If movies and television can be believed (and they probably can’t), professional kitchens are usually run by tyrants with a bunch of underlings scurrying about with little order. In reality, there may still be a tyrant, but a kitchen brigade brings some order to the chaos. The system brings the hierarchy of chefs into play–everybody has a job to do and that’s the only job they do.
This isn’t to say there isn’t some crossover between the types of chefs or that a pastry chef can’t train to be a sous chef. But in the normal course of a day, everyone is responsible for their station–from dishwashing to menu planning–to make the process streamlined and running smoothly. Smoothly as possible during a dinner rush anyway.
What is the Hierarchy of Chefs
The hierarchy of chefs in a professional kitchen is often referred to as the “kitchen brigade” and follows a structured system of ranks and responsibilities. This system was first introduced by the famous French chef, Georges Auguste Escoffier, and is still prominent in kitchens today.
Each position in the kitchen hierarchy comes with its own unique set of duties that are carried out by the chef occupying that rank. From the head chef to the line cooks, every member of the brigade has a crucial role to play in the success of the kitchen.
Understanding the hierarchy and the importance of each role can provide insight into the inner workings of a professional kitchen. Depending on the size of your kitchen, there may be multiple chefs at a station or someone may be taking two or three or positions. Here’s a look at the hierarchy of chefs from the top down.
Executive Chef (Chef de Cuisine)
In the culinary world, the executive chef reigns supreme. This top-ranking chef plays a vital role in every aspect of the kitchen, from spearheading menu creation to maintaining the consistency of every dish that leaves the kitchen. Adept at both food preparation and kitchen management, their skills extend far beyond the stove.
You’ll often find these culinary maestros collaborating closely with restaurant management, not only to ensure that food quality and customer satisfaction remain top-notch but also in budgeting and supply chain management. Hiring and training kitchen staff may also fall under their purview. It’s a challenging role, but executive chefs thrive in this fast-paced world.
Sous Chef (Chef de Partie)
In any successful restaurant kitchen, the sous chef plays a crucial role as the right-hand of the executive chef. They oversee the daily kitchen operations and play a vital role in ensuring dishes are prepared correctly and efficiently. As the “quarterback” of the kitchen, they are responsible for coordinating the kitchen team and ensuring each station is running smoothly.
With their years of experience, a sous chef is often assigned to oversee a specific area of the kitchen known as a “station.” Whether they are directing the line cooks, crafting specialty dishes or supervising a team of prep cooks, the sous chef plays a significant role in keeping the kitchen organized and efficient.
Hierarchy of Chefs: Chef de Partie (Station Chef or Line Cook)
In any restaurant kitchen, the chef de partie plays a critical role in producing high-quality dishes. This skilled professional is responsible for a specific station, whether it be the grill, sauté, pastry, fried foods, or sauce station. They must possess a high level of expertise in their assigned area and are charged with ensuring dishes meet the restaurant’s standards.
Beyond their cooking duties, chef de parties may also oversee commis chefs and apprentices working with them. It’s a challenging job that requires dedication and a passion for cooking, but those with a true love for the culinary arts often find it to be incredibly rewarding.
The boucher is a crucial player in any professional kitchen hierarchy, tasked with the handling and preparation of meats, poultry, and sometimes seafood. Their responsibilities include breaking down whole animals, selecting the best cuts, and ensuring proper handling and storage of meat products.
The boucher must possess an expertise in their craft that is virtually unparalleled in the culinary world. Portion and quality control are also under the purview of the boucher, who must have a mastery of knives and cutting techniques in order to ensure every cut is precise and perfect. In smaller kitchens, the boucher may take on the role of the poissonnier (Fish Chef).
Garde Manger (Pantry Chef)
They are tasked with maintaining and preparing cold dishes, such as salads, fruits, cheeses, and preserved meats. They work in a specific area of the kitchen that is also sometimes known as the garde manger. This area is responsible for storing all of the cold food items necessary for a restaurant.
A garde manger must have a knack for creativity, as much of their job involves creating visually appealing and delicious cold dishes. This is a unique role that requires the ability to work independently while still functioning as part of a skilled kitchen team.
Commis Chef (Assistant or Junior Chef)
Commis chefs play a vital role in any successful kitchen. As junior members of the brigade, they are responsible for a range of tasks, from basic food preparation to cooking and cleaning. Despite their relative lack of experience, commis chefs have the chance to learn from and work alongside more experienced colleagues, gaining invaluable knowledge and skills along the way.
This makes commis chef roles a great starting point for anyone with aspirations of becoming a skilled chef in their own right. So, if you’re passionate about food and looking to get your foot in the door of the industry, a commis chef position could be the perfect opportunity to kickstart your culinary career.
Apprentice (Kitchen Apprentice or Trainee)
If you’re an aspiring chef looking to get your foot in the door, becoming an apprentice could be the perfect way to start. Apprenticeships give you the chance to gain invaluable hands-on experience and learn the ropes from seasoned professionals in the culinary industry in an entry-level position.
Under the guidance of higher-ranked chefs, you can work on developing your skills and get a feel for the fast-paced environment of a busy kitchen. Additionally, many apprentices attend formal culinary training programs, which give you the opportunity to learn the basics of cooking and food safety while earning certifications that can benefit you throughout your career.
Dishwasher (Plongeur or Kitchen Porter)
Although they don’t hold a chef title, the dishwasher is an essential member of the kitchen team. This position is responsible for ensuring that all dishes, utensils, and cooking tools are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, which greatly supports the overall hygiene of the kitchen.
As a result, a well-organized and efficient dishwasher is a valuable asset to any kitchen team. Without their hard work and dedication, the kitchen wouldn’t be able to function smoothly. Whether it’s at a high-end restaurant or a small cafe, the importance of a dishwasher cannot be overstated.
Get First-Hand Knowledge of the Hierarchy of Chefs with CASA
Want to learn the hierarchy of chefs in a real-world environment? The Chef Apprentice School of the Arts (CASA) will put you alongside a professional chef in their kitchen where you’ll learn about the kitchen brigade, how to prepare food, and everything else involved in the day-to-day operation of a working kitchen.
Our Gourmet Chef Program runs around six months, is much less expensive than “name” universities, and you’ll have opportunities to make connections in the industry that just aren’t available in a classroom setting. Why spend years in a school, racking up massive student debt loans, and only start in an entry-level position where you’re done?
Start getting the practical experience you need, along with a formal education that will give you foundation skills, right now. And while the others are finishing their freshman year in college, you could already be working your way up the brigade ladder. Stop denying yourself the life you want and start your journey right now.