The great Georges-Auguste Escoffier is widely credited with developing the “brigade system” at the Savoy Hotel in London in the late nineteenth century. In use in most of the world’s top restaurant kitchens, the brigade is based on the structure European military cooks created as early as the fourteenth century. The system ensures that each position and station is defined with a clear and specific set of duties; from it came the modern chef titles like “chef de cuisine” and “chef de partie.” But while the organization chart provides a loose explanation of why Per Se is largely considered Jonathan Benno’s restaurant (he’s at the top of the chart!), the specifics of what he does versus what a sous-chef does versus what a chef de partie does — and what the hell, really, is a garde-manger? — are less clear. (Also: Per Se stations are identified in French, while French Laundry tends to use the vernacular.) While every kitchen is managed differently, French Laundry (which celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this week) and Per Se are certainly models for the industry — in no small part because chefs see the experience of working at one of these restaurants, at any level, as a spectacular learning experience.
We’ll start at the top and work our way down. If we happen go in order of ego size, biggest to smallest, that’s purely coincidence.
Chef Patron: Patron in French means “owner” or “boss.” In the case of French Laundry and Per Se, chef patron Thomas Keller is an owner and chief food officer at the restaurant. Like Keller, Gordon Ramsay’s title at Maze is chef patron, which indicates, perhaps, that the chef patron is not quite as present as an executive chef would be. Elsewhere, the title is somewhat interchangeable with executive chef, the “face, eyes and palate” of the kitchen, as Eric Ripert says in On the Line, though using the word “patron” generally implies ownership, too.
Chef de Cuisine: The chef de cuisine is in charge of all kitchen operations, from payroll to plating. For Ripert, the chef de cuisine, “has total control, from a managerial perspective, of the food that enters and leaves the kitchen.”
Executive Sous-Chef: The “executive” in front of “sous” indicates that this chef has wide latitude to manage the staff and operation under him or her. (Sous is French for ‘under.’) So the executive sous-chef is the head underling in the kitchen, executing the chef de cuisine’s broad direction. Executive sous-chefs often manage off-site operations as well.
Sous-Chef: A middle-management buffer for the executive sous-chef. Sous-chefs will expedite orders, assist on the line, and generally ensure that service is running smoothly. As for a.m. versus p.m. teams, starting with the sous, p.m. team slots are more prestigious, though in many ways the a.m. teams do work that is equally important. If there is braising to be done, the a.m. team does it; ditto sauce-making, curing, and such. On the other hand, p.m. teams get to cook dishes to finish and in this way are closer to the diner.
Chefs de Partie: The line cooks responsible for preparing specific dishes.
Saucier: The saucier is often one of the most respected chefs on the line, responsible for sauces and sautéed items.
Poissonier: Line cook responsible for fish items.
Canape: Line cook responsible for canapés such as amuse-bouche.
Fromagier: Line cook responsible for cheese courses.
Entremetier: Line cook responsible for hot appetizers that don’t involve meat, such as soups, vegetables, and pastas.
Garde-Manger: “Pantry” in French, this person is responsible for prep of cold dishes, such as salads and pâtés. In On the Line, Ripert explains this role: “The garde-manger … is where everyone, regardless of experience, starts in Le Bern’s kitchen. Neophytes — culinary-school grads and those with at least one year of restaurant experience — develop their knife skills, identify ingredients, and work efficiently in a small space. To keep things simple and to avoid error, each of the three garde-manger cooks has at most two dishes to prepare during each service. The menu’s eight appetizers come from the garde-manger.”
Chef Patissier/Chef de Patissier: Frequently supervising an entirely separate kitchen, the pastry chef is responsible for desserts and other sweet things that come out of the kitchen.
Sous-Chef Patissier: Sous-chefs in the pastry kitchen oversee the prep and cooking of specific pastry items, directing the commis patissier.
Commis Patissier: See Commis; apprentices or chefs at an advanced stage of training.
Meat Butcher: Receives and preps meats for cooking.
Seafood Butcher: Receives and preps seafood for cooking.
Commis: The commis are high-level apprentices, working with the chefs de partie (line cooks) to learn their stations. As a commis, one is also responsible for maintaining the tools of the stations, such as pots and pans.
Chef Boulanger: The head breadmaker.
Boulangers: Bakers, specifically of unsweetened doughs for breads and rolls.