Most people never see an insider’s view of the restaurant industry. This week, I’m giving you a peek into one hidden aspect: the hierarchy (next week’s column will have juicy details!). The French Brigade de Cuisine kitchen hierarchy is adhered to in restaurants worldwide. All professional culinary schools teach both French cuisine as well as this traditional system of keeping order in the kitchen. The Brigade de Cuisine enables kitchen workers trained in small towns in Europe, Asia, South America—really, any restaurant following the French system—to work successfully anywhere on Earth.
The hierarchy organization chart has a simple pyramid shape, with one chef at the top and multiple positions at the bottom. A common language isn’t as necessary as knowing your position, place and responsibility in the kitchen. The Brigade de Cuisine sets down rigid rules dictating the duties of each role. Even culinary school graduates start off near the bottom. Well, not the very bottom. They get to skip ahead of the dishwasher (Escuelerie) and kitchen porters (the lowest rank, which includes minimal food-handling duties, such as potato-peeling).
Sometimes culinary graduates skip ahead of the Commis and start immediately as a Chef de Partie, or Station Chef. Each Chef de Partie is responsible for running a specific section of the kitchen, including Saucier (Sauce Chef, the highest ranking of the Chefs de Partie, who reports directly to the Sous Chef), Butcher, Fish Chef, Garde Manger (cold food preparation, such as salads), Grill Chef and Pastry Chef. In charge of all these Chefs de Partie is the Sous Chef (second-in-command chef) who runs the kitchen’s daily operations. The Chef de Cuisine (Head Chef) presides over the Sous Chef and controls the entire kitchen. The Chef de Cuisine manages the kitchen staff, creates menus, controls kitchen costs and interacts with suppliers.
A dish that seems simple to you—the Eater—probably had three or four stations contribute to its success. The Garde Manger might’ve created the side salad, the Grill Chef cooked the meat, and the Saucier cooked up the delicate sauce atop your entrée.
Waiters also appear in the pyramid—especially when they prepare dishes tableside. Classically, this waiter is called a Chef de Rang, and may prepare a Caesar salad or flambé desserts as you watch. When you realize the Chef de Rang is doing things in the dining room similar to things done in the kitchen, you wonder about the differences in … wait! That’s next week’s column!
Meanwhile, here’s a traditional dish prepared tableside by a Chef de Rang: Steak au Poivre. Try it at home for your guests. Say … it could be your Company Meal! (Of course you read last month’s column).
CHEF BILL'S STEAK AU POIVRE
• 4 beef tournedos
• 4 tablespoons peppercorns, cracked
• 2 ounces butter, clarified
• 4 ounces cognac or rum
• 3 ounces red wine
• 6 ounces beef broth
• 1 bay leaf
• 3 thyme sprigs
• 1 tablespoon tarragon, minced
• 1 knob of butter
• Salt to taste
1. Press peppercorns in the filets’ two cut sides; season with salt.
2. Sear beef in clarified butter. Remove, keep warm (should still be rare).
3. Remove pan from heat, deglaze with cognac, return and flame.
4. Add beef broth, thyme and bay leaf. Simmer reduce by half.
5. Add heavy cream, reduce to a loose nape.
6. Return beef; reduce sauce to a proper nape.
7. Remove beef to a platter. Remove and discard bay leaf and thyme.
8. Shine the sauce with butter, add tarragon. Adjust seasoning and sauce the beef.