The Chef Hierarchy: Who is Who in the Kitchen?by Sabrina Sutton
Curious as to how a restaurant kitchen works?
Read more to understand the Chef Hierarchy and Brigade system at your local eatery!
A commercial kitchen can seem like a pretty imposing, chaotic place to those who have never been in one.
A lot is going on with many people working to ensure meals are prepared, cooked and presented to the highest standard. What many don’t know, however, is that each person has a specific role with their chef title in the kitchen to ensure it runs like clockwork every service.
These roles make up the kitchen hierarchy or the ‘kitchen brigade system‘. Most larger, professional kitchens have a particular hierarchy to which the kitchen staff will adhere. This hierarchy keeps things running smoothly, and with purpose, so no one person is too overwhelmed by the many components that go with making a restaurant-quality meal.
The most common system used in Australian restaurants is the French Brigade System or the ‘Brigade de cuisine,’ if you prefer the French term. This system has been used in culinary establishments since the 19th century. Due to advancements in technology and changes in stock supply, many of the smaller, more specific roles within this system have become redundant. Despite this, many restaurant kitchens have their own version of the brigade system that best fits their cuisine and service style.
This role is more a managerial or business-orientated position. The executive chef is often a senior chef who has progressed into the administrative side of things. Hence, they usually don’t have a lot to do with the daily running of the kitchen itself. Instead, they oversee the overall operations of the business, discuss marketing strategies and ensure the quality of the product meets expectations. Only huge establishments or a multi-restaurant business will have an executive chef.
Most people have heard of a ‘head chef’ or ‘chef de cuisine’ and would be able to spot them in a kitchen. This senior chef has overall control of the kitchen and its staff. They’re often the contact point between suppliers and the business and manage kitchen costs. To become a head chef, you need a great deal of experience within the culinary industry. Many head chefs create and design the menu for their establishments, so excellent knowledge of flavours, cooking methods and creative integrity are essential.
The sous chef or ‘second-in-command’ is a very respected position in the kitchen. They often act as the liaison point between line chefs and the head chef and are very involved with the day-to-day running of the kitchen and its staff. When the head chef isn’t working or focusing on the more administrative aspect of the kitchen, the sous chef will take over the in-kitchen duties. This position demands excellent culinary knowledge and people-management skills.
Line Cook or ‘Chef de Partie’
A well-designed menu often demands multiple food preparation techniques and cooking methods; a balance of hot and cold components and exciting flavour pairings.
Any one person can’t efficiently execute all of these components; hence, why there are line cooks or station chefs.
Most large kitchens have multiple stations where different food items and meal components are prepared and made ready to plate and serve. Each line chef is responsible for a specific station. Line cooks will usually avoid overlapping into another station unless customer orders demand extra support for a particular section. Some larger kitchens will have multiple people working at any one station. Often these people are ranked as the ‘head line cook’, followed by either senior or junior assistants. Line cook duties are specific to the restaurant, and the type of cuisine they serve; however, most establishments will have these key line cooks:
- Saucier – Possibly the most crucial line chef, the saucier works closely with the sous and head chef. They specialise in gravies and sauces and ensure they are up to standard and well presented for every dish. They are also the sauté chef, in charge of all components that are satuéed.
- Fry Chef – Responsible for all fried foods.
- Grill Chef – Master of the grill, the line chef for this section ensures everything is grilled to restaurant and customer specifications.
- Roast Chef – The Rotisseur or the roast chef is responsible for all roasted menu components, including the paired sauces or gravies.
- Pastry Chef or ‘Garde manger’ – Not all restaurants will have a specific pastry chef or pâtissier; however, those who take pride in their dessert selection often will. This position calls for excellent knowledge of all things pastry and baked goods related.
- Pantry Chef – This line chef is in charge of the cold dishes on the menu. Think antipasto platters, salads, cold appetisers and pâtés.
- Fish Chef – Depending on the restaurant, some establishments will have a seafood specific section to prepare all fish dishes safely. As allergies become more prevalent in today’s society, this has become increasingly important.
- Roundsman – This line chef has no specific station to report to, but rather floats between multiple depending on demand.
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This is usually a junior member of the kitchen staff and often is still undergoing some form of culinary training or has just completed it. They typically work as a helper to one of the line cooks during busier service times and will train up other skills during quieter or non-service hours.
Depending on the size of the kitchen, there can be any number of kitchen hands. These people are responsible for the basics such as food preparation (peeling, washing, sorting and storing) as well as essential cleaning duties.
This person is responsible for the cleaning of all the cutlery, utensils and dishes used by customers and kitchen staff during service.
The industry growth for the Culinary Arts within Australia is currently robust with 81,000 job openings estimated between the years of 2018-2023.
of chefs receive full-time work
of chefs currently working in the industry completed a Certificate III or IV of Culinary Arts
Many chefs work their way through the ranks over the years to reach a position where they can freely create culinary experiences for others, or manage a thriving business.
The cooking industry is thriving in Australia as our food culture continues to boom, particularly in the larger cities. Whether you’re considering training up your culinary skills either to become a Chef de Cuisine or simply for personal reasons, a course in the Culinary Arts could be just what you’re looking for!
How to Become a Chef
As almost all hierarchies go, the higher up you sit, the more experience and knowledge you have. Many people who seek professional work within the culinary arts have completed some form of formal study. Depending on your goals, a Certificate III or IV in Commercial Cookery is a great way to start your journey. These courses teach you the basics in food safety and handling, technical skills and stock control. This blended course of theory and practical work is an excellent pathway into the hospitality business as a Commis Chef or Line Cook.
For those specifically interested in the sweeter things in life, a Certificate III or IV in Patisserie could be the perfect career move for you!
From here, some choose to work hard and gain the crucial experience needed to progress up the ranks. This method, however, takes time and relies on the chefs at higher levels to acknowledge and reward your efforts to improve.
If you wish to fast track your progression, you may choose to complete a Diploma in the Culinary Arts. These courses will deepen your practical skills and theoretical knowledge of commercial kitchens, allowing you to land a more advanced role from the get-go.
Those who wish to jump straight in and commit to a career in the culinary arts should look into a bachelor’s program. A bachelor’s within the culinary arts is usually 3-4 years of full-time study. Specialised practical skills and techniques are covered, as well as the administrative side of running a kitchen. Upon successful completion of a bachelor’s, you’ll be equipped to enter the culinary world at a higher level, taking on operational and managerial roles.
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