Chef Hierarchy

February 23, 2011 | By Paul Hegeman | Photography by: |

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  • Chef de Cuisine: A term used more so in larger restaurants, hotels and establishments with more than one location. This Chef is the CEO of the kitchen and often the restaurant. Not only are they the one who chooses the direction for the food and conceives the dishes for the menu but they are often the high profile Chef that the public will know, even though they are seldom in the kitchen and rarely cook.

Chef hierarchy

Sous Chef: Literally translated means “under Chef”

  • Executive Chef: The top of the kitchen management structure. If there is a Chef de Cuisine present, the Executive Chef reports only to them, but since only the largest establishments actually have a Chef de Cuisine, the executive Chef is usually the top. He or she is the visionary leader, responsible for conceiving menu ideas, creating recipes, establishing standards, controlling costs and performing many administrative tasks. Due to all these responsibilities, they do very little actual cooking.
  • Head Chef: The title given to the Executive Chef or Chef de Cuisine of a small to medium sized operation. He or she is responsible for planning menus, liaising with suppliers, controlling budgets and managing staff. Normally you would not find a Head Chef and an Executive Chef in the same establishment.
  • Sous Chef: Literally translated means “under Chef”. The Sous Chef is the second in charge. He or she is the hands on person; they do all the day to day management of the kitchen, are almost always in the kitchen and spend very little time in the office. They are regularly the most senior Chef in the kitchen and during busy periods often take the role of expeditor. The Sous Chef’s role as expeditor is to be the last checkpoint between kitchen and customer, ensuring that the restaurants high standard of food and timely delivery is being made. The Sous Chef might perform this role from the service side of the kitchen but may also do it while he or she cooks. The Sous Chef title can be preceded by the terms Executive, senior or junior, to designate a further specific hierarchy.
  • Chef de Partie: Literally translated means “Chef of Section” and refers to a Chef in charge of a certain section such as grill or saute. Again this is a term that can have precedents such as Senior or Junior.
  • Commis Chef: These guys and gals are the junior staff in the kitchen yet do most of the work. Chances are the food you eat in restaurants has in 9 out of 10 cases been prepared by them under the watchful eye of their seniors.
  • Apprentice/Trainee Chefs: These are the chefs that are technically in training, although really the training never stops as all Chefs tend to continue to learn from one another. The duties assigned to Apprentice Chefs can test a young Chefs mettle, but these same duties lead to a great appreciation for their career choice as they advance up the hierarchy.
  • Pastry Chef: Is the king or Queen of the pastry section; they are responsible for all those decadent and impressive desserts and sweets you find in hotels and restaurants. Although listed here beneath the Apprentice/Trainee Chef, this is not the case. Depending on the size of the operation the pastry section can have its own hierarchy within, however the whole section most likely still reports to the Sous and Executive Chefs. The pastry section or often the pastry kitchen is a world unto its own and is usually separated slightly from the main kitchen. Just as the section physically differs, so to do its inhabitants. Pastry Chefs are cut of the same cloth as most Chefs and can function under high pressure and at a quick pace but they often possess a higher level of patience.

Not all of the above terms will apply to all kitchens. As you can imagine a kitchen with only 3 staff has no need for a Chef de cuisine, an Executive Chef and a Senior Sous Chef.

The following titles refer to some of the many names given to chefs assigned to certain stations and not necessarily their place in the hierarchy.

  • Garde Manger Chef: Is responsible for the cold section and sometimes the pastry if there is no designated pastry chef.
  • Entre Metier Chef: Is responsible for the preparation of garnishes and vegetables.
  • Saucier Chef: Is responsible for sauteed items and most sauces.