Food is more than just something you eat to survive. Food can be an expression of art, a joyful journey of creation, and a wonder of science. These qualities may be what attracted you to the restaurant industry in the first place. If you want to enter the culinary world though, you will need to brush up on your French. Most of the terms you will use in this industry have a French origin, from food names to cooking techniques. The same applies to positions in a restaurant kitchen. It is important to know what they are so you can understand how a kitchen is staffed, decide which post you would like to have, and make a career plan that will get you there.
What Is a Kitchen Brigade?
La brigade de cuisine, or “kitchen brigade” in English, is the hierarchical system in a restaurant kitchen is used to organize and rank positions, maintain order, improve communication, and reduce wasted time and resources.
The term was coined by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier, who used his military background to improve the operations and organization of a kitchen. The system was created in the late 19th century and maintains a chain of command amongst the chefs, much like in the army.
Chef de Cuisine
At the top of the kitchen food chain is the head or executive chef, known as “chef de cuisine” in French. This person manages the entire kitchen. Head chefs usually create the menu and design the culinary vision. They ensure everything is cooked correctly and may refine the presentation of completed dishes before they go out to customers. Executive chefs engage in some of the business aspects of the restaurant, too, such as choosing suppliers and managing inventory.
To have this career, you will need a four-year degree from a culinary school, along with superior cooking skills and experience in management. It helps to have a unique style, as well. You can reach this title through interning and networking, starting your way from the bottom and working your way up, or opening up your own restaurant. No matter which route you choose, it will take much time and effort.
Below the head is the sous chef, who is the direct supervisor over the lower positions and takes over when the head chef is gone. The sous chef is involved in planning and cooking while still participating in managerial tasks, such as ensuring order and speed. Some places may not have a sous chef, whereas others may have multiple. This job does not require a degree, though having at least an associate’s opens more opportunities for you.
Chef de Partie
Under the original structure, food preparation and cooking were divided into specific jobs, which made for numerous distinct positions and stations, such as the following:
- Boulanger for baking
- Friturier for deep frying
- Garde manger for preparing cold foods
- Grillardin for grilling
- Legumier for cooking vegetables
- Poissonier for handling seafood dishes
- Potager for making soups
- Saucier for making sauces and sautéing food
The overall term for these cooks was “chefs de partie,” and they oversaw their stations and the people who assisted them. Many of these assignments still remain, though there is more likely to be crossover between roles depending on the size and formality of the restaurant. In many establishments, usually casual ones, line cooks fulfill one or more of these responsibilities.
The chef de partie that is most common among all restaurants is the pastry chef, or pâtissier. As the name implies, this chef makes pastries and other desserts. Specialties include chocolate (chocolatier) and candy/confections (confiseur). He or she may also double as the baker. A two-year diploma or four-year degree is available for becoming a pastry chef. The training still includes basic culinary skills and knowledge even if you never plan on cooking savory dishes.
Other Chef Positions and Job Descriptions
In larger establishments, below the chefs de partie are lower-ranked cooks who help at the station. These people are commis chefs who often are enrolled students or new graduates from culinary school. Restaurants that serve specialty foods, such as sushi, may have a demi chef. In other places, the demi chef is the assistant to the chef de partie.
At the bottom of the chain of command are apprentices or kitchen porters. These people lack formal education in the kitchen and complete mundane food-preparation tasks as well as cleaning.
Some restaurants also have non-cooking roles, which an individual may fulfill or which may be assigned to a chef. The expeditor ensures dishes are made quickly and orders go out together to the same table. The caller is the liaison between the front and back, calling out orders and which to work on first.
Now that you can answer, “What is a kitchen brigade?”, you are guaranteed to find something among the numerous options that fits your talents and interests. To get started on reaching your culinary dreams, check out our programs at Oregon Culinary Institute, or check out some of our notable graduates in Chef de Cuisine, Sous Chef, and Chef de Partie positions.