Kitchen Hierarchy: Who’s On First?

Food network aficionados know that some of their favorite celebrity chefs operate and cook in their own restaurants, and you can be sure they run their kitchens with military precision from their own position as executive chef on down to the dishwashers and busboys. Each position has definite duties, which are learned in culinary school or on the job, and one best not deviate if one wants to stay employed. In very busy crowded kitchens, the hierarchy is especially important to prevent chaos and keep those meals rolling out to the customers in a timely manner.

Let’s examine those positions in finely-tuned and well-run commercial establishments. Leave it to those French chefs to have established what is taught and followed in all well-run kitchens, which is called, appropriately, “The French Brigade system:”

Executive Chef (Group Chef) –

this is the top person who is usually responsible for the operation of multiple jobs, and might do very little cooking himself;

Head Chef (Chef de Cuisine) –

generally controls the entire kitchen, from managing staff and costs, to working with suppliers and creating menus, much like the CEO of a corporation, relying on the sous chef to assist;

Sous Chef (Second Chef) –

second in command, and translated it literally means ‘under chef,’ this role will typically overlap with the Head Chef; smaller kitchens may not even have one;

Chef de Partie (Station Chef or Line Chef) –

again, in larger kitchens there may be positions which specialize in kitchen cuisine (see

below) rather than one chef assembling and cooking multiple types of dishes, this chef

oversees the “junior” types who are assigned to specific categories;

Commis Chef (in-training or apprentice) –

a junior staff member who works under a chef de partie in order to learn the ins and outs of a specific station, these are often people who have recently completed, or may still be in, culinary school;

Kitchen Porter (Kitchen Assistant) –

workers who assist with tasks within the kitchen, and are less likely to have formal culinary training; tasks include basic food preparation such as washing veggies and peeling potatoes (but he gets his own title, nonetheless); in the U.S. we would refer to these people as “peons” and in the military this be would KP duty;

Dishwasher (Escuelerie) even comes with its own title –

“scullery,” which can be a small room or corner adjoining a kitchen, in which dishwashing and other kitchen chores are done; in some movies which are set in magnificent English mansions, we will often hear the title “scullery maid” – well, this is where the term originated;

Okay, so now we get into the sub-categories of workers who handle only one category or type of food and are supervised by the Chef de Partie (usually found only in very large kitchens or highly precise French restaurants):

Specific titles can include the following:

Butcher chef (aka boucher) – In charge of preparing meats and poultry (obviously, not necessary in a strictly vegetarian restaurant);

Fish chef (aka poissonnier) – preparation of fish dishes;

Fry chef (aka friturier) – specializes in the preparation of fried food items (do you think fast food joints have several of these?);

Grill chef (aka grillardin) – the master of all foods that require grilling (oh, wow, so if a steak or some fish needs grilling, who actually executes this? think about it);

Pantry chef (aka garde manger) – A pantry chef is responsible for preparing cold dishes, like salads and pâtés, (but not necessarily in the pantry);

Pastry chef (aka patissier) – now you’re talking, this person gets to make all the goodies;

Roast chef (aka rotisseur) – master of meat roasters and their sauces, (so does this person duke it out with the meat guy, or what?);

Roundsman (aka chef de tournant, swing cook or relief cook) – someone who fills in where needed, so it would seem that this person has to be pretty skilled;

Sauté chef (aka saucier or sauce chef) – often the most respected role in the brigade system, because this person can make or break a dish with the sauce or gravy (so don’t annoy this guy, for heaven sake);

Vegetable chef (aka entremetier) – as the name implies, in charge of all vegetables, soups, starches and salads; in very large kitchens, there may be more than one;

Suffice it to say, in big hotels and fine dining establishments, especially in Europe, his system is strictly adhered to. And it’s fascinating to watch the execution of these positions on TV shows. However, in all probability you won’t see this fine precision at your local diner or IHOP. But one never knows. Bon Appetit.

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