Discipline, Precision, and Cleanliness
An admiration of Chef Escoffier and his brigade de cuisine
Armed with a full complement of knives and dressed in protective coats and hats, the kitchen brigade is culinary strike team posed to battle hunger. Chef Escoffier’s brigade de cuisine standard borrows heavily from military hierarchy.
Escoffier’s Kitchen Brigade
Strictly speaking, a brigade is a collection of battalion sub-groups. The Oxford Dictionary calls a brigade “an organization with a specific purpose, typically with a military or quasi-military structure.” A modern kitchen brigade enjoys many similarities with its military cousin, namely by providing a structure in a restaurant that defines who cooks what when.
While widely known as a talented chef and culinary writer who codified French haute cuisine in the late 19th Century - particularly the recipes for the five “mother sauces” - Chef Georges Auguste Escoffier’s contributions left an indelible mark on food and how it was to be prepared. His formal kitchen organizational structure known as the brigade de cuisine is marked by strict hierarchy and a focus on precision, discipline, and cleanliness. It is often still a standard in many restaurant kitchens today.
Meet the Brigade
The brigade de cuisine is very regimented and hierarchical; those at the top command the kitchen while delegating with increasing specificity to the position below. Here is the basic outline of the structure:
The Chef de Cuisine (or Executive Chef) has the ultimate responsibility for management of the kitchen, including menu development, staff training, and foodstuff purchases.
The Sous Chef de Cuisine (or Deputy Chef) helps to execute the vision and directions of the Chef de Cuisine and are much more involved in the day-to-day operations of the kitchen.
The Chef de Partie (or Station Chef) helps to coordinate the activities and production of one or more stations within the kitchen environment. In an average restaurant, there are several chefs each responsible for their own station: boucher/meat preparation; poissonnier/fish; saucier/sauces; pâtissier/pastries, and so on.
The Commis (or Junior Chefs) work under a Chef de Partie to better learn the specifics of their station. In time, they will rise through the ranks
And no kitchen is complete without the Escuelerie (or Dishwasher). They are the true unsung heroes of the brigade.
From kitchen to battlefield, and back again
Escoffier developed his brigade structure based on his early life experience as an apprentice in Le Restaurant Français, his uncle’s restaurant in Nice. He eventually moved to Paris but was called into military service as an army chef for nearly seven years. His service culminated as chef de cuisine of the Rhine Army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
Ultimately Escoffier and restaurant partner César Ritz practically invented the culture of fine dining outside the home. Through his ingenuity and strict control of the kitchen, Escoffier brought aristocrats out of their dining rooms and into the Ritz and Savoy Hotels thus setting the standard for an opulent table that still resonates today.
Perhaps it is because I am not a highly structured person myself that I appreciate all that Escoffier has managed to accomplish. To create a structure that not only brought him and his partners great personal success, but also led to a culture of fine dining that persists to this day is a feat that I can only deeply admire.
Would you rather master the kitchen as chef de cuisine, hone your skills as a saucier, or specialize as a pâtissier or boulanger?
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