The History and Meaning of the Word”Chef” 

Given that so many food and cooking terms have roots in the country most associated with haute cuisine—think sous vide, chiffonade, crudités—it’s not surprising that the etymology for “chef” begins in France. 

What is surprising, however, is that the word, in its original form, has no specific connection to the kitchen. Intrigued? In this article, we’ll explore the history of the word “chef,” but first, let’s cover some basics. 

What Does “Chef” Mean?  

A chef is a professional cook who typically holds a more managerial role in a professional kitchen. They may run a single-person department or lead a team of cooks. 

Chefs are trained to understand flavors, cooking techniques and all aspects of food preparation. They also spend a considerable amount of their time supervising and managing the rest of the kitchen crew.

Additionally, many chefs are responsible for creating recipes and menus, thus shaping everything from restaurant’s culinary direction and sourcing to how it’s perceived (and received) by the dining public.

The Origin of the Word

Chef is the Old French word for “chief,” meaning boss or leader. The French used the word in occupational titles, such as “chef de train” (conductor) and “chef de cabinet” (private secretary), to describe a person in charge of a particular group of people or establishment. The most well-known use of chef comes from the French term “chef de cuisine,” which means director of a professional kitchen, or literally “kitchen chief.”

In the 1800s, the English borrowed and shortened chef de cuisine to chef, which is the term that’s widely used in the English language today. 

Types of Chefs 

In addition to its stand-alone use as the head of a kitchen, chef also is integral to other kitchen-related titles:

  • Sous Chef: The kitchen’s second-in-command, a sous chef serves as primary assistant to the head chef.
  • Chef de Partie: Also referred to as a station chef, a chef de partie runs an individual station within a kitchen and prepares specific dishes or sides. Some examples of stations include vegetables, fish, roasts, fried food, sauces or grilled food. 
  • Pastry Chef: This expert in desserts often brings an artistic flair to sweet treats; he or she may run a small team of pastry cooks.
  • Executive Chef: Responsible for managing the business side of the kitchen, an executive chef may not cook on a day-to-day basis—but they certainly have the ability to step in when needed.  

A Chef’s Top Tool

While chefs rely on a variety of ingredients and products to bring dishes to life, there’s no question which kitchen tool is most important. A chef’s knife—used in the preparation of virtually every dish—is a difference-maker in a restaurant kitchen. A high-quality sharp knife means more control and less slippage when cutting, leading to safer, more consistent slices. 

At Mundial SmartKnives, our mission is to ensure that chefs have professionally sharpened world-class knives available at all times.

With our subscription service, you’ll receive a set of superior kitchen knives forged from German steel as well as our exclusive Mundial Smart Sharpening Machine. Using advanced technology, we monitor each knife’s usage (wear) in real-time. When a knife reaches 90% of its rated lifespan, we’ll send you a new one, free of charge. 

Fresh ingredients, expert techniques and sharp knives are a chef’s ultimate recipe for success.