Long before we had the sit-down restaurant experience we know today, fine dining was a highly exclusive affair reserved for aristocrats who could afford to spend six hours of their day eating food, according to The Reluctant Gourmet. The idea that great cuisine could be prepared and served quickly and cost-effectively for large groups of customers didn't exist in before the 1800s.
Along came Auguste Escoffier. The "king of chefs," as one German magnate called him, invented the Brigade de Cuisine. The idea was that assigning specific tasks in the kitchen to specific workers would make it possible to scale up the operation and serve many more customers without sacrificing consistency and quality. More importantly, this made one of hallmarks of the restaurant experience possible: the menu. In olden times, you ate whatever the chef made, but today's diners expect to have options.
Likewise – and as the students in our online culinary program know – the Brigade de Cuisine introduced many new roles to the kitchen. Let's take a look at a few of them.
Main chef jobs today
Technically, there are more than 25 types of chefs who could work in a kitchen under the Brigade de Cuisine. However, every kitchen is a little different, which means so are the types of chef jobs available. Generally speaking, though, these are some of the most common positions in the kitchen:
Also known as the chef de cuisine, the executive chef is in charge of the entire kitchen. He or she prepares the menu, decides what ingredients to purchase and oversees the operation. Executive chefs often act as expediters, meaning they help ensure that food coming out of the kitchen goes to the right table at the right time. Executive chefs also add finishing touches such as a a drizzle of balsamic extract or a swirl of berry compote. The executive chef position is one of the most highly respected and coveted positions in the kitchen, which means it's one of the harder statuses to achieve – and also one of the highest paying positions.
The sous chef is the No. 2 person in the kitchen. They have a hand in just about every kitchen operation, including overseeing all of the other chefs in the kitchen, creating staff schedules, handling inventory management, enforcing safety standards, aiding in equipment maintenance and being ready to hop on any station as needed. In many ways, the sous chef is second fiddle to the head chef. Nevertheless, they play a crucial role in the kitchen and are heirs apparent to head chefs.
The pastry chef is responsible for creating the dessert menu, helping to select ingredients and suppliers, overseeing pastry cooks and collaborating with the head chef on menu development.
Line cooks and apprentices
Line cooks are the chefs who do the bulk of the actual cooking. Many restaurants will have a head line cook for each station, also known as a chef de partie, who oversees apprentices for that station. Line cooks and their apprentices are usually assigned to one or more of the following stations, either on a permanent or a rotation basis:
- Fry station.
- Grill station.
- Sautee station.
- The cold-service station (in charge of salads, cold appetizers and sometimes soups).
- Pastry or dessert station.
There may be many more stations depending on the restaurant – including a soup station, a fish station, a sauce station and a vegetable station.
Last but not least, prep cooks do a lot of the preliminary work, like peeling and chopping vegetables. Some restaurants will task line cook apprentices with prep tasks, while others staff designated prep cooks. While some online culinary students are fortunate to find jobs as a line cook or even a sous chef right out of school, many others benefit from working as an apprentice or a prep cook to get a foot in the door at a reputable, fine-dining restaurant and move up the ranks.