by Buck Reed
The Charge of the Kitchen Brigade
When professional culinarians think about the chefs who shaped the structure, we labor our professional lives under one name that always seems to come up: Auguste Escoffier. Often described as not only the chef of kings, but the king of chefs as well, he spent a great deal of his career standardizing and defining how a professional kitchen should work. He didn’t invent cooking, but he did write the book that defined how the various dishes and their accompanying elements should be prepared. Le Guide Culinaire was, and still is, the book almost all chefs call the Bible. But more important to the chefs of present, he developed the brigade system that most successful fine dining restaurants follow today.
First, we have the line. This is where the various stations are “lined up” and the food is prepared and plated up before they are sent to the guests. Each station is staffed by a specific line cook who is trained and prepared to produce a specific dish or a part of dish to be plated for the guest.
The cooks working in the kitchen are given a designation that defines their training level, as well as their status in the pecking order in the kitchen. The head honcho is the Executive Chef and is responsible for the overall operation of the kitchen. He is directly assisted by the Kitchen Manager and the Sous Chef. The Sous Chef oversees the various people under him to make sure the are ready on a daily basis. The Kitchen Manager is responsible for logistics, making sure there is enough product in house and that the kitchen is clean and safe to work in. Under them is the Chef de Partie or the Line Cooks. They make sure their station on the line is ready for their shift. And, finally, there are the Commis Chefs. They assist the line cooks with prep.
In larger kitchens, the Chef de Partie can further be defined by a specialty position. For instance, the person in charge of cold appetizers is called the Garde Manager. Poissonier would be responsible for the fish dishes and the Rotisseur would cook the meats. Saucier oversees the production of sauces, and the side dishes are prepared by the Entremetier. Of course, the steak might be the sizzle, but it is the Pâtissier or pastry chef that gets all the glory. The Expeditor brings it all together, making sure everyone is working on the same order and then getting it on the plate correctly before it goes out to the guest.
Even if a restaurant doesn’t have enough personnel to fill all these positions, the work is still divided up and organized in such a way to keep the food consistent. Most importantly, the brigade system keeps the work flowing and keeps everyone—kitchen staff, servers, and guests—relatively sane.