If you’re good with your hands and always enjoy whipping up new recipes, the thought of becoming a master chef may have crossed your mind. While passion, love for food, and skills are important, the reality is that it takes more than these to climb the kitchen career ladder.
The modern professional kitchen runs according to a hierarchy, and different types of chefs hold various responsibilities. Knowing how the system works is essential, especially if you want to make your mark as a culinarian. It can also help you find the best path to take to build the culinary career of your dreams.
With that said, let’s look at these commonly asked questions.
Chef Vs. Cook: What’s the Difference?
The terms “chef” and “cook” are often used interchangeably, but they have significant differences.
Chefs are high-ranking kitchen professionals in charge of managing their stations. They typically have multiple years of experience and are tasked with planning menus, experimenting with new ingredients, or creating new recipes.
On the other hand, cooks are entry-level employees whose primary job is to follow the food establishment’s recipes. With that said, they can become chefs by honing their skills, gaining experience, and getting a degree from culinary school.
With that out of the way, it’s time to understand the chef hierarchy and the various titles for chefs.
A Quick Introduction to Brigade De Cuisine
The Brigade de Cuisine is a positional hierarchy in place in most professional kitchens. This framework creates structure among chefs and cooks and helps make the cooking process more efficient.
The size and style of a restaurant often dictate how this structure is applied. For example, smaller kitchens won’t likely have one chef for every section of the kitchen. Nevertheless, understanding the kitchen hierarchy, the different types of chefs, and their various roles is crucial for any aspiring chef.
Types of Chefs According to Their Ranks in the Kitchen
Executive Chef (Chief Executive)
The executive chef sits at the top of the chef hierarchy and acts as the commander of the kitchen. They oversee the food preparation, create and update menus, hire and manage staff, and perform other administrative tasks. Since the entire kitchen is their responsibility, it takes chefs years of experience and demonstrated excellence to achieve this position.
The sous chef is the second-highest-ranking chef in the kitchen. As such, they assist the executive chef in overseeing the kitchen, planning menus, managing kitchen staff, and monitoring inventory.
Besides working directly under the executive chef, sous chefs regularly coordinate with the other chefs, ensuring they have everything they need to complete their orders. Sometimes, they may also need to step up and take the place of the executive chef in their absence.
Organizational skills, leadership, attention to detail, and the ability to work under pressure are some of the top skills sous chefs need to thrive in this role.
Station Chef (Chef De Partie)
Also referred to as chef de partie, a station chef is responsible for one particular kitchen section. They work below the sous chef and lead all the chefs in their station.
Most chefs de partie specialize in one culinary area. As such, their primary duties include assisting the sous and executive chefs in developing recipes and preparing dishes within their section. Most importantly, the food they prepare is what is typically served to the customers.
This kitchen professional is not technically a chef. However, expediters play an essential role as they are in charge of the final stop before the plates reach the customer. They are the ones who check each dish once they’re done to ensure they are correct – and that the servers grab the right items.
Types of Station Chefs
Here are the titles for chefs in charge of the different stations in the kitchen brigade system:
Pastry Chef (Patissier)
As the name suggests, pastry chefs specialize in everything related to desserts. This includes breads, pastries, cakes, pies, and cookies. Their daily tasks usually involve preparing doughs and batters, baking, and adding artistic decorations to their pastries.
Pastry chefs work in fine dining restaurants, hotels, and bistros, but they also often start their own cafes and bakeries. Some specialize in one area of pastry-making, while others train to create a wider selection of baked goods.
Sauce Chef (Saucier)
Sauciers are in charge of making salad dressings, gravy, pasta sauce, stews, and soups. Since these are all important in high-quality dining, sauciers must also work closely with the sous and executive chefs to create the best sauces for all the stations.
Sauces are also usually added at the end of the plating, so sauciers are tasked with checking the final presentation of dishes before they are served.
Fish Chef (Poissonier)
The fish chef focuses on everything fish-related. In bigger restaurants, they concentrate on fish dishes, including appetizers, entrees, and soups. However, in smaller establishments, they can be asked to prepare sauces, stocks, soups, and other accompaniments. Fish chefs are ultimately responsible for selecting and acquiring quality seafood for their menu items.
Vegetable Chef (Entremetier)
The entremetier prepares vegetable dishes, which include mains and sides. Sometimes, they also create the sources or toppings for their menu items, as well as soups and egg dishes.
There’s usually only one vegetable chef in a small food establishment. However, large-scale kitchens may have more than one: a potager chef who will be in charge of soups and a legumiere chef who handles all the vegetable dishes.
Fry Chef (Friturier)
The friturier station is the home of fry chefs – the station chef is responsible for all fried foods. They run the fryer to cook meats, vegetables, and sometimes cheese. With this, their day-to-day tasks typically include breading, battering, and freezing foods before frying, as well as monitoring cooking times.
One crucial skill a fry chef must have is mastering the correct cook times. They must also ensure the frying oil is at the right temperature to achieve that perfect, crispy golden color.
Roast Chef (Rotisseur)
Roasted and braised meats and vegetables fall under the roast chef’s responsibilities. Their primary tasks include preparing for roasting, braising meat, monitoring food throughout their cooking, and creating the sauces that go with their dishes.
While they don’t typically have a lot of other duties outside the cook line, roast chefs may be tasked with coordinating with local suppliers in some restaurants.
Grill Chef (Grillardin)
The grill chef is a station chef responsible for preparing steaks, chicken, and other grilled food items. Similar to the roast chef, grillardins typically have little to no managerial responsibilities. However, since in-depth knowledge of meat types and cuts is vital in their specialty, they are sometimes expected to work closely with the butcher chef.
Butcher Chef (Boucher)
The butcher chef is responsible for all raw meat-related processes. They split, debone, trim, and carve whole cuts of meat coming into the restaurant, preparing them before they go to the different kitchen sections.
As such, butcher chefs must also understand the needs of other chefs, examine the quality of meat, prepare the right types and cuts for the shift, and cure or store meat as necessary.
Pantry Chef (Garde Manger)
While the title makes this sound like a minor role, pantry chefs play an essential role in the kitchen. They manage refrigerator stocks and cold storage areas, monitor supply levels, and ensure all ingredients are fresh.
They’re also in charge of preparing cold dishes, which include salads, intricately carved vegetables, ice sculptures, ceviches, and canapés, among many others.
Swing Chef (Chef De Tourant)
The swing chef fills in when any station needs help during peak hours or when a chef is absent. As such, they are familiar with every kitchen section and are ready to jump into any role at a moment’s notice.
Given the jack-of-all-trades nature of this role, a chef de tourant is an excellent place for chefs who aspire to work their way up the ranks to become a sous chef or executive chef.
Commis chefs are entry-level chefs who have typically just finished culinary school. They shadow other chefs to learn more about how the professional kitchen works and help prepare meals and keep work areas clean.
Also called junior chefs, they gain practical skills by following the more experienced chefs and eventually earn promotions to different workstations with experience.
Chef Hierarchy FAQs
How Many Types of Chefs Are There?
There are different types of chefs. The main titles based on kitchen hierarchy are the Executive Chef, the Sous Chef, the Station Chef, and the Commis Chef. Then there are also various types of station chefs:
- Garde Manger
- Chef de Tourant
What is the Highest Type of Chef?
Among the different titles for chefs, the Executive Chef or Chef Executif is at the top of the kitchen hierarchy. Executive chefs are responsible for planning menus, directing food preparation processes, overseeing staff, and arranging equipment purchases and repairs.
What is an Entry-level Chef Called?
A commis or junior chef is an entry-level chef who works under chefs de partie. Since they are often kitchen professionals who have only recently completed or are still undertaking culinary training, they shadow station chefs to learn more about kitchen responsibilities.
How Many Years Do Chefs Study For?
Depending on the institution, culinary school can take anywhere from a few months to four years. Some offer programs that give a more classroom-focused experience in a shorter time frame, while others offer four-year degree programs to cover hospitality skills and business.
After getting their degrees, junior chefs typically spend more years gaining skills and experience in professional kitchens as they work their way up the ranks.
Ready to Climb the Kitchen Ladder?
Pursuing a career in the food service industry is exciting and rewarding, especially if you have an innate passion for food. However, note that this also requires years of training and hard work. The bright side is that, as long as you have a proper foundation, you can work your way up by gaining experience and pursuing your dream career with zeal.
If you’re ready to start culinary school – and pursue a rewarding career – The Culinary School of Fort Worth offers small-size classes designed to help aspiring chefs like you become more skilled and confident culinarians. We are an accredited culinary institution with professionally trained faculty to help you prepare for the real-world kitchen.