Who’s Who in the Zoo: Kitchen Hierarchy Explained
If you’re anything like most of the population, your kitchen jargon probably only stretches as far as ‘Sous Chef’ (thanks, Food Network). What you probably don’t know is that a restaurant kitchen has an exceptionally meticulous balance of roles known as the Brigade de Cuisine, or in layman’s terms, the kitchen hierarchy. We’re here to let you know exactly who’s who in the kitchen, so that next time you’re indulging in a fiery episode of Hell’s Kitchen, you can show off your brigade know-it-all.
The Beginnings of the Kitchen Hierarchy
The Brigade de Cuisine system was devised in the late 1800s by legendary Georges-Auguste Escoffier, as part of his influential contributions in culinary management.
Georges-Auguste was basically the OG Godfather of the culinary world and his work is still referred to today.
Positions in the Kitchen Hierarchy
Depending on the size of the restaurant, the positions within the kitchen will vary. These are the most common positions you’ll find in any restaurant kitchen and each role, from Head Chef to Dishwasher, is crucial for the smooth sailing of the kitchen.
Chef Patron is sometimes interchangeable with Executive Chef (below), although this title usually indicates ownership as well. It may also allude to a chef who is the ‘face’ of a restaurant and who’s concepts and ideas are on the menu but who is not around, or as hands-on.
Often used for big chefs that own multiple restaurants around the world like Gordon Ramsey and Wolfgang Puck.
The Executive Chef sits at the top of the kitchen hierarchy structure. Their role is primarily managerial and most of their duties are performed outside of the kitchen. The Executive Chef will be planning menus, hiring and training staff, managing budgets, managing the kitchen and has little to do with the actual cooking of the food.
Chef de Cuisine (Head Chef)
The Head Chef is the captain of the kitchen. Like the Executive Chef, the Head Chef is primarily involved in the managerial aspects of the kitchen operations. This includes controlling the day-to-day management of the kitchen, supervising staff, liaising with suppliers, planning costs and devising new menus.
Sous Chef (Deputy Chef)
This is the Head Chef’s 2IC. The Sous Chef is a little more hands-on in the kitchen and oversees the preparation and cooking of the food. He or she will step in when necessary for the Head Chef or Chef de Parties respectively (see below). The Sous Chef reports to Head Chef and when the Head Chef isn’t around, Sous Chef is in charge.
Chef de Partie (Station Chefs)
Depending on the size of the kitchen, there will be many Chef de Parties. These are ‘station chefs’ and each Chef de Partie is responsible for a different section in the kitchen. Here are the most common ones.
Saucier (Sauté or Sauce Chef)
The most respected in the line of Chef de Parties. The Saucier reports directly to the Sous Chef and Head Chef. As the name suggests, the Sauté Chef is responsible for sautéing foods. Their most important role, however, is in creating all the delish sauces and gravies that will accompany the dishes.
And as anyone in food knows, a good sauce is critical to a dish and is one of the toughest jobs to get right.
Boucher Chef (Butcher Chef)
This chef is in charge of all the meat except for seafood (unless there is no Poissonier, then the butcher chef also looks after seafood). The primary role of the butcher chef is to prepare the meats before they arrive at their respective stations.
Poissonier (Fish Chef)
Le Poissonier is responsible for the cooking and preparation of all things from under the sea. They’ll often need to acquire fresh fish on a daily basis from local fisherman.
Friturier (Fry Chef)
Specialises in fried food and responsible for the preparation and execution of all fried dishes.
Grillardin (Grill Chef)
These guys look after all the grilled foods from veggies to meats.
Rotisseur (Roast Chef)
The Rotisseur is responsible for searing and preparing meats that are going to be roasted or braised.
Garde Manger (Pantry Chef)
Pantry Chefs look after the preparation of cold dishes like salads and patés.
Patissier (Pastry Chef)
The Pastry Chef is responsible for all the sweet thangs. All the pastries, baked goodies and desserts are devised and prepared by the pastry chef. Probably one of our favourites in the brigade.
Chef Boulanger (Head breadmaker)
That bread you get while you wait to start your meal? Most likely made by the Chef Boulanger or breadmaker. In a big restaurant or hotel making perfect crusty breads for various courses is a full-time job.
Entremetier (Vegetable chef)
The veggie chef looks after the prepping of soups, starches and eggs. Sometimes in bigger kitchens, this role will be divided into two separate positions: the Potager, who is responsible or soups, and a Legumier, who is responsible for the veg prep.
The Commis Chefs are the budding junior chefs. The rising stars of the culinary world who are taking their first baby steps in the kitchen. The Commis Chefs observe and learn under the Chefs de Parties and are responsible for assisting the chefs with whatever prepping they need.
Kitchen Porter (Kitchen Assistant)
The kitchen porter is around to assist the chefs with some of the more basic prepping tasks like peeling potatoes, and basic cleaning duties.
The dishwasher, yes you guessed it, is responsible for cleaning all the dirty dishes in the kitchen. This is no small role though, the dishwasher is a vital cog in the kitchen wheel.
Last but not least, the waiters and waitresses are also crucial members of the kitchen hierarchy. They are the gorgeous faces that bring our beautiful plates of culinary perfection to the table and attend to our gripes and praises.
As observed, the kitchen hierarchy is a pretty comprehensive commingling of dedicated roles that streamline the cooking and plating process. So next time you go out to eat, you can appreciate all the talent that went into each component on your plate.
Want to know more about local chefs? Some of our favourite Cape Town chefs tell us their stories behind their tattoos.
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