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Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » The Kitchen Hierarchy Explained

The Kitchen Hierarchy Explained

There are many different roles in a kitchen and chef titles can sometimes be confusing. Even when you know what the titles mean, remembering their ranking or order of superiority can take some time.

Not every kitchen will have all the roles. Even with 20 years of kitchen experience you may never have worked with a chef de partie until you get a job in a very large kitchen.

In the UK, there were approximately 159,000 chefs of various ranks in the UK in 2017. That figure increased from just 69,000 in 2009, showing that the demand for chefs and other kitchen workers is constantly increasing.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to understand kitchen staff titles as the food and beverage industry expands. With that in mind, we’re going to look at:

A kitchen showing the kitchen roles
  • The origins of the chef titles as we know them today.
  • The translation of each of the titles to help you understand their ranking.
  • What roles each kitchen position fills.
  • Why the roles are vital for a well-run kitchen.

Giving you the in-depth knowledge you need to apply for and work in a kitchen effectively.

What is the kitchen hierarchy?

Georges Auguste Escoffier was a renowned chef in France at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. As well as updating and standardising a whole host of recipes for famous French dishes, he laid out how a kitchen should be run.

After working as a chef in the French army, Escoffier decided that military discipline rather than drinking and disorganisation should rule a kitchen. From this thought, he developed the Kitchen Brigade outlining kitchen positions and chef titles and implemented it in the Savoy, London.

Escoffier is also credited as having introduced rigorous cleanliness and detailed processes to kitchen work.

The system isn’t without its critics. It can be seen as a tough way to learn and can lead to overwork. Remember that when you’re working in a kitchen you still have rights to regular breaks and fair treatment, as well as a healthy and safe environment.

What are the eight positions of the kitchen hierarchy?

Working in a fine-dining kitchen, you’re highly likely to work within the kitchen brigade system. It offers a clear structure to both the kitchen and your career path. When you apply to work in other kitchens, you’ll already know if you’re capable of the job based on the job title.

For each of these roles in the kitchen brigade, we’ll give you the direct translation from French. It might help you to remember who goes where in kitchen ranks if it’s in your mother tongue!

It’s also worth noting that only a big kitchen will have all of these positions. Some of the titles won’t exist at all and their work will likely be divided between the kitchen rank that’s higher or lower than it.

With all of that being said, let’s take a look at the roles and responsibilities of each level in the Kitchen Brigade, starting from the top.

Chef Executif (Executive Chief)

When you think of an executive, you probably think of a boss sat behind a desk, running a business. An executive chef does have a similar role, although they will have risen through the chef ranks to get there.

The role of an executive chef is to deal with areas such as:

  • Managing costs.
  • Sourcing supplies.
  • Looking after human resources.
  • Recruitment.
  • Creating menus.
  • Ensuring kitchen health, safety and cleanliness.

Being in the top position in the kitchen, they will be the primary supervisor of all kitchen functions. An executive chef will report to the restaurant manager or owner directly. In the other direction, the executive chef will be the line manager of the chef de cuisine and/or the sous chef – roles we’ll cover a little later.

Although everyone working in a kitchen is responsible for creating a healthy and safe working and food preparation environment, the executive chef is the one the buck stops with. They should be dealing with risk assessments, COSHH assessments, and ensuring policies such as FIFO are adhered to.

Chef de Cuisine (Head/Chief of the Kitchen)

Compared to an executive chef, the chef de cuisine is a more hands-on role. Large restaurants will likely have both an executive and head chef in their kitchen hierarchy, but smaller organisations are likely to have one or the other.

Assuming there is an executive chef, the head chef would be more akin to an operational manager. The role requires day-to-day overseeing of the kitchen and more direct training of other members of the team.

Without an executive chef present, a head chef may be more involved in the financial side of things such as working with costs and supplies. Menu creation and delivery would also land with a head chef if they’re in the top kitchen position.

The role requires:

  • Time and people management skills.
  • Creativity when creating menus.
  • Strong awareness of running a safe kitchen.
  • Ability to train new staff.

In terms of the hierarchy, if there’s an executive chef then the head chef would report to them, and if there’s no executive then they would report directly to the restaurant owner or manager. Reporting into the head chef role will be the sous chef and chef de partie, which are coming up next.

A team showing the kitchen roles, and that all contributes to the service

Sous Chef (Under Chief/Deputy Head Chef)

With a kitchen position of being second in command, the sous chef is a role found in most kitchens. The sous chef role can be that of assistant to the head chef, as well as manager to the chefs de partie.

Whilst the previous two roles we’ve looked at can combine administration, financial management, and people and operations control, along with cooking, a sous chef is focussed primarily on food.

Their role is to ensure that each station in the kitchen is working correctly and safely. This can include training other chefs how to cook the dishes designed by the head or executive chef, as well as working on the stations when needed.

Being under the head chef in the chef levels in a kitchen means the sous chef is likely to have tasks and responsibilities delegated to them. When the head chef isn’t present, daily tasks like stock control and management and ensuring the kitchen is cleaned in line with schedules will fall under the sous chef.

You may sometimes hear the sous chef being referred to as the “second chef”. They act as the go-between with the chefs de partie and the head chef. Their line manager is the head chef, whilst the chefs de partie may report directly to them, at least during service.

Chef de Partie (Chief of the Group/Senior Chef)

The majority of kitchens will be organised into stations. The chef de partie’s position in a kitchen is to be in charge of one of the stations.

Each kitchen will be set out differently, but some examples of stations include:

  • Sauces – a saucier creates the sauces for all the dishes on a menu.
  • Entrees – the entremetier prepares the entrees or starters in the kitchen.
  • Mains – main courses can be divided further into fish, roast, grill, fry, and vegetable chefs, depending on the size of the kitchen and complexity of the menu.
  • Desserts – the pâtissier deals with the baked good and desserts in the kitchen.

Some bigger kitchens may have a different station for each main course or a group of them

All of the food produced by a station is the ultimate responsibility of the chef de partie for that station. This responsibility covers the preparation and production of the food as well as the taste and quality.

Usually, the cleaning and sanitising of a station will be the role of the chef de partie and their team. It acts as good training for when the chef de partie is promoted to sous chef and will need to oversee bigger areas.

Further, they will be responsible for taking stock off the shelves and out of the fridge in the right order. Training or guiding their commis chefs on techniques as and when needed will also be part of the role.

In large kitchens, there will be commis, or junior, chefs that work under the chef de partie at their station. Executive and head chefs will organise their kitchen staff titles in different ways, sometimes without any chef de partie, other times without commis chefs.

The chef de partie will report into the sous chef and will be in charge of the commis chefs assigned to their station.

Commis Chef (Junior or Assistant)

A commis chef is the first rung on the ladder of chef levels. Although it’s not the lowest kitchen position, it’s the first level that is able to cook during service.

A fresh graduate from college will likely enter a kitchen as a commis chef. It’s in this role that they will learn about how a kitchen is run from the ground up. The role can include what seem like menial tasks that are actually very important.

Some common tasks assigned to a commis chef include:

  • Peeling and chopping vegetables.
  • Preparing cuts of meat.
  • Filleting and deboning fish.
  • Putting away deliveries of stock.
  • Cleaning stations and other areas.

These tasks can be seen as a “rite of passage” for chefs. It means that even an executive chef knows how to prepare a chicken and how to pack a delivery away in the right order.

Being an entry level role, this may be the first time you’d get trained in health and safety, food handling, FIFO, and COSHH. It certainly won’t be the last time you’ll get trained in these areas and it’s a good time to start recording the courses that you complete.

A commis chef won’t have anyone in the kitchen reporting into them directly. Every other chef title is senior to them, but they will report into their chef de partie or the sous chef if there isn’t a chef de partie.

Kitchen Porter

A kitchen porter, known in the industry as a KP, may be your first experience in a working kitchen environment. You’re unlikely to get near a stove or oven as a KP, but you will be able to work up the chef ranks eventually.

Kitchen porters are there to keep a kitchen running smoothly whilst chefs cook. Some common kitchen porter tasks include:

  • Taking trays or boxes of food to the right station.
  • Putting away a delivery of stock.
  • Keeping floors and surfaces clear of hazards.
  • Emptying kitchen bins.
  • Taking used pots and pans to the dishwashing area.

Along with other tasks that can seem thankless. A kitchen porter is actually a very important role and keeps the kitchen running like clockwork.

Cleanliness is a key responsibility, particularly during service when the chefs need to focus on cooking rather than clearing up spills. Working on deliveries and rotating stock are important skills that can be learned in the role that will stand you in good stead for kitchen work at higher positions.

A kitchen porter will normally report into the commis chef or chef de partie. There aren’t any roles that would usually be managed by a kitchen porter.

Showing different kitchen roles working well as a team

Escuelerie (Dishwasher)

Possibly the most important role in the kitchen is the dishwasher. You can’t cook or serve food without pots, pans, plates, and cutlery.

Coming into contact with food or cooking is unlikely as a dishwasher. There are still important things you need to know in this kitchen position, such as COSHH and general health and safety.

The dishwasher in a kitchen will likely report into the commis chef or chef de partie and could be asked to take on some tasks of a kitchen porter during busy services.

Aboyeur (Wait Staff)

Generally only allowed to the pass – where the food is made ready to serve – wait staff are the final cog in the kitchen brigade. Waiters and waitresses take the food that’s been prepared by the whole kitchen team and present it to the customer.

Restaurants will have different roles for wait staff. Sometimes you’ll be expected to polish cutlery and launder napkins, other places will want you to clean the front of house as well as serve food.

Normally, waiters and waitresses aren’t managed by the executive or head chef. They will normally fall under the purview of the maitre’d or the front of house manager.

Conclusion

Proved in kitchens for over 150 years, the system of the kitchen brigade is still used by the vast majority of kitchens. Separating the responsibilities in this way – having a kitchen manager, deputy manager, then chefs to look after each station or area of the kitchen with their own team – allows for effective and efficient food preparation and delivery.

It’s not just fine-dining restaurants that will use this system. Large-scale catering operations such as school canteens or hospital kitchens also use the same principles.

As well as making sure that food is prepared correctly, this system makes it clear who needs to manage stock, be responsible for cleaning, and take control of stock management. Without clear kitchen staff titles, the positions in a kitchen and what they do could easily overlap and cause confusion.

When you understand the job of your chef title, you can ensure to undertake the correct level of training and check that everyone you manage also has the right training in place.

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About the author

Joanne Rushton

Joanne Rushton

Joanne began her career in customer services in a UK bank before moving to South East Asia to discover the world. After time in Malaysia and Australia, she settled in Hanoi, Vietnam to become an English teacher. She's now a full-time writer covering, travel, education, and technology.



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