A Chef Here, A Chef There, Chefs, Chefs Everywhere!

You are in a 5-star restaurant, seated at a table set with pristine tablecloths and napkins (how do they fold them so fancifully?). The bone china plates are gleaming, as well as the many kinds of glassware sitting on the table, surrounded by beautifully polished silverware (no stainless steel here!). The wait staff hover by your elbow, in anticipation of your slightest whim. How could anything be more perfect? But wait! What is that organized chaos you can see when the kitchen doors swing open? It is WHAT?!?!! It is a positive human ant colony, running in every combination known to man. Some ants are chopping vegetables while others are artistically assembling decadent chocolate desserts. One is laboriously stirring a huge pot containing some exotic sauce. As quickly and as diligently the worker ants are toiling, there is someone of supreme authority and sheer talent standing in the middle of the kitchen, always screaming at one ant or another for the smallest infraction of the kitchen rules or protocol. What is this convoluted society? Yes, it is the Master Chef and his minions, turning out extraordinary entrees and desserts to the sophisticated diners who are beginning to get restless. Get the food on the table! Now!!

So now you have had a good glimpse into a working kitchen. Is there any organization to it or to its workers? You bet your bippy there is.

Let us start at the top of the chef’s ladder and work ourselves down to ground level. The Boss Ant, or the Chef de Cuisine, is the ruling force of the kitchen. He is the one who makes all the creative decisions, including taking responsibility for what food will be chosen and how it is to be cooked. Generally speaking, he is a high profile celebrity, giving the restaurant his personality. He is not in the kitchen very often but in an emergency, will step down from his dais and actually cook.

The next step down is the Executive Chef. He is part of the top management structure of his restaurant. He is primarily one who is a pencil pusher. He plans the menus, makes recipes, and manages matters financial. He cooks occasionally. Most of the time the Executive Chef replaces the Chef de Cuisine. Unless the restaurant is a huge enterprise, there really is no need for a Chef de Cuisine when, in reality, the Executive Chef is qualified to do it all, including hiring and firing.

Now we come to the next rung down on our ladder. The Sous Chef is a very busy person. Despite his title, he is entrusted with all kinds of responsibilities from deciding on the daily specials (what kind of vegetable was bought in too great a quantity yesterday?), doing inventory, supervising the staff, and taking care of whatever responsibilities are hanging there in kitchen limbo. He may have aspirations one day of owning his own restaurant upon which to mold his personality. He looks to the future.

The Expediter is the liaison between the paying guests and the line cooks. He makes sure a table gets all its food simultaneously. He is the one who soothes ruffled feathers, no matter which side of the kitchen passthrough counter. He needs to be on top of things at all times.

A step further down are the Station Chefs or Chefs de Partie who are in charge of various food stations. It is their job to keep on schedule. The Sauce Chef or Saucier does sauces, stews, and hot hors d’oeuvres. He sautés dishes to order and is the highest link of the chefs de partie. Fish dishes come from the Fish Cook of Poissonier. The Vegetable Cook or Entremetier is responsible for preparing vegetables, soups, starches, and eggs. (Funny - you would think the soups would come from the saucier. Oh,well.) Roasted and braised meats come from the Roast Cook or Rotisseuer, along with gravies and broiled meats. If a kitchen is a large enough enterprise, there might be a separate Broiler Cook or Grillardin who will also deep fry meats and fish. Next to last in this category is the Pantry Chef or Garde Manger who does cold foods such as salads and dressings, patés, cold hors d’oeuvres, or buffet items. Finally comes the Pastry Chef or Patissier who is responsible for desserts and pastries, often in an area of the kitchen where it is cooler and there is less of a chance of anyone accidentally bumping into fragile and delicate spun sugar or a soufflé that is already to collapse on its own.

We have descended the chef’s ladder all the way down to the worker ants or Line Cooks. Theses industrious people are the ones who can make or break a meal for they alone are left responsible for prep work like chopping vegetables into a million tiny pieces.

One last thought: Chefs wear snowy white chef’s jackets and an equally white toque to sit on his head. Why is it you never see a chef coming out to speak to the patrons in the dining room with a jacket splashed with some sticky sauce? I cannot even eat spaghetti without it adorning me from head to toe. Not fair!!!

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About The Author, Terry Kaufman
Terry Kaufman is Chief Editorial Writer for http://www.niftykitchen.com, http://www.niftyhomebar.com, and http://www.niftygarden.com.©2006 Terry Kaufman. No reprints without permission.