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Job Description

The major difference between cooks and chefs is that cooks work from a previously created menu and usually have very little if any input into what goes on that menu. Many cooks prepare food on an as-needed basis, meaning that they fill orders as they are made by customers. A short-order cook at a hamburger stand cooks each hamburger as it is ordered, rather than grilling up a big batch in the morning and selling them throughout the day. Stews, soups, and sauces that can be kept at a steady temperature and remain fresh over longer periods of time are sometimes made in bulk at the start of a day or shift and dispensed as they are requested.

In addition to cooking the food that is served, cooks also have to be very clean and extremely conscious of maintaining a clean workspace. It is incredibly easy for people to become ill if food is not prepared in the cleanest conditions. Certain foods cannot be served with the utensil they were prepared with. This is serious business, and it takes a dedicated cook to remember and apply guidelines and laws regarding health and sanitation regulations.

A counterpart to the short-order cook is the institutional cook. The job is similar to that of a short-order cook, but the major difference is volume. What qualifies as an institution? Hospitals, high school cafeterias, and lunchrooms in office buildings all qualify. All of these places have dozens, maybe even hundreds of people who eat at roughly the same time once or twice a day. Imagine how much soup has to be prepared for a thousand hungry high school students! Most institutional cooks have assistants or work in teams in order to complete their tasks quickly. The ingredients alone for a high school lunch period (think fifty-pound bags of rice) may be too heavy for one cook to lift.

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