The creation of the brigade system is credited to Georges Auguste Escoffier. After serving in the French army, he brought his military hierarchy experience to a hotel kitchen in the 1800s. The goal of the system was to streamline the kitchen duties and facilitate in the prevention of chaos.
During the 1800s, grand sized hotels started to become popular. And with grand sized hotels, they needed grand sized kitchens to feed all the patrons. With such large kitchens a system of hierarchies had to be established to aid in the daily production of food. Every station in the restaurant was identified and cooks were put in each place.
Over the years, kitchens and budgets have gotten smaller, and labor prices are much more expensive. Modifications of the system have been made for modern times. The structure is capable of being adapted to whatever size staff available and is still used to this day.
When the brigade system was first developed the organization chart looked similar to this chart I found from Alan F Harrison, Gastronomy – Volume 2 – Chefs in 1967:
To make a comparison of this with today’s restaurants, I went to a local Austin restaurant. They had an open, theater style kitchen and I ate my meal at the chef’s counter seating, where I had a front row view to observe all the kitchen happenings. In today’s kitchens, it is quite difficult to determine who does what. We have definitely mastered the fine art of multiple jobs from one person. From what I could see, I knew they had an Executive Chef, a Chef de Cuisine, and a Chef Patissier. I could also guess they had a Sous Chef, Chef Garde Manger (pantry chef, in charge of cold salads, appetizers, etc), A Chef Poissonier (Fish Chef), A Chef Grillardin (Grilled foods) and possibly a Chef Friturier (Fried items). It also appeared they had a few Commis (apprentices) and kitchen assistants.
Even in an open kitchen where you can see what everyone is doing, it’s hard to tell exactly what is their specific job. If you just saw the photographs from the restaurant could you identify what each person does in their brigade?