The Kitchen Hierarchy: Do You Know Your Chefs?

While watching top reality cooking shows like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, and The Next Food Network Star, various kitchen titles are tossed around like Executive Chef, Sous Chef, and Line Cook, but do you really know what they mean? This is your quick and dirty guide to the hierarchy of who’s who in a top-level kitchen.

Certainly, not every restaurant uses exactly the same titles for the different roles in their kitchen, but the most generally accepted titles for leaders in the kitchen are traced primarily to Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), one of the foremost authorities on modern French cooking and cuisine. Those you are likely to find in a top-level establishment include:

  • Executive Chef – This is the manager of the kitchen responsible for supervision, creation of the menu, and the business side of the kitchen. An executive chef obviously is very experienced in cooking, but their day to day work may involve very little hands-on cooking.
  • Chef de Cuisine – This is the hands-on individual in charge of everything going on in the kitchen. Sometimes a chef de cuisine may be the individual in charge of one location of a chain, or related set, of restaurants. Also, the titles executive chef and chef de cuisine may sometimes be used interchangeably.
  • Sous Chef – The sous chef is second in line in the kitchen. Also, a sous chef may be in charge of the kitchen when the executive chef or chef de cuisine is absent. Conversely, the sous chef may take over for any of the line cooks that may be missing.
  • Expediter or Announcer – This is the individual who serves as liaison between the dining room and the kitchen. The expediter announces orders as well as checking dishes before they are taken into the dining room. Gordon Ramsay frequently serves in this role on Hell’s Kitchen.
  • Chef de Partie or Line Cook – Each of these chefs or cooks are in charge of a particular portion of the kitchen’s service. Among the line cooks in the traditional French brigade system:
    • Saute Chef – Responsible for all sauces and sauteed items. This is traditionally the top position among chefs de partie.
    • Fish Chef – All of the fish dishes and the butchering and fabrication of the fish as well.
    • Roast Chef – The responsibility for all roasted and braised meats.
    • Grill Chef – This role may be combined with the roast chef and is responsible for all grilled foods.
    • Fry Chef – As the title implies, this position is responsible for all fried items.
    • Vegetable Chef – This chef is usually responsible for all the vegetables, soups, pastas, and starches. This is one of the roles most likely to have other cooks underneath the head chef.
    • Roundsman – A chef who may work in any area and fill in wherever needed.
    • Cold-Foods Chef – This position is sometimes referred to as pantry chef and is in charge of cold salads, appetizers, pates, etc.
    • Butcher – Responsible for butchering and fabricating meat and poultry, but often leaves fish to the fish chef.
    • Pastry Chef – Holds the responsibility for baked goods, pastries, and sweets. This is another position that may have several other cooks underneath the head chef.

The next time you turn on Hell’s Kitchen, amaze your friends with your thorough knowledge of who’s who in the kitchen. For another look at kitchen hierarchy, check out the official certifications offered by the American Culinary Federation.