Escoffier’s Kitchen Brigade System
Have you ever ordered dinner in a really nice restaurant, and when it comes you wonder how in the world they got it all to your table, hot and looking perfect, at the same time? And, if you had several courses, how everything was timed perfectly?
Better yet, have ever tried to duplicate it in your own kitchen? If you have never been to culinary school, you know how hard it is to get a meal perfectly timed. Think about a big family holiday dinner.
Do you find yourself having to keep the vegetables and meat hot while you mash the potatoes and make gravy simultaneously—and when you serve it you have dry meat, overdone veggies, lumpy mashed potatoes and decent gravy?
The Kitchen Brigade System
In the 1800’s, a French chef, Chef Escoffier, invented the “Kitchen Brigade System.” This system is still used in many restaurants and kitchens.
It streamlines kitchen duties, avoids duplication of efforts and keeps everybody out of everybody else’s way. It’s how they are able to serve perfectly prepared food every time.
You may not be able to completely duplicate the Kitchen Brigade System in your kitchen, but if you understand it, you’ll at least know what it takes to get a meal together. And there may be parts of the system that you can adapt in your kitchen to make your meals even more successful than they already are.
The Chef is the head honcho, the person who is in charge of the kitchen and everything that happens there, from ordering food to hiring staff to creating menus and specialty dishes. Chef is technically a title of respect. It is earned by experience, knowledge, skills, training and reputation. Other titles for the Chef are Chef de Cuisine or Executive Chef.
The Sous Chef is the second in charge. He is first assistant, sort of the Chef’s “Number One” (if you’re a Trekkie). One of the Sous chef’s major responsibilities is to make sure your order is perfect when it comes to your table. He is the one who oversees everything so that it all comes together perfectly at the exact right time.
Chef de Partie or Line Cooks
Under the Chef and Sous Chef are several other cooks or chefs who have specific responsibilities. They are also called the Chef de Partie or Line Cooks.
The sauté chef has the hardest station. He makes hors d’oeuvers, stews and sautéed dishes and sauces.
The rotisseur, or Roast Cook, cooks roasts, braised dishes and broiled meats and the sauces that go with them.
The poissonier or fish cook takes care of all fish dishes.
The friturier or Fry Cook handles all fried foods.
The entremetier or Vegetable Cook is in charge of vegetable dishes, pastas and hot appetizers.
The chef de garde manger or Pantry Manager takes care of all the cold foods, such as salads, cheeses, sandwiches and cold appetizers.
The Pastry Chef has the yummiest job, of course, and takes care of all baked goods and desserts.
Some kitchens have a tournant, or Swing Cook, who helps out wherever he or she is needed. In smaller kitchens, one person may cover several stations. For instance, one cook may be in charge of vegetables and sauces, or the Pantry Manager may also be the Pastry Chef. The jobs can be combined in any way that makes sense, and gets the job done.
Really makes you appreciate what it takes to get a meal to the table, doesn’t it? And, of course, you don’t have seven or eight people to help you get dinner together, so it gives you a great excuse—you can tell your family that you have to do the work of eight people in the kitchen, so just shut up and eat.
You can use this information to help you be a better cook, though. Of course you don’t have professional cooks helping you; if you did, there wouldn’t be a problem. But there are things you can do that will streamline your kitchen.
Streamlining Your Kitchen
The first thing you can do is to set up stations, where the things you need to prepare certain dishes are all together. Many people have a baking station in the kitchen, where baking equipment and ingredients are easily accessible in one place. You can do that with anything.
You can have a sauté station, where you store oils and skillets and pans and seasonings. You can have a vegetable station, where everything you need to prepare vegetable dishes is handy. It will save you time and effort, and that will result in great meals with all the elements perfectly prepared.
The third thing you can do is to recruit help. Even if you just have someone else make the salad while you finish the vegetables, it will help get everything to the table prepared just the way you want it to be. And if you have a “salad station,” everything they need will be in one place, and your helper won’t get in your way while you’re cooking.
You are the Executive Chef in your kitchen. Using the Kitchen Brigade system can make you a better Chef and make your kitchen more efficient.
Read, Read and Read Some MoreOne of the best suggestions I have for anyone thinking of going to culinary school or just getting into the restaurant industry is to read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from professional chefs who have worked in the industry and those who have taught in culinary schools.
There are many great books available to get you started in your culinary education and I suggest you read as much as possible before making that big decision to make sure this is the right move for you. Below is just a sample of books you might be interested in checking out.
For a much more comprehensive list of books for aspiring culinary, baking and restaurant management students, I suggest checking out my post on books for future culinary students and chefs.