The Modern Kitchen Brigade System

Cooks in the kitchenThe ancestry of the modern kitchen brigade (kitchen staff) dates back to the renowned Chef Georges Auguste Escoffier who is the father of the original Brigade de Cuisine. In his day he had over 20 specific cook positions and dozens of kitchen staff filling those positions. Today’s kitchen brigade has been significantly streamlined from Chef Escoffier’s original, but the basic structure and concept is still the foundation of any well organized professional kitchen.

Some of the reasons for the trimming down of the modern kitchen brigade include:

  • Positions such as the Butcher & Fishmonger have largely been replaced by purchasing pre-fabricated cuts of meat and fish from vendors.
  • Restaurants which don’t make most of their own recipes from scratch can purchase processed or semi-processed products for their menus.
  • Most restaurants don’t do the elaborate multi-hour meals which Escoffier served to royalty, dignitaries, and wealthy patrons.
  • Modern technology such as hobart mixers, vitamix blenders, gas stoves, robot coupe, refrigeration, and much more have made kitchen production significantly easier.

Escoffier designed the hierarchy of restaurant kitchen staff positions around a military model of the chain of command. The purpose of this structure is all about organization, efficiency, and clearly defined duties. Even though some of the positions are “fluid” in that they change depending upon the size of the operation, the duties and expectations are defined and understood in each operation. And regardless of how skilled the staff is, if they are not properly organized in one of the following hierarchical structures then the operation will be less efficient, less successful, and more stressful.

Resort Hotels which have 2 or more restaurants will have some variation of the following modern kitchen brigade structures:

1 Executive Chef and a bunch of Line Cooks
This is a common structure for smaller hotels with only 1 restaurant, or for small independent restaurants. Although it is possible for fantastic food to come from such a brigade (i.e. if the Chef is always there for every service period), this brigade structure usually serves just average food because their targeted guests are just looking for a good price and basic food, therefore the company focuses on cost savings and not on high culinary standards which require a more extensive staff.

1 Executive Chef, 1 or more Sous Chefs, and a bunch of Line Cooks
This structure is common for 3 or 4 diamond hotels which have several restaurants, and for larger independent restaurants. The food can range from average to above average depending upon the targeted guest demographic and the cuisine philosophy (“we want to be a culinary destination” -or- “we want to serve basic good food”.) The typical Sous Chef structure is to have 1 for day shift, 1 for night shift, and 1 for banquets; or 1 for each restaurant. And a bunch of Line Cooks.

1 Executive Chef, 1 Executive Sous Chef, a Chef de Cuisine for each restaurant, a Banquet Chef, perhaps a Sous Chef for each Chef de Cuisine, a Pastry Chef
And a bunch of Line Cooks and bakers! Operations with this type of modern kitchen brigade system are usually the best hotels. They have the best restaurants and the best food because management (and the targeted guest demographic) is willing to pay for quality talent and quality cuisine. It is only 4 and 5 diamond properties or high-end independent restaurants which will have this kind of quality structure for their kitchen brigade.

Modern Kitchen Brigade System

Positions of the Modern Kitchen Brigade

Executive Chef

The head chef who coordinates the kitchen operation of at least one (but usually more) restaurants
The title “Executive Chef” has several interpretations depending upon the size of the operation and who is using the title. The terms Chef, Executive Chef, and Chef de Cuisine are used interchangeably for the head chef. Larger operations may have all 3 positions (as defined below), but a smaller operation may have one person who essentially fills all three roles.

First, it is rather loosely applied to whoever is the head chef at an any establishment which creates its own recipes. Some independently owned restaurant Chefs may call themselves an Executive Chef because they are “the top dog” at the establishment, even if the restaurant only has a staff of 3 or 4 cooks including the Chef.

Operations such as Denny’s or Olive Garden may have a Kitchen Manager, Lead Cook, or Head Cook but not an Executive Chef on property because all the recipes are created by Corporate Chefs and the cooks simply prepare those recipes and follow the guidance of the unit Manager.

Second, in the case of large corporate operations such as the ones run by Compass Group and Aramark, the Executive Chef is the chef in charge of implementing and managing corporate menus. They manage staff feeding hundreds or thousands of people at places like Microsoft or Boeing.

Third, in the hospitality industry as a whole, the title Executive Chef typically refers to someone who oversees multiple venues, such as the head Chef at a resort hotel which has multiple restaurants, or the Chef who oversees multiple restaurants in a conglomerate or small group of independent restaurants (i.e. not a restaurant chain such as Denny’s or PF Chang’s). In this setting there may be one Executive Chef, perhaps an Executive Sous Chef (his/her right hand person), and then either Chef de Cuisines if there is a Chef who writes menus for each restaurant, or Sous Chefs if the Executive Chef writes the menus and the Sous Chefs maintain the food/recipe standards.

This kitchen brigade hierarchy may look like this:

  • Executive Chef
    • Executive Sous Chef
      • Chef de Cuisine

Chef de Cuisine

Restaurant Chef, Kitchen Chef – the literal translation is Chief of Kitchen

french laundry brigade
Thomas Keller’s Kitchen Brigade

A Chef de Cuisine is responsible for menu creation and all things HOH (Heart of the House) and usually oversees just one restaurant. This person creates, trains, and implements new recipes. They are responsible for all kitchen staff, ordering, inventory, P&L meetings, inventory, etc all in their restaurant…they are the Chef of the restaurant. They may (or may not) report to an Executive Chef or Corporate Chef, but they are responsible for everything in the kitchen in their venue. This title is often interchangeably called Chef and/or Chef de Cuisine. Sometimes they are called (or call themselves) the Executive Chef…but if you only oversee one venue or only 4 – 5 cooks and do just a few hundred covers per shift then perhaps your title is more accurately called Chef de Cuisine…not Executive Chef (just my opinion).

Some larger operations such as resort hotels may be calling someone a Sous Chef but they are actually fulfilling the role of a Chef de Cuisine. The difference is that although a Sous Chef may assist in recipe creation, their primary role is to maintain the quality and consistency of the recipes which the Executive Chef creates. But a Chef de Cuisine is responsible for creating their own recipes for their restaurant and maintaining the quality and consistency of those recipes. They also will know how to create tasting menus paired with excellent wines or with fantastic bourbons.

Banquet Chef (or Catering Chef)

As the name implies, this is the chef who is in charge of banquets. It is a position which is used either by independent catering companies, or it is one of the chefs hired under the Executive Chef in large operations such as resort hotels which have restaurants and lots of banquet/catering events. These operations typically have large banquet rooms and smaller meeting rooms which are available for clients to rent and hold functions, meetings, weddings, etc.

Executive Sous Chef

(Second Executive Chef; literally means Executive Sub Chief)
This person is second in command, the Executive Chef’s right hand man. The role of the Executive Sous Chef is to assist the Executive Chef in running the operation, and to fill in when s/he is not available.

Many large operations may have an Executive Chef and an Executive Sous Chef. This position is usually only used in resort hotels which have multiple restaurants, restaurant groups which have multiple restaurants, or restaurants which do thousands of covers a day.

Sous Chef

(Under Chef; Second Chef, literally means Sub Chief)
The Sous Chef is basically the “second in command” and assists the Chef, Chef de Cuisine, or Executive Chef in managing a restaurant, or a shift, especially when the Chef in charge isn’t there. But the responsibilities of this title varies depending upon the property. The Sous Chef may be second in command over a specific restaurant, or in some hotels s/he may be in charge of multiple restaurants for a specific shift (days, swing, or graveyard).

Garde Manger

In today’s kitchens, the Garde Manger position is a little convoluted. It usually refers to the salad or pantry station in a restaurant or in banquets and will be the position of a Garde Manger Cook. This position takes care of salads, cold appetizers and sometimes plating desserts.

But in a Banquet/Catering kitchen or in large hotels there may actually be a Garde Manger Chef who is skilled in a large variety of cold preparations including specialty salads, cold appetizers, pate, terrines, charcuterie, cold soups, hors d’oeuvres, ice carvings and so on.

Chef de Partie, Line Cook, Station Cook

Chef de Partie, Line Cook, and Station Cook are all synonymous names for various positions in today’s kitchen brigade. All 3 terms refer to a cook who runs a particular station on a restaurant Line. Their job is to be able to properly prep, prepare, and present all food items which come from their station. Depending upon the type of operation a cook may be assigned to any of the following stations, and most cooks are cross-trained to work in multiple stations.

Expeditor – Wheelman

(Wheelman, Ticket Man, Expo; the person who calls tickets for the kitchen)
An à la carte restaurant will have someone who fulfills this role. The position is referred to as “calling the wheel” or “calling the board” and typically the Chef, Sous Chef, or lead line cook will take this position. Although duties vary by operation, typical responsibilities include: calling the tickets, organizing the flow of food to the window, plating dishes, final inspection of food, and final garnishes.

If the Chef is not filling this role then the position goes by a variety of names including the following: the wheelman, ticket man, expo, and/or expediter. Some operations are busy enough that they will have a Wheelman to call tickets and organize plates in the kitchen, and they will have a separate Expediter who does finishing garnishes and organizes plates for the waitstaff. In this type of operation the servers communicate only with the Expo, and the Expo is the only one who talks with the Wheelman.
More info: Role of the Expeditor


Responsible for making the sauces and perhaps special garnishes. This person should be skilled at making demi-glace sauces, beurre blancs, cream sauces, pesto, purees, hollandaise, jus, and various other sauce creations.

Saute Cook
Often considered both the hardest and the most glamorous position in the kitchen the Saute Cook often works 6 – 8 pans at a time plus finishing items in the oven and/or salamander. This person must be able to multitask, have a fantastic sense of timing, and the ability to remain calm under severe pressure.

Grill Cook (Broiler Cook)
The Grill Cook has the most exacting station in regards to perfection because a guest will want their $50 steak cooked to a “rare-medium rare”. If it’s not perfect, the guest complains, the steak is lost, and the cook has to prepare another one…hopefully to the guest’s satisfaction this time. The Grill Cook also has to be able to keep track of a dozen or more steaks all cooked to different temperatures and fired at different times. Plus properly grill tender seafood and vegetables.

Fry Cook
The Fry Cook is responsible for deep fried foods such as fish & chips, french fries, battered vegetables and so on. If it is a fish & chip restaurant then this may be a specific station. But often it is part of another cooks station such as the Pantry Cook, Grill Cook, or Saute Cook (usually Pantry).

Pantry Cook
This cook is in charge of the cold station on the Line including salads, cold appetizers, cold components of hot appetizers, cold soups, and sometimes plates desserts as well (if there is no Baker/Plater or Pastry Chef)

Tournant or Roundsman
One of the most skilled cooks in the kitchen, this person has worked all the stations and is able to jump in to Saute, Grill, Expo or wherever and help any station which is being slammed.

Breakfast Cook (Egg Cook)
This cook slings eggs…lots of them! Over-easy, over-medium, sunny side up, omelettes, eggs benedicts, scrambles, hashbrowns…if you like fast paced perfection then this is the station for you. Turn times are about 10 minutes or less and you will often have more eggs/omelettes to cook than you have space/pans to cook them in. I think every cook should have to be a breakfast cook for 6 months…especially on Sundays. It teaches a lot about how to flip items in a pan and multitasking.

Banquet Cook
A Banquet Cook works (obviously) in the banquet/catering kitchen and needs to be a versatile cook as food is prepared for a large variety of guests and occasions as well as for numbers of people ranging from a few dozen to thousands. Cuisine each week may range from Mediterranean, Italian, Asian, Brunch, Mexican, South American, Pacific Northwest, East Indian, Kosher, and so on.

Demi Chef or Demi Chef de Partie
This position isn’t used much in the US with the possible exception of some cruise ships. It is essentially the “Under Chef de Partie” or the Chef de Partie in training. In a very large operation you may have 1 Chef de Partie with 1 or more Demi Chefs needed in a station due to the volume of work.

Pastry Chef

The Pastry Chef is the dessert chef and specializes in desserts, pastries, breads, croissants, petit fours, chocolates, gourmet ice creams & sorbets, cakes and so on. It is an unfortunate reality that few establishments actually hire a Pastry Chef anymore because of tight labor restrictions and the availability of so many pre-made quality desserts through vendors such as Sysco and Petersons. In the modern kitchen, a true Pastry Chef is usually only found in upscale restaurants and hotels. A true Pastry Chef is knowledgeable in all the aforementioned pastry/dessert skills.

Baker, Dessert Plater
Although many restaurants may not have a true Pastry Chef, many may have a position for a Baker or Dessert Plater. This person may have some baking skills in specialized areas of dessert making such as cheesecakes, pies, cakes, cookies, etc. Or they may just have the role of plating and garnishing desserts.

The Original Brigade de Cuisine by Escoffier

Here is the original structure of the kitchen brigade designed by Chef Escoffier.

Kitchen Hierarchy

What are your thoughts about the modern kitchen brigade? What variations have you seen? Does it work?


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