People often talk about restaurant kitchens being run with military efficiency and discipline. They probably aren’t far off. I’ve never worked in one; have limited experience of them, but have always been fascinated at how 6 different dishes can arrive at a table at the same time, with different sauces, cooking times and what not….. and more specifically how they arrive at the pass (the point where the kitchen hands off the dishes for service) almost simultaneously.
You’d expect there to be a neat guide on the internet too. There really isn’t. I’ve had to cobble this together from about ten different sources and speaking to several people. I’d appreciate corrections if needs be, as it probably won’t be perfect either!.
The full Brigade de Cuisine is what I base this on; in a large French kitchen, you would have all of these people doing these things. In smaller kitchens, the roles get amalgamated and in the smallest of all it may be just one. The general structure is thought to have evolved in European restaurants in the late 1800s/early 1900s.
On the left you effectively have the ranks; from Midshipman upto, well, in a Naval analogy probably Commander. I take these each in turn to describe their function
Executive Head Chef. This rank/role only exists where there are multiple restaurants or kitchens under the command of one (usually) famous Chef. You know, the guys on TV that have several ventures. They will likely have a Head Chef in each of them, but they themselves are the Executive Head Chef at all of them. This becomes a role of management and strategy or oversight as opposed to hands on day to day cooking.
Head Chef / Chef de Cuisine. This is the person in charge of the whole kitchen, the one whose name is at the top of the menu (notwithstanding the above) and ultimately the buck stops there. Usually the role lapses into traditional management (payroll, stock control and procurement) too. They may be assisted by an Expediterat the pass, who will receive the orders from the waiting staff and call them out (rather shout) them to the kitchen, counting back to when he/she wants them to arrive at the pass to be served. What that means is they have to know the menu inside and out and the cooking times and be very very on the pulse. In some cases, the Head Chef performs this role (as you often see on TV, they call away). The Head Chef will also have an unwaivering and loyal number two in charge, the Sous Chef, who is in charge when they are away (be it temporarily or for longer) and obviously provides a lot of input and support in the affairs of the Kitchen.
You then have a number of “stations”, ten to be precise. in the classic French Brigade, areas of specialty that the Expediter will call away to. They will be headed up by Chefs de Partie, which sit one rank below the Sous Chef, although there is a cachet associated with certain stations. More junior station heads, or senior assistants helping on one station headed by a Chef de Partie would be a Demi Chef de Partie. Confused yet? Me too. But we haven’t even really started.
Below them in rank, are the Commis. These will be junior chefs, on a career path out of catering college of the equivalent and are usually denoted by their years of experience, so you could have a Commis 1 year (1st year in a kitchen professionally) through to a Commis x years (who is looking to be a Chef de Partie or Sous Chef soon, depending on the size of the kitchen). Below them, usually whilst still studying (maybe on day release from catering college) are the Apprentices.And below them again is the dish washer (Plongeur) and then the kitchen helper/porter (Marmiton). At exceptional busy services, or times of needs, they may be roped in to help with basic food/ingredient preparation and stations may have their own or share them.
Now we’ve identified the relative ranks of the staff in the kitchen, we can better understand the station structure. The Saucieris considered to be number three in command, behind the Sous Chef. It is the most respected station and in addition to the obvious preparation of sauces may also plate up dishes or be involved in sauteing fish and may prepare stews and casseroles too.
There is then a relative degree of equallness in the ranks of the other stations, although clearly some will require more skill than others. The Poissionieris responsible for fish, and the Rotissieurfries, broils and roasts. This station may, in a smaller kitchen, incorporate the posts of Grillardin which just grills dishes and Friturierwhich just fries.
The Entremetierprepares savoury dishes without meat or fish, so vegetables and eggs mainly. In a larger kitchen, they will have under them a Potagerfor soups and and a Legumierfor vegetables. It is in this station in particular that auxiliary help may be found from the kitchen helps.
The Tournant is a floater – someone that moves around and assists at times of need at the other stations; a role in smaller kitchens fulfilled by the Sous Chef. This is a skilled role requiring knowledge of each station to the same detail as its normal staff!
The Garde Manger does the cold appetisers, looks after the charcuterie and any cold buffet displays the restaurant produces in addition to salads pates, terrines and other related dishes.
The Boucherlooks after meat preparation, i.e. butchers meat and poultry and sometimes deals with filleting fish.They may be in charge of coating the meat (i.e. marinades or breadcrumbs) as part of this. Which then, pretty much just leaves dessert. If you’ve ever had to French Trim any joint, you’ll know why this warrants a whole separate station of its own!
The pudding station is headed by by the Pattisier, which, unsurpisingly given how serious the French take this element of their cuisine, could have a number of subordinate roles. A Confiseur prepares sweets, petits fours and similar items whereas a Glacierwill deal with frozen desserts, with a Décorateur making centre pieces and show pieces (especially large cakes) with the able assistance of an old-fashioned Boulanger(literally “baker”) responsible for bread, cakes and breakfast items such as croissants.
And there we have it, the full Brigade de Cuisine. Oh, the person (which may be separate, or one of the above) that prepares the meals to be eaten by the restaurant staff, is called a communard.