The kitchen is the beating heart of any food establishment. It’s where all the behind-the-scenes magic happens, and that’s in large part due to the lineup of specialized chefs who create and prepare dishes.
I worked in a restaurant for a long time, and I can say, without question, that the kitchen was often more stressful than dealing with customers. The combination of heat, raised voices, sizzling stations, and the expediter rattling off orders at top speed was often dizzying and overwhelming.
But if you’ve never experienced the inner workings of a restaurant, you might not realize just how complex the kitchen can be. Some restaurants might have one or two line cooks and an expediter.
Still, many have an entire brigade de cuisine responsible for every bite of food that makes its way to the dining room.
If you want to become a chef someday, you’ll have to know the different roles. So, who makes up the critical kitchen lineup? Let’s take a look.
The executive chef is at the top of the kitchen hierarchy.
This is who runs the managerial side of the kitchen operation, including scheduling, writing purchase orders, creating menus, and overseeing all kitchen staff.
Not all restaurants have a chef executif. Fine dining restaurants are more likely to have an entire hierarchy of chefs, including an executive chef.
However, smaller establishments might have a head chef or a person who is a combination of multiple roles. In some cases, that person might simply be the owner.
Executive chef and head chef are often used interchangeably, but not always. When a restaurant has both, the roles vary quite a bit.
However, when an executive chef is present, that person is the highest-ranking member of the kitchen staff.
The head chef, or chef de cuisine, falls between the sous and executive chefs in the kitchen hierarchy.
Their function fluctuates quite a bit. In smaller establishments, the role might be used interchangeably with an executive or sous chef.
When a kitchen has a head chef, that person will often bounce between the cook line and management – like the executive chef, the head chef will help develop menu items, lead kitchen staff, and may or may not jump behind the line now and then.
Some choose to have a more hands-on role, while others will leave the line to the sous chef.
The kitchen’s second in command is a sous chef or sous-chef de cuisine. They work directly under the head and/or executive chef.
However, since the executive chef oversees the whole kitchen, the sous chef will run the cook line and perform other integral kitchen duties in their absence.
A few of the sous chef’s duties include scheduling kitchen staff, helping create menu items, and training new line members.
In addition, they’re responsible for quality control and ensuring the cook line is running like a well-oiled machine.
Some restaurant workers might consider the sous chef the most critical role in the kitchen because they need to know and fully understand how each area of the kitchen works. This is because now and then, they might have to jump in and take over for someone else.
Also, in many restaurants, the sous chef and the expediter are the same person. If you’ve ever seen an expediter in action, you’ll know how nerve-wracking their job can be.
If you’ve ever peeked inside a commercial kitchen, you probably noticed the person behind the line calling out orders to the chefs and waitstaff.
This person is the expediter, and their responsibility is to control the kitchen workflow. Very often, this role falls to the sous chef.
This person is the go-between for servers and chefs. When a server sends back an order, the expediter will direct the appropriate chefs to start cooking. When the servers pick up the food, the expediter ensures they grab the right items.
The expediter is an incredibly demanding position that requires focus, the ability to prioritize, and, most importantly, the ability to work under pressure.
They’ll also need to have an intimate knowledge of all menu items, including cook time and any special requirements items might have.
The roundsman goes by many names. You might hear them called the chef de tournant, swing cook, or relief cook.
The roundsman’s job is to relieve the other chefs behind the line. This is the jack-of-all-trades in the kitchen.
The roundsman is a step below the sous chef. They need to be well-versed in each area of the kitchen and able to adapt at a moment’s notice.
When someone calls out, the roundsman needs to be prepared to jump into their role without hesitation.
Like a commis chef, a roundsman is in an excellent position to work their way up the ranks to sous or head chef.
Knowing the ins and outs of each station is an invaluable skill and absolutely essential in kitchen leadership.
The saucier is the hot food counterpart to the pantry chef. An alternative name is the sauté chef.
This position is a part of the cook line, and they create hot sauces, appetizers, and soups. They’re also responsible for sautéed dishes.
Due to the intricacy of many of the food items a saucier is responsible for, this is a high-ranking position.
They’re second to the sous chef and either third or fourth in rank, depending on whether there’s a head and executive chef.
A pastry chef, or pâtissier, is one of many station chefs in a kitchen. This person is responsible for everything related to pastries and baking and typically has an eye for aesthetics.
They’ll also have a larger hand in developing dessert menus. You’ll find them in cafes, bistros, fine dining restaurants, and hotels.
Pastry chefs typically do their baking and dessert prep during the day or early morning hours before service starts.
Then, the dishes will get plated up by other station chefs or waitstaff during service.
Other pastry chef duties include developing menu items, training staff on proper presentation, and ensuring the quality of ingredients.
The grill chef, or grillardin, is a line chef responsible for preparing all grilled food items, such as steaks or chicken.
Although the bulk of grilled foods is meat, the grill chef will be in charge of any foods that require grilling.
Like other line station positions, the grill chef will have few to no managerial duties.
However, since they’ll require an intimate knowledge of meat cuts, they’ll likely have a close relationship with the butcher chef.
Another chef who focuses mainly on meats is the roast chef or rotisseur.
Any braised menu items will also fall under the roast chef’s umbrella. Roasted and braised meats are cooked slowly in the oven and require specialized techniques to get just right.
The roast chef will have very few responsibilities outside the cook line. However, in some restaurants, they might have a hand in coordinating with local suppliers and developing menu items.
They’re often in charge of creating the sauces that go with specific roasts, too.
The butcher chef, or boucher, handles all raw meat-related operations in the kitchen.
This generally includes splitting, trimming, deboning, and carving whole cuts of meat as they come into the restaurant.
Butcher chefs generally don’t do much if any cooking. However, they’re often in charge of preparing meat for cooking.
In addition, some butcher chefs will be in charge of creating and placing orders and assisting with developing recipes.
The pantry chef might sound like someone who fetches ingredients, but their job is much more complex.
Also called the chef garde manger, this is the chef in charge of cold dishes.
Cold dishes include soups, salads, canapés, and pâtés. Presentation is a large part of the pantry chef’s job.
So when you come across intricately carved vegetables, ice sculptures, and house-made dressing or ceviche, you can thank the pantry chef.
The pantry chef typically doesn’t have many managerial duties. However, in larger establishments, they might have garde manger staff.
The fry chef, or friturier, is the line chef in charge of all fried foods. Specifically, this chef runs the deep fryer, while other chefs will take care of things that need to be pan-fried.
In fine-dining restaurants, the fry chef might not have a huge role. However, in fast food or establishments that serve a lot of fried food, the fry chef can have one of the busiest roles behind the line.
One of the main things a fry chef needs to know is cook times. Fried foods vary in terms of how long they take to cook, and getting that crispy golden color just right is often critical.
Since these foods are usually accompaniments, timing is everything. The fry chef will also ensure the frying oil is clean and at the right temperature.
Known traditionally as the poissonnier, the fish chef is responsible for preparing all fish dishes on the menu, including entrees, soups, and appetizers.
In larger establishments, the fish chef will remain strictly with fish dishes. However, in smaller restaurants, you might find them preparing the accompaniments for fish. This includes sauces, stocks, and soups.
In addition to preparing fish dishes, the fish chef will also be responsible for selecting and acquiring fish.
This requires them to develop relationships with local fishmongers and markets. Coincidentally, fishmongers are also considered poissonniers.
The entremetier station in a kitchen is home to the vegetable chef or chefs. This is the person in charge of preparing all veggie dishes, including sides and mains.
You’ll find them along the cook line with the other station chefs. However, they won’t have any managerial or supervisor duties, aside from potentially helping the sous chef train newcomers.
In small or medium-sized restaurants, there’s generally only one vegetable chef.
However, larger restaurants might employ multiple chefs, such as a potager in charge of soups, and a legumiere, who only handles vegetables.
Commis chefs are what you might think of when you think of typical line cooks. These chefs work under station chefs as trainees or apprentices to expand their skills in the kitchen.
Duties for a commis chef include assisting the station chefs, rotating stock, and other minor duties.
The commis chef is the lowest ranking staff member in the commercial kitchen hierarchy.
In most cases, a commis chef works their way up the ladder to higher chef positions.
Anyone who hopes to become a sous chef or roundsman one day would likely make the rounds as a commis chef to better understand all kitchen and cook line areas.