYCook, I don’t correct them. I say “thank you.”
    But I think the question of how writers should refer to “non-professional food enthusiasts who enjoy cooking at home, learning and improving techniques, and discussing food preparation with other” is a valid one. After all, the above descriptor is rather a mouthful, isn’t it?

  • Sandy

    Ah, see, NYCook, there’s where I differ. I don’t want my food to be on a menu. I want you all to come to my house, enjoy some good food, and have a good time. Just don’t call me Betty Crocker when you’re here.

  • Darcie

    I think the term “home cook” conjures up images of canned soup casseroles, so I don’t like that term. Plus, it doesn’t differentiate from those “forced” to cook versus those who enjoy cooking.

    My friends sometimes call me a “gourmet cook,” but many people find “gourmet” to be pretentious. I don’t like “foodie” because it doesn’t differentiate between those that prefer to eat in fancy restaurants (not that there’s anything wrong with that) to those who like to cook.

    “Amateur cook” is okay, but I’d like to think I’m beyond amateur. It implies that I don’t know what I’m doing. Advanced amateur cook? Now that’s cumbersome.

    I have actually cooked for a living. Still, I would never call myself a chef. I’ve had no formal training and was not the head of the kitchen.

    I like the term hobby cook or food hobbyist. Food is my hobby. It may be all-consuming, but if you aren’t earning your living doing it, it is still a hobby. Food enthusiast is fine, too but again doesn’t differentiate between eating and cooking pleasures.

    Even though some may argue that this is all just semantics, and that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a recent experiment showed that a different name associated with the rose fragrance resulted in less favorable consideration of the aroma. So the terminology does matter, even if the level of imporantance on a global scale is not high.

  • Aaron Salvo

    I am a professional cook, because I get paid to cook. As a professional cook, I can tell you that “foodie” has a rather negative connotation in the restaurant world. Foodies tend to be the guest who wants to take a well thought out dish on a restaurant’s menu and redo it the way it “should be”.

    The term “home cook” is one I’ve never used. Typically I use terms like “grandmother” and “mom”.

    My daughter will call her (hopefully) favourite home cook “dad”.

  • Peter

    I make my own bearnaise from scratch, I make my own stock, my favorite dishes probably use derivatives of regional or mother sauces. To say “home cook” lumps me in with my Aunt Dot who makes a drool-worthy meatloaf.

    Like a lot of sports, I’ll enthusiastically embrace the term “amateur” as I don’t cook for a paycheck. There are non-professional golfers who could probably get by on tour, and there are weekend hackers who like to knock the ball around. There’s some pride or snobbery (or both) involved, but it took me a lot of time, effort, learning, and practice to get where I am as a cook, and it’s ongoing. I think the problem is, there’s no measure of skill in the term “home cook”, like there is with “scratch golfer”.

    Personally, I use the term “amateur gourmet”, but that smacks a little bit too much of snobbery and I wish there was something in between.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I recall the conversation of “Chef vs Cook” taking place here a while back…. Frankly I never know what to call myself in discussions with people who are not interested in food…when discussing with those that have the same fondness and interest one never needs a name the reference is always in the food…but I do give reverence to those that work in a professional kitchen and do it as a living…I suppose because I feel they have earned vis-a-vis the education and experience entailed.

  • Rhonda

    Why do we have to label everything?

    Even MPW has fallen into this. He may have started this with his own personal interpretation of the word “Chef”.

    I do many, many more things other than cook. And, I do them equally as well, if I do say so myself.

    I say, let me be.

    I do not cook for a living and neither does Jacques Pepin. He teaches and is quite a good artist now.

    I don’t want to be one thing or fit into a box.

    “Home Cook” can include the Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee crowd which I find insulting and would never have over to dinner. “Foodie” implies people who can’t cook but have excess disposable income and interupt restos with their picture taking and and inappropriate reverence.

    “Chef” also has been applied to people receiving paycheques and sending me a big pile of crap on my plate and then, in all audacity, sending me a bill.

    Professional Cook, non-professional cook. Some professionals are Chefs, some are not and never have been AND by the grace of the universe, or some other equally kind entity — never will be.

    Clotilde is right. A Chef runs the kitchen and is responsible for much much more that preparing the food. It is a loose term and means nothing anymore. Home cook is insulting.

    Chef as in de Cuisine, Pastry, Sous, etc., (should the title be warranted), Professional Cook and Non-Professional.

    Seriously. I would love to hear what Tony has to say about this because I can smell pretentious bullshit and insecurity on behalf of many.

    I am usually the creator and author of such crap. Equally so, I am usually the last to know.

    This has me rolling my eyes.

  • Jay C.

    Your post reminds me of a guy who I was once friends with who really enjoyed listening to himself blowhard about any and all topics. He fancied himself some sort of food/coffee authority yet only managed to irritate everyone around him.

    One time we were dining with some friends at a fine dining restaurant with a serious commitment to sourcing locally produced foods where he was, once again, holding court and pontificating about the virtues of how you could order the proteins by the ounce. The low point was when he declared that he considered himself a “gourmet” who wanted to be a “Gourmand.”

    The sad thing was that he had no interest or knowledge about food. Sourcing wasn’t important – the fact that the restaurant cared about sourcing and he could use that fact to promote himself as being “aware” and “hip” was more important. Talk about sourcing and and provenance and it just didn’t compute. He held onto to the PeTA version of foie gras and acted like a petulant child instead of engaging in an informed debate about it.

    I mention this because I don’t “get” the label thing. I’m neither a “chef” nor a “cook” yet I can and have worked the line at a busy restaurant. While I enjoy food and cooking, it’s not what I do for a living.

    Perhaps we can just be merely people with a passion and enthusiasm for food rather than having to adopt foolish titles like “home cook,” “foodie” or “gourmand.”

  • nicolja

    Where is Tony Bourdain to solve this ridiculous discussion?? Let’s bring back the word, Gourmand and forever lose the term, Foodie.

  • Chris Huck

    “chefs” get paid. The title alone doesn’t make them good or bad at what they do. Same with non-paid food preparers, regardless of title.

    Non-paid “amateurs” often have more time to work at a favorite dish to get it perfected to their own taste and deliver it with love and passion while most restaurant worker-bee “chefs” seem to just be going to work, opening pre-portioned items, topping with pre-made sauces and serving pre-made frozen soups and desserts. What goes on in most commercial kitchens is just scary!

    I don’t need a title but I do prefer to eat at home!

  • Bob delGrosso

    “What is a foodie? I like the Miriam Webster definition: a person having an avid interest in the latest food fads.”

    So foodies are food fad groupies? I like that!

  • Rhonda

    I was originally going to promote the word “Gourmand” as per the suggestion of an earlier poster.

    I like it. Don’t like being labled but I will be whether I like it or not.

    It does smack with a little pretention but I do like the distinction of someone who makes bread by hand and cures their own bacon as opposed to one who just dumps crap in a bowl out of jars.

    I also think that word bears a bridge between all who love food including those that can cook and those who just order and take pictures.

    For all intensive purposes, we are here because we love and hopefully respect food.

  • David Eger

    I find all this quibbling about terms a bit wearying. I work for a specialty foods company that sells both to food service professionals – who we refer to as “chefs” and to those who cook at home – “home cooks”. We use those terms with respect, merely to distinguish between two rather different groups of customers. No insult is intended or implied by the term “home cook”.

    Folks, you know who you are – words are only symbols.

  • Bob delGrosso


    “Why do we have to label everything?”

    A very common and justified lament.

    However, labeling is a big part of what makes us human. Put another way, we label because that’s our nature compels us to do it.

    If one wants to stop labeling the only way that I know of to do it is to stop defining the self in opposition to non-self.

    Make them the same thing, then you won’t need to label anything -even yourself. In other words, you won’t need a name.

    I hope you know I’m serious and not playing.

  • Dave

    “Why do we have to label everything?”

    Because otherwise we’ll defrost the wrong &*()&^&*^ package from the freezer and sit down to a lovely dessert of an ice cream sundae topped with lamb stew.

  • Aleta

    I’m proud to be a home cook. As Pollan contends, we’re a dying breed. I was a restaurant critic for a major newspaper in the SF Bay Area for six years and everyone I knew was envious of my job. Yet, with a handful of memorable exceptions, I usually ate better at home. I find cooking endlessly fascinating and extremely satisfying. It’s washing the dishes that I hate!

  • Nicholas Hall

    Hey, Bob, perhaps all non-professional cooks can refer to themselves as “non-chefs”

  • Nicholas Hall

    How about “philotrophist/filotrofist”, both of which are bastardizations of Greek which read something like lover of food. Similar to gourmet/gourmand, but this word does not yet exist, to my knowledge, in any lexicon, and as such lacks any associations aside from those we give it. Thus, we can decide that a philotrophist loves food in the holistic sense – growing, sourcing, considering, cooking, and eating (and in any combination), with no inherrent link to the concept of professional or not.

  • Rhonda

    Chef del Grosso:

    Yes “Chef”.

    Touche. You have now taken this discussion to a deeper level (thank you).

    Perhaps, an author, such as Michael, would be interested in defining the categories of “cooks” so he could address his readership better. I am guessing and Michael, please step in any time you feel necessary, this is Bob del Grosso and I am out here alone….

    For me, Chef, yes we are labeled. But the categories are too small.

    For example, should one who makes bread, bacon, mayonnaise, buys fish off the boat, etc. be lumped into the same category as “Home Cook” with the Sandra Lee’s and Rachel Ray’s.

    You are confusing labels with identity. Labels are placed on you, identity is invented by your own imagination.

    I, too, am serious.

  • Nicholas Hall


    I think Bob’s point may be more that we apply labels to those things EXTERNAL of ourselves, thereby differentiating them from ourselves. They’re both sides of the same coin. If you are going to say that “I am not defined by that”, referring to your identity, then you have to be willing and able to get at what THAT is, as in a label. Of course, I could be entirely incorrect in my reading of BdG’s statement.

  • Kevin Kossowan

    When people ask ‘are you a chef?’, I say no, for some reason feeling like a poser – shameful. Not sure why. I could be some line cook in a shitty dive, and is that something to be proud of? I’m a cook. I cook at home. Sue me. Luckily, I’m gaining some middle-aged confidence in order to rock the fact.

  • Rhonda

    Chef del Grosso:

    How do YOU see this? How would you label the professional from non-professional, how would YOU distinguish between those that love and cook food from home and from scratch?

    You are the teacher and I respect you immensely

  • Bob delGrosso


    “Yet, with a handful of memorable exceptions, I usually ate better at home.”

    I almost always eat better at home because most restaurants over-reach while trying to impress and, well, no one knows what is better for me and my family than me.

  • kwakagy

    I just realized that this is a pivotal moment in history – the intersection of Ruhlman and Steven Seagal. As I’m sure all of you remember, in that classic cinematic tour de force “En Etat de Siège”, a character says to Seagal “I thought you were a cook?” and Seagal responds “Well, I also cook.”

  • Rhonda

    Dear Chef del Grosso:

    Thought about it, read your post again and YES!

    Got it!

    If you said that in front of me, with the intonation of your voice and body language and tone, I would have learned that immediately.

    However, I only had the written word and my own interpretations of such to go by.

    Got it!!! And, I agree

    You are a great teacher!!!!

    Written word, even though not through mail is still slow to transmit intention and meaning.

  • Jose

    I do hope this issue gets resolved soon.
    I have a crying need to pigeon-hole myself.

  • Elise

    Hi Michael,

    I’m happy, thrilled, and delighted to be a home cook. That term implies to me that I like to, and know how to, cook in my own kitchen at home, and that I cook many of my own meals. Nothing more. Sometimes I call myself a “scratch cook” if I want to distinguish myself from others who don’t cook from scratch. But at the end of the day, I’m a home cook.

    Frankly I’m not getting what the heck is wrong with that.

  • Carrie

    I would certainly love to live in a world where I could integrate my self and non-self and still function socially. Until then I’ll have to cling to my labels, inadequate as they may be. I feel like I need to go meditate now. What were we talking about?

    Also, LMAO kwakagy!!

  • Bob delGrosso


    “How do YOU see this?”
    I’m not sure I really know. It’s a very complicated question that Ruhlman has tossed out. But I will take a stab.

    In modern western culture people who cook almost every day might fall on or between four poles: professional, default, slave and amateur.

    Those who love the craft and get paid for it are “professional cooks” and those who cook for love of craft alone are “amateurs.”

    Default cooks are those who come to the craft by accident. They are those who end up cooking because they are good at it, don’t mind it, and there is no one else who wants to do it.

    Slave cooks, are those who hate to cook but are forced to do it because they have no other choice.

    Everyone else who cooks, falls somewhere between those four poles.

    But what do I know?

  • Gabe

    I’m an engineer
    I’m a cook
    I’m a weight lifter
    I’m a snowboarder
    I’m a reader
    I’m a foodie

    One of those things I do professionally. I do them all with varying level of skill.

    Language is used to transfer ideas. Getting all hung up on common connotations is silly. The words “home cook” and “foodie” can transfer ideas just fine, why get so hung up on being offended for no reason?

  • Mike Pardus

    This is really funny to me. I like the people who have the self confidence to either label themselves with, or accept, a term others easily understand. It’s about communicating to the rest of the world. Do I like “foodie”? I don’t really care one way or the other. I’m passionate about food and in contemporary, idiomatic, American English that’s the quickest, least pretentious way I know to casually describe that to someone who does not know me. When I describe a weekend with DelGrosso and the gang to someone, I say – “I went to the City and wandered around China Town with a bunch of other foodie friends looking for the perfect Spring Roll”. If they understand what I mean, the label serves it’s purpose. If someone asks me what I “am”, I tell them that I’m a teacher, if they inquire further I tell them I teach cooking; further than that? I explain that I was a chef, and that lead me to teaching.I don’t get what all the fuss is about. If you’re comfortable in your own skin and the label isn’t derogatory or meant to insult, what’s the problem?

  • sbp

    I wince when people refer to me as a “gourmet cook.” It implies fancy food, when in fact I only cook the pinkies-up stuff once in a while. But I put a lot of care and technique, if not a lot of time, into my everyday cooking. So as the first poster mentioned, I’d rather go by “good cook” — or “real cook” — to distinguish myself from the semi-homemade set.

    As for “foodie,” I agree it carries the connotation of a trendie seeking the latest food fad. I’d hazard that many of your readers are heavily invested in trying new restaurants, but because of a commitment to good food, not fadism. Perhaps the distinction is someone who is less interested in being the first in line at the newest mecca of molecular manipulation and more interested in finding a great pupusa in the El Salvadorean enclave in Brentwood, Long Island. (It’s certainly more affordable).

    I don’t feel sheepish admitting to being the latter. Jim Leff would probably call this the difference between a foodie and a chowhound.

  • Ellen

    If you cook, you are a cook. If you write, you are a writer. If you play music, you are a musician. If you get paid to do any of those things and feel the need to tell people you get paid, add “professional” in front of it. Chef has always implied more than just cooking to me, as per the management comments. Maybe akin to “publisher” or “producer” rather than writer.

    I make money from a food blog. I guess that makes me a food writer but not a professional cook. A professional cook would get paid to cook for others. I cook for my family and leverage my skills to earn some extra income. And those cooks may be horrible writers…. different skills. I have no desire to cook in a restaurant but still consider myself a cook, must not a professional cook. I like thinking about meals, planning them, cooking them, keeping within a budget, using up leftovers, etc., like others like gardening, planning, designing, etc. but would never call themselves landscape architects. Maybe that’s more “home cooking” since the professional can throw away the leftovers at the end of the day. Different skills in different situations.

    You could start the same argument with the term “writer.” Some people seem to think that only involves fiction. At a party once someone asked what I did and I said I was a writer. He smirked and said “Oh, have you ever been published?” Uh, yeah, every day on the web. Pages get read by hundreds of thousands… but am I novelist? Nope. And even if I just sat home cranking out unpublished novels I’d still consider myself a writer. (But maybe not an author?)