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Knowledge Base » Food Hygiene » What is a chef hierarchy?

What is a chef hierarchy?

Every professional kitchen works under a chain of command and distinct set of rules. This hierarchy system is present in restaurants and hotels. It is known as brigade de cuisine (kitchen brigade). The system was developed in the 19th century by French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier, and therefore many of the job titles are in French.

Chef Escoffier was responsible for revolutionising French cuisine. It changed the way diners could eat, in that it allowed people to have meals that, whatever their order, arrived at the table at the same time. It is the foundation of kitchen organisation that made way for the a la carte menu we know today.

The purpose of the kitchen brigade was to ensure that every cook had a clear purpose and the kitchen could work to maximum efficiency. Escoffier designed the hierarchy of restaurant kitchen staff positions around a military model of the chain of command. The purpose of this structure is about efficiency, organisation and clearly defined duties.

All modern, professional kitchens run according to this strict hierarchy, although the structure may vary slightly depending on the style and size of the kitchen. For example, in a small kitchen it is unlikely that you would have a person for every position.

Within the chef hierarchy, each position holds an important role in the running of the kitchen, ensuring that each task is achieved, and the kitchen runs smoothly. The structured team system delegates responsibilities to different individuals who specialise in certain tasks in the kitchen.

Today’s kitchen brigade system is often significantly streamlined from Chef Escoffier’s original but the basic structure and concept is still the foundation of any well organised, professional kitchen.

Some of the reasons for the trimming down of the modern kitchen brigade can include:

  • Positions such as the butcher and fishmonger have largely been replaced by purchasing pre-fabricated cuts of meat and fish from vendors.
  • Restaurants that don’t make most of their recipes from scratch may purchase processed or semi-processed products for their menus.
  • Most restaurants do not do the elaborate meals which Escoffier served to royalty, dignitaries and wealthy patrons.
  • Modern technologies such as gas stoves, Hobart mixers, blenders, Robot Coupes and refrigeration have made kitchen production significantly easier.

Hospitality is a growing industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people each year, and is expected to continue expanding as more people are opting to eat out. Each person in each of the individual roles has an important part to play in ensuring that the kitchen runs smoothly.

Any job in a professional kitchen is a busy one as standards need to be high, while maintaining efficiency. It is a fast-paced and often highly stressful environment to be in.

Today, many of the traditional roles within the kitchen brigade have been made redundant by more efficient supply chains or technology. For example, butchers and fishmongers are less common due to many restaurants buying pre-prepared cuts. However, the system lives on in almost all fine dining restaurants. If you are interested in a career as a chef you can find further information about how you would go about this at National Careers.

The chef hierarchy system and each title is explained in detail below.

Executive Chef

The executive chef is the very top of the kitchen management structure. They are the head of the entire kitchen operation of a restaurant. Their role is usually managerial, and they are not usually directly responsible for cooking.

Only the largest establishments and chain restaurants have an executive chef. Their primary role will be to manage the kitchen and its staff. This includes training and overseeing personnel, planning menus, managing the culinary budget and sometimes purchasing. Executive chefs are often responsible for the operation of multiple outlets. Some establishments will combine the role of executive chef and head chef if it is not necessary to have both.

To be an executive chef you will need:

  • Prior experience of cooking.
  • Good management skills to ensure that the kitchen is run efficiently.
  • Excellent knowledge of culinary ingredients and practices.
  • Technical cooking skills.
  • The ability to delegate tasks.
  • Organisation and administrative skills.
  • Food hygiene and food preparation qualifications.

To become an executive chef you will usually need at least seven years’ experience working in a fast-paced and challenging kitchen environment and ideally you will have previous experience of a leadership role within a kitchen.

Experienced chef observing

Chef de Cuisine – Head Chef

Chef de cuisine is the traditional French term and is commonly used in European kitchens, however, the term ‘head chef’ is most commonly used in kitchens around the world. The head chef is generally responsible for the running of the kitchen including setting the menu, organising the staff, liaising with suppliers and managing the budget.

In smaller kitchens the chef de cuisine is usually the most senior role, but in larger kitchens, a chef de cuisine may be second in command to an executive chef. Depending on the restaurant and individual head chef, they may leave the day-to-day running of the kitchen to someone lower down the hierarchy, for example the sous chef.

Some of the skills needed to become a chef de cuisine include:

  • Relevant training and certification – To become a chef de cuisine you will need formal training, possibly a degree in culinary arts. The position may also require the completion of courses in nutrition, food safety and supervisory management.
  • Experience – Restaurants may also require you to have at least three years’ experience managing shifts or stations in a food service establishment.
Head chef cooking food

Sous Chef – Deputy Chef

The sous chef, also known as the deputy chef, is the second in command in the kitchen. Sous in French means ‘under’ when translated. Depending on the kitchen size and type it is possible to have more than one sous chef, or a smaller kitchen may not have a sous chef at all.

The sous chef usually remains very hands-on. The sous chef’s role will often overlap with the head chef and they will take on many of the responsibilities of running the kitchen.

The sous chef will automatically take on the role of head chef when they are absent. They may direct how the food is presented on the plate, assist the head chef in menu preparation, they may manage other members of the staff team and train new members of staff including training on the restaurant’s standards and regulations. Sous chefs are generally experienced and knowledgeable chefs with an understanding of management.

As a sous chef you would be expected to have in-depth knowledge of the kitchen’s routines and utensils, knowledge of food preparation methods and utensils, leadership skills, the ability to follow the head chef’s culinary instructions, and the ability to work under pressure and to strict deadlines.

As a sous chef you would be expected to a have a secondary school education, and have a culinary or hospitality certificate, a diploma in professional cookery or a similar degree. It is possible to start at lower positions within the kitchen and work your way up to becoming a sous chef.

The sous chef is high up in the chef hierarchy and has many responsibilities

Chef de Partie – Station Chef

The chef de partie is an important part of the team of chefs. It is split into many different roles. There is more than one chef de partie, and each one will have their own section of the kitchen which they are responsible for. This makes the kitchen much more productive and allows chefs to specialise and excel in a certain type of food.

Chef de partie roles can include:

  • Sauté chef/saucier (sauce chef) – This chef is responsible for creating sauces and gravies that accompany other dishes and sautéing dishes. They will report to the head chef or sous chef.
  • Poissonnier (fish chef) – This chef will prepare fish and other seafood and create the appropriate sauces to accompany them.
  • Boucher (butcher chef) – This chef prepares meat and poultry. This chef may also handle fish and seafood in some restaurants.
  • Rotisseur (roast chef) – This chef is responsible for roast meats and sauces to accompany these.
  • Grillardin (grill chef) – This chef is responsible for all things grilled.
  • Friturier (fry chef) – This chef is responsible for preparing and specialising in all fried items.
  • Pattisier (pastry chef) – This chef specialises in pastry, baked dishes and desserts.
  • Garde manger (pantry chef) – This chef is responsible for the preparation of cold dishes such as pates and salads.
  • Entremetier (vegetable chef) – This chef is responsible for preparing vegetables, soups and eggs. In large kitchens this chef may be split into two roles, a Potager who is in charge of making soups and a Legumier who is in charge of preparing any vegetables.
  • Chef de tournant – This chef does not have a specific job but fills in for other chefs at different stations when they are needed.
Pastry chef helping some new chefs

Commis Chef

The commis chef is also known as the junior or apprentice chef. They work with station chefs in order to learn about the kitchen environment. The junior chef’s role is to work with the more experienced chefs in order to gain experience, and the skills necessary to become a station chef themselves. All skills learnt will help to build a solid base in a career as a chef.

As a commis chef you will have usually finished your training and are just beginning to work in the culinary field. As a commis chef who has attended a college course or catering college, you will be ahead of another commis chef who has not. It is not a requirement to attend college; however, using this route will have its benefits.

As a commis chef you will be responsible for the basic prep work for the station, you will need to keep your area organised and follow the health and hygiene regulations. You will be directed by the chef de partie in charge of that station. You will also have to follow instructions from any other senior member of the kitchen brigade.

Your main duties and responsibilities will be:

  • Assisting other chefs.
  • Measuring ingredients.
  • Preparing meats and vegetables.
  • Helping with deliveries.
  • Cleaning stations.
  • Training and learning.
In chef hierarchy Commis chef is lower than head chef

Kitchen Porter

The kitchen porter is also known as the Plongeur/Marmiton or kitchen assistant. Their role is to assist the chefs with prepping plates for service, peeling vegetables or potatoes, and the basic preparation of food and tidying away utensils. They may not have any culinary training at all. In smaller kitchens the kitchen porter’s role may be combined with the role of the dishwasher.

Kitchen porter cleaning surfaces

Escuelerie – Dishwasher

This person works in the kitchen and is responsible for washing anything that was used in the food preparation and cooking process. They are also responsible for shining cutlery and making sure everything is where it is needed to be for cooking and serving.

Man washing dishes in a restaurant

Purchasing Manager

The purchasing manager is responsible for buying all the food for the kitchen. This member of staff will need to keep track of all of the available food in the kitchen and what needs to be ordered. They will need to be familiar with the menu in order to do this effectively, and they will need to be aware of anything new that is coming onto the menu.

The purchasing manager will need to know the best vendors with the goal of getting the best quality products at the best price possible. An effective purchasing manager will need to keep track of the running of the kitchen and also the budget.

Purchasing Manager

Aboyeur – Waiter/Waitress

A waiter or waitress can be seen as the face of the restaurant as this is who the customer will have the most contact with. As a waiter or waitress, you are responsible for ensuring that diners have a positive experience by exhibiting excellent customer service.

Some of the duties and responsibilities of a waiter/waitress will include:

  • Greeting guests.
  • Presenting guests with the menus.
  • Answering questions about the menu or making recommendations when this is requested by the customer.
  • Taking drinks and food orders.
  • Communicating with members of the kitchen about orders.
  • Staying attentive to the needs of the guests in the dining area.
  • Delivering food from the kitchen to the guests.
  • Removing dishes or glasses from tables.
  • Ensuring the food order is made correctly by kitchen staff and that the food looks presentable.
  • Following health and safety standards with regards to the handling of food.
  • Performing other duties such as delivering racks of cups to the service station, rolling silverware and cleaning tables.
Waitress serving drinks to customer

For people who work in places where they are required to handle or serve food, they must meet stricter standards of personal hygiene. This is in order to minimise the risk to the general public and to avoid the spread of illness.

All employees must be trained on the basics of food hygiene and personal hygiene in a premises serving food. For further reading around food and personal hygiene requirements for food service staff, please visit our knowledge base.

It is vital that as a waiter or waitress you have some knowledge about the food products, flavours in the food and how the dishes are prepared and cooked. This will give the customer confidence in the restaurant and the food they are eating. Good service in a restaurant is equally as important as the food.

Regardless of how well the food is cooked and prepared, if the service is inadequate, the overall experience for the customer will be poor.

If a business deals in food, there are strict regulations in place to ensure that food safety and hygiene is adhered to. This can be found in detail on the gov food safety website.

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About the author

Claire Vain

Claire Vain

Claire graduated with a degree in Social Work in 2010. She is currently enjoying her career moving in a different direction, working as a professional writer and editor. Outside of work Claire loves to travel, spend time with her family and two dogs and she practices yoga at every opportunity!



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