All modern professional kitchens run according to a strict hierarchy, with the French Brigade system used in order to ensure the whole operation runs as smoothly as possible.
The structure will vary slightly depending on the size and style of the restaurant, however as a chef it’s important to know and understand the many positions held within a professional kitchen.
Even if you’re not a chef, knowing what ‘sous chef’ means is a sure-fire way to impress your friends while watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.
In the name of logic, we’ll start from the top of the hierarchy and work our way down the chain, explaining the array of titles and what they involve as we go!
Executive Chef (aka Group Chef) –
The very top of the kitchen management structure. Only the largest establishments have an executive chef, and it is primarily a management role; executive chefs are often responsible for the operation of multiple outlets, and thus they do very little actual cooking!
Head Chef (aka Executive Chef, Chef de Cuisine) -
Chef de Cuisine is the traditional French term, and although it’s slightly more common in European kitchens, head chef is the title that’s used most prevalently around the world.
The head chef generally controls the whole kitchen, from managing kitchen staff and controlling kitchen costs to liaising with suppliers and creating the menus.
Depending on the restaurant and the individual themselves, much like CEO’s of the corporate world the head chef will often leave much of the day-to-day running of the kitchen to individuals lower down the hierarchy, such as the sous chef.
Sous Chef (aka Second Chef) -
The sous-chef de cuisine is second in command, and translated it literally means ‘under chef’.
The role will typically overlap with the head chef’s, but the sous chef will tend to be more hands on and actively involved in the day-to-day running of the kitchen; the sous chef will also fill in for the head chef when they are off, as well as a chef de partie when needed.
Some smaller kitchens may not even have a sous chef, while larger operations can have more than one – there are also a few variations that can precede the title to further specify hierarchy; executive, junior or senior.
Chef de Partie (aka Station Chef, Line Chef, Line Cook) -
Ever heard of the expression ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’? This is why chef de parties are a vital part of the brigade system.
Each chef de partie is responsible for running a specific section of the kitchen (we’ll cover these below), and they are usually the only worker in that department, although in some larger kitchens each station chef may well have several assistants.
Again, this is a term that can have multiple hierarchical precedents, such as junior or senior.
Specific Chef de Partie titles can include the following:
- Butcher chef (aka boucher) – In charge of preparing meats and poultry before they are delivered to their retrospective stations, the butcher chef may also handle fish and seafood preparations.
- Fish chef (aka poissonnier) - An expert in the preparation of fish dishes, and often responsible for fish butchering as well as creating the appropriate sauces.
- Fry chef (aka friturier) - This individual specialises in the preparation of fried food items.
- Grill chef (aka grillardin) – As the name implies, the master of all foods that require grilling.
- Pantry chef (aka garde manger) - A pantry chef is responsible for the preparation of cold dishes, such as salads and pâtés.
- Pastry chef (aka patissier) – The King or Queen of the pastry section; baked goods, pastries and desserts are this chefs forte.
- Roast chef (aka rotisseur) – Responsible for the preparation of roasted meats and the appropriate sauces.
- Roundsman (aka chef de tournant, swing cook, relief cook) – Someone who fills in as needed on all of the stations, rather than having a specific job.
- Sauté chef (aka saucier or sauce chef) – Often the most respected role in the brigade system of stations, reporting directly to the head chef or sous-chef. They’re responsible for sautéing foods, but their most vital role lies within the creation of the sauces and gravies that will accompany other dishes.
- Vegetable chef (aka entremetier) - Prepares vegetables, soups, starches, and eggs. Larger establishments may employ multiple chefs to work this station. A potager would be in charge of making soups, and a legumier would be in charge of preparing any vegetable dishes.
Commis Chef –
A commis is a junior member of staff that works under a chef de partie in order to learn the ins and outs of a specific station, these are often people that have recently completed, or are still undertaking, formal culinary training.
Kitchen Porter (aka Kitchen Assistant or Kitchenhand) -
These are workers that assist with rudimentary tasks within the kitchen and are less likely to have any formal culinary training.
Tasks include basic food preparation such as washing salad and peeling potatoes, in addition to basic cleaning duties.
Dishwasher (aka Escuelerie) -
The person responsible for washing dishes and cutlery, and even they get a fancy title! It derives from the word ‘scullery’, which is described as a “small room adjoining a kitchen, in which dishwashing and other kitchen chores are done”.