Tweaking the Classical Brigade System to Fit the Modern Kitchen
The kitchen brigade system in its classical form is no longer implemented in most restaurant kitchens today. This is due to a sizable amount of compartmentalization in the food industry. The advent of processed and semi-processed ingredients has led to simplification in the food preparation process as well. The classical kitchen brigade is only deployed in large fine dining establishments that prepare even the most basic ingredients from scratch.
Modern kitchen brigade systems do not rely on an elaborate classification as that of the Escoffier brigade system, however, they still tend to stick to the hierarchical structure to provide greater efficiency and accountability in the kitchen.
If you’re wondering which chef created the brigade system, the answer leads us to 19th century France, where Auguste Escoffier formulated kitchen staff planning based on a military model. The legendary chef served in the French military and put in place a hierarchical structure to ensure activities function in an orderly fashion. The Escoffier brigade system originally had over 20 positions in a restaurant kitchen. This has however been cut short today due to most eateries catering to more casual patrons. We look at the various kitchen staff positions, and how the current brigade system can be tailored to fit a broad set of foodservice operations.
How is the Modern Kitchen Brigade System Different from the Original?
The classical brigade system had a multitude of positions to carry out various tasks in commercial kitchens. Fine dining was the only option available, and preparing full-course meals required several stations in the kitchen along with dedicated specialists that had their respective teams. Modern kitchens focus on niche markets, specific cuisines, and casual dining. Current restaurant kitchens are more scientific, and do not require the amount of manpower that was once necessary. This has reduced the number of people working in the kitchen.
The separation of industries such as meat processing from the kitchen has also removed butchers and fishmongers from the brigade system. Most modern kitchens don’t make everything from scratch anymore, also reducing the number of tasks. With the advent of portable kitchen equipment, food preparation and cooking processes have become simpler, and require only a single individual to operate these machines. With the declining popularity and reduced prevalence of long meals, the relevance of the classical brigade system has waned. However, keeping in mind the hierarchy, a deftly modeled modern brigade system can address all the concerns of a food service establishment. Taking this into account, modern kitchen brigades retain only the most important positions of the classical brigade system, cutting down the number of positions and overall staff.
Kitchen Staff & Positions in a Modern Restaurant Kitchen
Though fewer than its older variant, the modern kitchen brigade system still encompasses several types of chefs. They include:
- Executive Chef: Colloquially known as the head chef, this position is at the top of the hierarchy in the modern kitchen brigade system. Executive chefs oversee all the operations of the commercial kitchen. The title also has alternative interpretations. While simply put, it means the head chef of a commercial kitchen in a restaurant, it can also indicate the head of multiple kitchens. This is especially the case when it comes to hotels, institutions, and large conglomerates.
- Executive Sous Chef: The second-in-command at a commercial kitchen or the executive chef’s immediate subordinate is called the executive sous chef. The executive sous chef assists the executive chef in making sure everything runs smoothly in the kitchens they oversee. This position is commonly seen only in large commercial kitchens, corporate kitchens, resorts, hotels, and commercial restaurant chains.
- Chef de Cuisine: A chef that is responsible for the activities of one restaurant in the chain is called chef de cuisine. They ensure menu creation, recipe implementation, training, resource management, logistics, and inventory at a single commercial kitchen. Multiple chefs de cuisine report to executive sous chefs and executive chefs in a large establishment with more than one restaurant.
- Banquet Chef: These chefs are responsible for managing kitchens catering to banquets and other catered events. They’re often deployed in modern kitchen brigade systems used by commercial caterers, hospitality chains, and institutional kitchens organizing large-scale events. They’re considered on par with the position of chef de cuisine, albeit at events.
- Garde Manger: Garde Mangers handle all the cold food offerings in a kitchen. This includes salads, cold soups, ice carvings, charcuterie and sometimes even plating the cold dessert. These chefs are at the same level as chefs de cuisine in the hierarchy if the establishment has a dedicated salad bay.
- Pastry Chef: Pastry chefs specialize in desserts including cakes, pastries, chocolates, croissants, souffles, specialty ice creams, and sweetbreads. Pastry chefs are often limited to patisseries in the modern age, however, they’re also found in upscale restaurants and hotels that deploy the modern kitchen brigade system. They are at the same hierarchical level as the chef de cuisine in a large or commercial establishment.
- Sous Chef: The sous chef is second in command to the chef de cuisine, banquet chef, Garde manger, or pastry chef in a commercial kitchen. If the operation comprises a single restaurant only, the sous chef is second in command and reports to the executive chef. Sous chefs ensure all duties are fulfilled based on the executive chef’s orders. They might also fill in for the executive chef or the chef de cuisine in their absence.
- Chef de Partie: This position comes directly under the sous chef, and a chef de partie handles a given station in a restaurant kitchen. A chef de partie is also called a line cook or a station cook. They’re responsible for overseeing the prepping, cooking, and presentation of every food item created in their designated stations. They oversee the actions of the prep cooks.
- Prep Cooks: This is the starting position in the culinary arena and prep cooks are the gears that make the restaurant run smoothly. Performing the most basic tasks, they ensure everything is carried out correctly and according to the orders of their superiors. Prep cooks are of various types and they include fry cooks, grill cooks, sauciers, pantry cooks, platers, and bakers.
- Wheelman: The chef or cook that calls the incoming tickets is called the wheelman. The position is either rotated or assigned to different individuals in the modern kitchen brigade system. Wheelmen help coordinate the kitchen staff and the front house by monitoring the flow of plated food to the service window. Their responsibilities also include the final inspection of each dish and garnishing the item. This position is taken up by anyone ranging from the chef de cuisine to the chef de partie.
Common Combinations of the Kitchen Brigade System
Modern commercial kitchens and their versions of the brigade system include:
- Standalone Restaurants/ Hotels with only One Restaurant: These establishments usually have one executive chef and several station cooks. Such restaurants are focused on more generic menus and are on the lower end of the price range. They function on limited operations and require only a few employees.
- Large Restaurants/ Hotels with More than One Restaurant: Due to the large volume of operations in such foodservice establishments, they follow a more detailed variant of the kitchen brigade system. The kitchen staff includes an executive chef, a number of sous chefs, chefs de Partie, and prep cooks.
- Commercial Chains & Hotel Conglomerates: Such establishments implement a detailed variety of the kitchen brigade system to ensure military-grade planning and execution. They often deploy an executive chef, an executive sous chef, a number of chefs de cuisine, a number of sous chefs, several line cooks, and a large workforce of prep cooks, bakers, and platers.
While the Escoffier brigade system is not in practice anymore, the modern derivatives have streamlined processes in commercial kitchens of the 21st century. The strict confines of the positions in a restaurant kitchen ensure every task is carried out like clockwork and nothing is missed.