Why There’s No Such Thing as a “Real” Cook

published Jul 20, 2015
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

If you were to scroll through the tens of thousands of comments that have been posted to The Kitchn over the years, you’d notice a little term pop up every once in a while. It shows up in discussions about kitchen setups and tools; it appears on comment threads for kitchen tours and cooking technique tutorials. It’s not outwardly offensive or shocking, so people throw it around a lot: “real cook.”

After years of seeing people, places, products, and ideas dismissed for not being in the province of a “real” cook, I’m here to tell you that there’s no such thing. There are real housewives, real estate, and Real Simple, but “real” cooks? Nope.

(Image credit: Giphy)

In case you’re new to this terminology, here’s how it usually plays out:

A real cook would never do it that way.

Clearly a real cook doesn’t cook in this kitchen.

Real cooks don’t need any of this.

Calling someone out for not being a “real” cook is basically a catch-all way of saying that how they cook, what they cook, or where they cook isn’t good, right, or authentic enough. It separates cooks into those who know and those who don’t; those with experience, and those without; those who set the priorities and keep them straight, and those who apparently don’t.

But it’s an entitled, dismissive thing to say about any cook, if for no other reason than this: Unless you’re an actor in a movie, there’s no such thing as a “fake” cook! If you are a person attempting to make something out of ingredients in front of you, you are a real cook. You might not be an experienced cook (yet), but you’re still a cook, at whatever level you’re at, with your own skills, personal taste, strengths, and weaknesses. That is most certainly real, and real enough.

One’s “realness” status isn’t about how well you cook; it’s about whether or not you cook at all, period. If your cooking can truthfully be described as neither imaginary or hypothetical; if you actually do chop, smear, and sauté ingredients together to produce edible things, then you are really cooking. Thus, you are a real cook.

There are a few exceptions to my “all cooks are real cooks” premise. You cannot be called a “real cook” if:

  1. You are a Muppet. I will admit that the Swedish chef, despite his enthusiasm and apparent skill, is not real.
  2. You are a ghost. It’s tough when people still debate your existence. I’m going to go with NOT real in this case.
  3. You are an imaginary friend. I know five-year-old Timmy conjures you up whenever he is at his play kitchen, and yet, I fear I need to withhold realness from you at this time.

Other than that, we should all stop dividing cooks into those who are “real” and those who are not. Are we in agreement, Kitchn readers?