What Is The Kitchen Brigade?

Posted on 04 Mar 2014 17:03

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The kitchen brigade is an organizational hierarchy for professional kitchens organized by the legendary French chef, Georges-Auguste Escoffier. Dubbed by Kaiser Wilhelm as "the emperor of chefs," he is one of the most important figures in the development of modern French cusine, and one of the fathers of haute cuisine.

See also: Classic Dining Room Brigade

Escoffier was born in Southern France, in the village of Villeneuve-Loubet on October, 28, 1846, and became an apprentice chef in his uncle's restaurant, Le Petit Moulin Rough, at the age of 13. He was such a talented chef that he was offered a job in Paris as soon as his apprenticeship was finished. Although he went to Paris, he did not remain, and instead became chef of the general quarters of the Army of the Rhine, at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870.

After the war, in 1884, Escoffier returned to Paris and became chef (Directeur de Cuisine) at the Grand Hotel of Monte Carlo and at the Hotel National of Lucerne, Switzerland. He divided his time between the two, serving at the Grand Hotel in winter and the Hotel National in summer. There he met Cesar Ritz, of Ritz Hotels fame. The two collaborated, and made a fantastic duo. At the Grand Hotel Monte Carlo, for instance, they developed the first prix fixe menu for parties of four or more, to make it easier for the many English speaking guests. The two moved to the Savoy Hotel in London, and then established several famous hotels, such as the Grand Hotel in Rome, and many Ritz Hotels throughout the world.


Although Escoffier had been trained in a centuries old system of kitchen organization dating back to the 14th century, he had begun to assert new ideas for kitchen management even when he was an apprentice. Noble house kitchens had been loosely divided into different sections for different types of food. The kitchens, and the dishes served, were characterized by excess, disorganization, inefficiency, and even chaos. Influenced by his experience in the French army, while at the Savoy, Escoffier organized the kitchen brigade system of organization, known as the chef de partie system. The idea was to avoid duplication of effort, and to help facilitate communication between the various staff members. the system used a hierarchical organization, with a strict chain of command based on rank.

The Kitchen Brigade Positions

The basic hierarchy of the classical kitchen brigade system is as follows:

  • Chef de Cusine - the head honcho, or executive chef, in charge of the entire kitchen (basically the general)
    • Sous Chef - the under-chef, second in command. Supervises and coordinates the various station chefs (chef de parties). Second in command when the chef de cusuine is absent. Also acts as an expediter (aboyeur) during service (usually in training to become head chef)
    • Chefs de Partie - various station chefs which have responsibility for a certain part of meal, which are divided according to the ingredients they specialize in, or the method of cooking. A chef de partie usually has several demi-chefs (assistant station chefs) and commis (attendants) working under them.
    • Demi-Chef - assistant station chef. Does most of the actual preparation of the food in the specific station they are assigned, as supervised by the station chef (chef de partie). In charge of the station if the station chef is absent.
    • Commis - attendants assigned to a particular station and given the grunt work, or lower-skill work. Usually in training to become a demi-chef.
    • Apprentice - lowest man on the totem pole and given the heavy lifting work while studying the culinary arts and in training to become a commis and then move up from there. Works through all the various stations in order to become prepared to move up.

Not all kitchens necessarily would have all the positions, but some of the following stations would be included:

  • Saucier - saute chef)
  • Poissonier - fish and shellfish dishes
  • Friturier - fry chef prepares all fried items (basically deep frying)
  • Grillardin - grilled and broiled foods
  • Rotisseur - roasted and braised foods and any stuffing for them
  • Potager - stocks and soups, assistant to the saucier. Considered a lower-skilled position.
  • Legumier _ vegetable dishes
  • Entremeteir - this is a combined potager and legumier, preparing vegetable dishes, soups, and stocks
  • Garde Manger - prepares or coordinates all cold foods including salads, cold meats, pates, terrines, sausages, hors d'oeurves, decorative carving garnishes, buffet items, if present.
  • Boucher - butcher responsible for meat butchery, and poultry and fish treatment. May prepare these and then give them to the garde manger for distribution to the various station chefs.
  • Charcutier - prepares pork products such as pâté, pâté en croûte, rillettes, hams, sausages, or any cured meats. May coordinate with the garde manger and deliver cured meats.
  • Patissier - pastry chef
    • Confiseur - makes petits fours and candies
    • Glacier - makes cold or frozen desserts (today this would be someone who makes ice cream and other frozen desserts, and perhaps also makes ice sculptures.
    • Decorateur - decorates cakes or other items
    • Boulanger - baker, makes breads, rolls, and cakes

Other positions besides the ones listed here were also possible. Modern restaurant kitchens rarely use the classic brigade system. However, due to the large volume, you might find the classic system in use on large cruise liners or any place where a huge volume of food is prepared. Due to the many changes in equipment, and the advent of modern electrical appliances, there is no longer a need for so many positions. Instead, most kitchens use an updated modern kitchen brigade system, which is very streamlined, in comparison.

Another big change that has occurred in modern times is the way the word chef is treated. Today, cooks are called chefs even if they have never been in charge of a kitchen. A person can earn the title of chef by completing culinary school, for instance. However, the French word chef basically means chief and in the classic kitchen brigade system, only those who were in charge (whether the head chef, under chef, or station chef, could be called chefs.

The Modern Kitchen Brigade

Modern restaurant kitchens, as mentioned, rarely use the classic brigade system. However, due to the large volume, you might find the classic system in use on large cruise liners or any place where a huge volume of food is prepared.

  • Executive Chef - the top chef who manages everything to do with the kitchen, creates the menu, orders supplies, oversees the staff, communicates and reports to the owners and/or managers. Executive chefs may oversee more than one restaurant kitchen, as when there are several restaurants in a hotel or resort. Not all restaurants have a separate executive chef and chef de cuisine, defined below and an executive chef may spend much of his or her time cooking, instead of involved in administrative duties.
      • Chef de cuisine - the kitchen chef who is the head chef of the kitchen. May report to the executive chef, or directly to the owner, if the owner maintains control of the kitchen. In some cases the executive chef and the chef de cuisine may be one and the same.
      • Sous chef - next in line under the chef de cuisine, same as the under chef in the classic system, and in command when the head chef (or executive chef, if applicable) is not present. Oversees the preparation, portioning, and presentation fo the menu items according to the standards of the executive chef or chef de cuisine.
        • Area chefs - these are basically the chefs de partie or station chefs, responsible for a particular area in the kitchen. Depending on how closely the kitchen follows the classic brigade, the station chefs may have line cooks under them, or line cooks and station chefs may be basically the same position. Any of the positions of the classic system are possible, such as saucier, poissonier, rotisseur, or grillardin, etc. and in modern kitchens, duties may rotate.
          • Line cooks - works for the area chef and assigned a particular position in the assigned kitchen area.
  • Expeditor - (aboyeur) takes orders from servers in dining room and announces them to the kitchen and facilitates the efficient coordination of each dish. May make a final check on the finished plate and apply finishing touches. Makes sure the servers deliver the plates promptly and correctly, and may deliver orders themselves, in some cases.

There are many other positions possible in a kitchen, and there are also duties that have not been covered here, such as dishwasher and others, that are needed for the functioning of a busy kitchen.

Does Culinary School Teach the Classical Brigade?

If you attend culinary school, you may be taught about the history the the classical "brigade de cuisine, as established by Escoffier, but the cooking classes themselves will most likely use some type of abbreviated version of the brigade system, in line with modern usage, depending on needs dictated by space, class size, and specialty areas of study.

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