French terminology dominates more than just fine dining menus; it also appears in the kitchen to define different roles for cooks and chefs. The French Brigade system, or Brigade de Cuisine, defines this hierarchy. You may have heard some of these terms in passing, but it is worth taking a deeper look at the different types of chefs and what they do.
Famed chef George Auguste Escoffier developed the Brigade de cuisine in the 19th century to help kitchens run more efficiently. Most fine dining restaurants employ the system or some variant of it.
Chefs reach the pinnacle of the hierarchy after years of toiling in kitchens, learning and working their way up. This is true of culinary school graduates as well as self-made chefs. Titles reflect the job responsibilities of every part in the hierarchy.
From the top down, most fine dining kitchens will employ chefs with the following titles:
Chef de Cuisine (Executive Chef)
Second only to the chef-owner who runs the entire business, the Chef de Cuisine runs the entire kitchen. This chef plans the menu, creates new dishes, manages kitchen costs, and supervises all other chefs. They taste-test dishes and approve plates and presentations that then go out to diners. There is only one Chef de Cuisine per kitchen.
Sous Chef (Assistant Chef, Second Chef or Under Chef)
This person is assistant to the Chef de Cuisine, and may be more directly involved in preparation. The Sous Chef can take over when the Chef de Cuisine is absent. New chefs and cooks in the kitchen train under the Sous Chef. Large operations may have more than one Sous Chef.
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Chef de Partie (Station Chef, Line Chief)
The Chefs de Partie are responsible for specialized line operations and handling specific dishes. There can be many of them in the kitchen depending on the kind of food the restaurant serves. Chefs de Partie may have specific titles that relate to their duties in the kitchen. Some examples include:
- Saucier: Handles sautéed dishes and creates sauces and gravies.
- Boucher (butcher): Prepares cuts of meat and poultry before cuts are delivered to their stations.
- Poissonnier: Prepares fish and seafood.
- Rotisseur (roast chef): Prepares roasted meats and their sauce.
- Grillardin (grill chef): Prepares grilled foods.
- Friturier (fry chef): Responsible for fried foods.
- Potager (soup cook): Prepares soups.
- Legumier (vegetable cook): Handles cooked vegetable dishes.
- Garde Manger (pantry chef): Manages cold dishes like salads, cold appetizers, and buffet foods.
- Tournant: Also called the Roundsman, this is the pinch hitter of the kitchen, rotating around various stations as needed.
- Pâtissier (pastry chef): Responsible for baked goods such as pastries, and desserts.
- Confiseur: Sometimes prepares candies and petit fours in the pâtissier’s stead.
There are French titles for almost everyone else in the kitchen, from the prep cooks to the dishwasher. In order to run efficiently, each type of chef and every worker that supports kitchen operations must know their role, and be ready to learn the next if they wish to move up the hierarchy.
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