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The classic kitchen brigade pt. 2

As promised, here’s a list of the staff that Escoffier imagined for his brigade de cuisine.

Chef du cuisine – Head honcho. Big cheese. Develops the menu, is responsible for all kitchen operations and sets the tone and tempo of the restaurant. Basically what we now call Executive Chef.

Sous-chef (under chef or second chef) – Does the bidding of the chef. Is the chef when the chef is away. Helps the chef with menu development, scheduling, purchasing and any of other responsibilities of running the kitchen. Is often the expediter as well.

Chefs de partie (station chefs) – roughly equivalent to our current line cooks. In a large institutional kitchen like the hotel operations that Escoffier ran, specialization would be key, hence the incredible number of possible “stations”. Now, many of these “stations” are lumped together in the normal restaurant, and even large hotel operations don’t usually have this level of specialization. We also now seem to make the distinction, rightly or wrongly, of calling them “line cooks” instead of “station chefs”. Without further ado, here are the positions:

Saucier (sauté station chef) – This is the guy or gal who you see sweating over the stove with multiple saute pans making your pasta, your pan-fried meats, etc. This is often the most demanding job on the line because of the quantity and variety of dishes that the sauté person encounters. Not only does the sauté often times build sauces right in the pan, he or she also has to time dishes to come out with the rest of the line and also has to finish many dishes in the oven. That’s a lot of logistics to keep track of and a lot of skill involved.

Poissonier (fish station chef) – One of those positions that you don’t see these days. Has been absorbed into other positions.

Grillardin (grill station chef) – This position is usually combined with the rotisseur (roast station chef). This is your “broilerman” (for steakhouse mavens) or your “grill cook” for burger places. This position is key for obvious reasons – if the meat isn’t cooked properly, chaos occurs. Food costs skyrockets, guests can’t eat in a timely fashion, waiters crumble – basically civilization as we know it deteriorates into a disaster movie.

Friturier (fry station chef) – This position is sometimes called “the man in the middle”. In most “standard kitchens” the sauté chef will be on one side, the “fry cook” will be in the middle and the broiler cook will flank him. The fry cook does more than just fry stuff though. He or she might pick up tasks from either end. There are certain dishes that he or she will be responsible for. It’s an anchoring-type position because he or she could be considered a floater in a way. They might assist either end if they are getting pounded.

Potager (soup station chef) –This task is usually handled by other positions. The chef might take it as a personal project, dish it off to the sous chef, or assign various personnel to the task. He or she might very well have a soup specialist but that will be only part of their responsibilities.  Usually, it would be the responsibility of a dedicated prep person or persons, cooks who do a lot of the basic tasks that have to be done – cutting veggies and potatoes, preparing stocks and sauces needed en massé, cutting meat, etc.

Legumier (vegetable station chef) – once again, not really used in the modern kitchen. this would be handled by prep cooks and various line cooks depending on the dish.

Entremetier (for lack of a better word, intermezzo or entree chef)– In Escoffier’s time, this was often a combination of the previous two positions. they handled things served after the roast course (veggies, fruits or sweet items like sorbets).

Boucher (butcher). Pretty obvious here.

Cuisinier (cook) – sort of a catch-all term. Might have a specific dish to prepare, or might be a utility person.

Garde-manger (pantry chef) – in charge of the “cold line”, i.e. “the pantry”. The pantry is where you get the salads, cold appetizers, pâtés, cold cuts (charcuterie), terrines, hors d’oeuver, and in some kitchens is in charge of breakfast. In most kitchens, you have line cooks that are in charge of setting up the cold line. Garde-manger per se is a vanishing position. This is usually just a part of the supervisory area of the chef and sous chef. But it’s still an important position in many large hotel operations. By the way, it’s pronounced  “guard monzhay”, not “guard manager”.

Garçon de cuisine (prep cook). Pretty self-explanatory. Does all of the grunt (yet important) work. Takes big things and makes them small. Makes things in quantity. Usually is off to themselves doing their thing.

Tourant – floater. Works where needed. There are also demi-chefs (assistants or literally “little chefs) and commis (no, not communists, but apprentices).

And then we come to the baked section. I’m going to throw them all into one description starting with the main person:

Patissier (pastry chef).The big dog of desserts, the patsy of pastry, the baron of baked goods. We still have this position in some restaurants and in every decent sized hotel operation. This is the chef responsible for all baked goods. On the organizational chart, he or she is basically equal to the sous chef and they answer to the chef. In modern operations, they usually handle all of the baking and they might have an assistant. In Escoffier’s system, it was broken down this way – boulanger (bread baker), confiseur (candies and petit fours), glacier (chilled and frozen desserts) anddecorateur (special cakes, showpieces, cake decoration, etc.).

Finally we come to the two most important positions in the kitchen – plongeur (dishwasher) and marmiton (pot and pan washer). These positions are the grease on which the kitchen runs. Without them, everything fails.

There are also two auxiliary positions that, even in Escoffier’s day, weren’t that common and were usually performed by others. They are aboyeur (expediter) and communard (preparer of the staff or family meal).

And now you know the basis for our modern kitchen, thanks to Escoffier, who codified the design of the modern kitchen and who is responsible for the traditional “hot and cold line” arrangement of most modern kitchens.

modern kitchen

The classic kitchen brigade – pt. 1

The vast majority of waiters will never work with a “classic kitchen brigade”. But it’s useful to know what it is and how it has affected commercial kitchens.

This was an invention of Georges Auguste Escoffier, the famous French culinary giant of the late 1900s and early 2oth Century. Before Escoffier, most “commercial kitchens” were the kitchens of the aristocratic class. Restaurants for the public were almost unheard of. These “palace kitchens” were full of redundancy. It was almost the case of “too many chefs spoil the broth”, although the broth was rarely “spoiled”, it just had multiple chefs working on it, or individual chefs being responsible for producing a single dish from start to finish. This obviously wasn’t much of an issue to the wealthy, who were used to paying for extra household staff.

However, in order to produce food in a public restaurant (the grand hôtel of the 19th Century being the primary setting for such public dining facilities), something had to give. Escoffier was basically the Henry Ford of the dining world, producing an “assembly line” approach, with people specializing in narrow facets of food production. In fact, we still use the terms “hot line” and “cold line” to this day.

His was simultaneously a simple and a complex system. Simple in that the various tasks and responsibilities required to produce a menu item were given to individual cooks – for instance, sauces were the provenance of the saucier, baked items the patissier. Complex in that there were many specialists that had to be coordinated and basic ingredients such as sauces and stocks had to find their way to the various stations where they would be used to assemble the dishes.

No longer were there multiple “chefs”, but a chef and his immediate assistants managing a ‘brigade” of various cooks. The chef was the commander of the kitchen brigade and he had a “headquarters” section consisting of his sous-chefs, and soldiers who did the “fighting”. The chef was responsible for the tactics (the recipes and the implementation of those recipes) and was the figurehead upon which the success of the brigade was dependent.  The sous-chefs were his (chefs in those days being all male) “company commanders” or headquarters people; the soldiers who kept the paperwork flowing and the staffing requirements met and to act in the chef’s stead when the chef was off;  the people who implemented the strategies set forth by the commander.

Escoffier deliberately used the military metaphor because he basically used the military organization as a basis for his system.

Without such specialization and a militaryesque chain-of-command, it would be very difficult for a restaurant to do the sort of volume that it has to do in these modern times, when so many people are dining out as much, if not more, than they dine at home.

Obviously, in our modern kitchens, we don’t have the need for such extreme specialization, and many positions have either been combined or eliminated entirely. We’ll discuss this later.

In part 2, we’ll run down the traditional Escoffier-created positions, giving you the original French name and the English version of the job title.

Escoffier

 

 

 

 

 

 

Escoffier is the gent with the big white Imperial moustasche.