Who is Escoffier?
The creation of the kitchen 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.
The Mother Sauces
A few other things you may know Georges Auguste Escoffier for is the creation of the five French mother sauces. These sauces serve as the staring point for most sauces. The five French mother sauces are béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato. The five sauces are all equally important for your cooking repertoire, and they all have their own special uses. They’re simple to make with a few ingredients (mostly flour, butter, and some sort of liquid) and a couple easy techniques. This is the reason I love Escoffier, a good béchamel has such a special place in my heart!
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.
History of the Kitchen Brigade System
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.
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 culinary kitchen brigade, 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?
When I attended culinary school, I was taught about the history of classical French cooking. However, the classes themselves were more likely to use some type of abbreviated version of this system because modern kitchens have less space and need a higher level of specialization. If you take a look at the Organization Chart that Lucky Peach Magazine had back in 2015 one can see that there are a lot of people doing a lot of things in the kitchen.
Kitchen Brigade Organization Chart
But we all know times have changed, and restaurant kitchen staff structure are now much smaller and more specialized based on cuisine offered. This Kitchen Family Tree could look different by restaurant. What’s most important is the established clear hierarchy in a kitchen to maximize the efficiency of the workers.
Modern Day Kitchen Brigade
There are many other positions possible in a kitchen, and there are also duties that have not been covered here, such as dishwasher and others, that are needed for the functioning of a busy kitchen. This is just a sampling of how times have changed in the kitchen and what they have become as processes and size are streamlined.