You’re unlikely to come across a lot of French job titles during your quest for employment. Unless you’re a chef – cue the French Brigade system (or Brigade de cuisine). All modern professional kitchens run according to a strict hierarchy, with the French Brigade system in order to ensure the whole operation runs as smooth as possible. The structure varies slightly depending on the size and style of the restaurant, however, as a chef, it’s important to know and understand the many positions held within a professional kitchen. Even if you’re not a chef, knowing what ‘sous chef’ means is a sure fire way to impress your friends while watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.
Only the largest establishments have an Executive Chef, and it is primarily a management role. They do very little cooking!
‘Chef de Cuisine’ is the traditional French term. The head chef generally controls the whole kitchen, from managing kitchen staff and controlling kitchen costs to liaising with suppliers and creating the menus.
Second in command and translated, it literally means ‘under chef.’ The role typically overlaps with the head chef’s, but the sous chef tends to be more hands-on and actively involved in the day-to-day running of the kitchen. The sous chef also fills in for the head chef when they are off, as well as for a chef de partie when needed. Some smaller kitchens may not even have a sous chef, while larger operations can have more than one. There are also a few variations that can precede the title to further specify hierarchy including executive, junior or senior.
Chef de Partie (aka Station Chef, Line Chef, Line Cook)
Each chef de partie is responsible for running a specific section of the kitchen and they are usually the only worker in that department, although in some larger kitchens each station chef may well have several assistants.
A commis is a junior member of staff that works under a chef de partie in order to learn the ins and outs of a specific station. These are often people that have recently completed, or are still undertaking, formal culinary training.
Kitchen Porter (Kitchen Assistant or Kitchenhand)
These are workers that assist with rudimentary tasks within the kitchen, and are less likely to have any formal culinary training. Tasks include basic food preparation such as washing salad and peeling potatoes, in addition to basic cleaning duties.