Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s no way you’ve missed the proliferation of food culture into everyday life over in the last ten years. Whether you’ve worked in a restaurant, or seen the likes or Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver on television, you may have noticed a few references to the brigade de cuisine. Think this is the first time you’re hearing about it? Have you ever spoken to a maître d’ or heard the term sous-chef? Then you are already familiar with the brigade, and, no doubt, have experienced its effect first hand. The brigade is a system of hierarchy found in restaurants and hotels, usually referred to as the kitchen staff.

Most people—especially fans of Julia Child and Jacques Pépin—are all too familiar with the important contributions French cuisine has had on the rest of the western world. But most are not aware of the far reaching nature of those contributions. Almost every professional kitchen, and some home kitchens, employs some version of the brigade de cuisine system. The system was brought into being by Georges Auguste Escoffier, oft called the father of modern French cuisine, on the cusp of the 1900s. The purpose of the brigade de cuisine was to do exactly what its militarized name implies, introduce organized discipline to his kitchens. Under this system, each position has a station and defined responsibilities; a few of those positions are outlined below:

  • The Chef de cuisine (kitchen chef; literally “chief of kitchen”) is responsible for all kitchen operations, including ordering, supervision of all stations, and development of menu items. He or she also may be known as the executive chef.
  • The Sous-chef de cuisine (deputy kitchen chef; literally “sub-chief”) is second in command, answers to the chef, may be responsible for scheduling, fills in for the chef, and assists the station chefs (or line cooks) as necessary.
  • The Poissonnier (fish cook) prepares fish and seafood dishes.
  • The Plongeur (dishwasher) cleans dishes and utensils, and may be entrusted with basic preparatory jobs.

It should be noted, however, that in smaller operations, the classic system is generally abbreviated and responsibilities are organized so as to make the best use of workspace and talents. In my time working at popular chain restaurants (a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) I have seen this system, as well as been a part of it, changed as it may have been. I don’t think classic French cuisine ever elicited a need for a position on the brigade known as “taco/salad,” but there I was, all the same, preparing tacos, nachos, and salads alongside the grill station and the fry station.

So, next time you decide to have a night out on the town, or hear the phrase “Yes, Chef!” shouted respectfully, if not hurriedly, from the television, keep in mind the rich history and cross cultural influence of the French and their army of cuisiniers.

Whether from working in a kitchen or channel surfing, have you come across evidence of the brigade de cuisine?