The following guest post was contributed by Christiana Kim who frequently writes about Online Culinary Arts Degrees and college related topics for Online College Guru, an online college directory and comparison website.
The culinary field offers a wide array of positions for aspiring and experienced chefs. While a quality education in a culinary institute can substitute for some levels of experience, generally beginning chefs work their way up through the ranks, gaining knowledge, confidence, and experience along the way. Fine dining venues may assign different titles or responsibilities to their chefs, but generally, the career path follows a clearly delineated hierarchy.
Most chefs begin their careers as a humble apprentice, or commis chef, assisting the line cooks and chefs de partie by peeling vegetables, practicing knife skills, and learning the skills needed to succeed in the culinary world. This entry-level position offers a chance to experience the fast-paced restaurant business firsthand. Many well-known and respected chefs began their careers as lowly commis chefs.
Chef de Partie
The majority of chef jobs are found in this level of employment. Also referred to as station cooks or line cooks, chefs de partie are divided into a number of categories depending on their particular specialty. Not all restaurants staff each of these positions; often two or more jobs are incorporated into one individual’s responsibilities. The elements of a full brigade in the kitchen are:
- Tournant, or Swing Chef: Fills in as needed at any vacant station within the kitchen; this position requires a great deal of knowledge and flexibility.
- Boucher, or Butcher: These invaluable chefs prepare meat for cooking, butchering, breading, and handling all aspects of meat and poultry preparation.
- Garde Manger, or Pantry Chef: Cold items such as salads, chilled appetizers, and cold cuts are the responsibility of these chefs.
- Entremetier, or Vegetable Chef: Versatility is the key for these chefs, as they handle hot appetizers, vegetables, pastas, and side dishes to make the meal complete.
- Patissier, or Pastry Chef: Pastries, desserts, and breads are the responsibility of the pastry chef; this position is usually only available in larger restaurants and hotels.
- Potager, or Soup Chef: As the name suggests, the potager is responsible for all soups leaving the kitchen, hot or cold.
- Friturier, or Fry Chef: One of the most common positions throughout the restaurant industry, the friturier handles the frying of foods in the kitchen.
- Grillardin, or Grill Chef: The name is self-explanatory; the grill cook is responsible for grilling vegetables and meats for the meal.
- Rotisseur, or Roast Chef: These chefs roast and braise meats and create their accompanying sauces.
- Poissonier, or Fish Chef: Fish and seafood fall under the purview of these chefs, who handle the process completely from butchering to the finished dish.
- Saucier, or Saute Chef: These chefs are responsible for all sauteed dishes and their sauces; sauciers are considered the elite of the chefs de partie, and are accorded the highest respect among line chefs.
By demonstrating competence and culinary skill as a chef de partie, a chef can achieve the status of sous chef, the second-in-command in the kitchen. The sous chef oversees the daily running of the kitchen, combining the skills of a manager, a teacher, and a quality control technician. Sous chefs are usually responsible for ordering the stock for the restaurant and ensuring that all foods are of the highest quality.
The pinnacle of any chef’s career is achieving the rank of head chef in a prestigious restaurant. The head chef assumes complete control and responsibility for the food produced in his or her kitchen, and designs the menu and the recipes used by the chefs de partie. This position is usually the culmination of years of experience and hard work, and offers rewards commensurate with the high level of responsibility.