What’s the secret to a kitchen that works efficiently and produces consistent dishes? Military-like teamwork. The French, who pioneered the modern restaurant experience during the French Revolution, formed their back-of-house (BOH) teams like army brigades.
In the kitchen brigade system, a military-like hierarchy creates a line of command. Each team member has a specific role that they fulfill with utmost precision. The system creates order and maximizes productivity. While the kitchen brigade system is less widely used in its full form today, it’s still the basis of most restaurant kitchen teams.
If you’ve organized your kitchen staff ad hoc and are finding problems with their performance, you may want to consider adopting the brigade system. We’re going to show you the ins and outs of the system so that you can decide whether it makes sense for your restaurant. This guide to the kitchen brigade system will cover:
- What is a kitchen brigade system
- The benefits of using the kitchen brigade system in your restaurant
- The kitchen brigade system’s hierarchy
- An exhaustive list of kitchen jobs in the brigade
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What is a kitchen brigade system?
The kitchen brigade system, also known as the “brigade de cuisine”, is a framework for hiring and organizing restaurant kitchen staff to maximize efficiency. In the system, everyone has a specific and useful role, which helps the kitchen run like a well-oiled machine.
The full brigade consists of more than 20 kitchen jobs including an executive chef, sous chef, and multiple types of chefs de partie (line cooks) who oversee particular stations. Examples of line cooks in the full brigade de cuisine include a potager, who oversees the soups, a poissonnier, who is responsible for seafood dishes, and a pâtissier, who oversees the pastry program.
The kitchen brigade system has roots in fine dining. Today, it’s less commonly seen in its entirety due to the proliferation of more casual restaurant concepts.
Even though the brigade de cuisine was intended for full-service restaurants (FSRs), its legacy can be found even at fast food concepts. Fast food kitchens have stations for frying, grilling and assembling dishes and they hire line cooks to work these stations and maximize efficiency.
History of the kitchen brigade system
The kitchen brigade system was created in the 19th century by Georges-Auguste Escoffier, a chef who is responsible for revolutionizing French cuisine. Escoffier, who was a protégé of Marie-Antoine Carême, the father of French cooking, became famous for modernizing and simplifying the French cuisine codified by his mentor.
Escoffier’s special touch was applying French army principles to the kitchen. He based the brigade system on his experience working as a chef in the French military.
What are the benefits of having a kitchen brigade in your restaurant?
The kitchen brigade system has numerous benefits for restaurants. While fine dining establishments usually adopt the brigade system most strictly, even more casual restaurants can benefit from its hierarchy.
“Kitchen brigade systems help create hierarchy and delineate responsibilities in what can be an informal and casual working environment,” explained Ellen Eamon, general manager of Montréal restaurant Elena.
Lindsay Brennan, co-owner of Tinc Set, seconds that sentiment. “A kitchen brigade system is important to create an efficient, organized and cohesive team,” she added.
So, instead of having a BOH team in which everyone has the same level of seniority and members execute tickets based on availability, the brigade system creates order. There is an executive chef or chef de cuisine who oversees the team. Then there are line cooks who man stations and contribute to different dishes, rather than creating dishes on their own from start to finish. This system ensures that line cooks perfect the techniques that they focus on, which maximizes efficiency and consistency.
But this system is useful for more than just teamwork. The brigade system “is also an effective tool to create an incentive for staff members to commit to the team and to see a clear path for future development within the company,” Brennan says.
The system helps “create a clear framework for moving up in the restaurant [like] a junior sous chef being promoted to sous chef,” explained Eamon.
There is a lot to gain from using the brigade de cuisine system in your restaurant.
What is the hierarchy in a kitchen brigade?
Like a general is the head of the army, an executive chef is the head of the kitchen in a restaurant. According to the kitchen brigade system, the chef de cuisine is second-in-command to the executive chef. However, sometimes restaurants will have either an executive chef OR a chef de cuisine, rather than both positions. Below the chef de cuisine is the sous chef de cuisine (colloquially known as the sous chef).
Below the sous chef are the line cooks, or chefs de partie, who are in charge of various stations in the kitchen. Some stations may have several types of chefs working at them. For example, the pastry team may consist of a pâtissier (pastry chef), boulanger (baker), and glacier (someone who specializes in making frozen desserts). Commis chefs (junior chefs) round out the brigade system hierarchy.
Brigade system kitchen jobs: Who do you need to hire for your kitchen staff?
Here’s a closer look at some of the most common kitchen jobs that are still in use today from the French brigade system.
Chef Exécutif (Executive Chef)
The executive chef is like the back-of-house CEO. This role is less about day-to-day kitchen operations and more about strategic business decisions, like creating the restaurant’s menu or concept.
Average executive chef salary: $61,000 USD
Chef de Cuisine (Kitchen Leader)
The chef de cuisine is the manager of the kitchen who also collaborates with the restaurant’s general manager. Unlike the executive chef, the chef de cuisine is involved in day-to-day kitchen operations.
This role is responsible for overseeing kitchen staff and can be involved in making hiring decisions. The chef de cuisine also oversees administrative tasks, like food safety and inventory management. This position takes on the critical task of ensuring that the kitchen avoids health code violations. The chef de cuisine can also be responsible for executing the executive chef’s vision for the menu by developing recipes.
Average chef de cuisine salary: $61,000 USD*
*Salary data shows that chefs de cuisine and executive chefs earn the same amount. This data is a bit misleading because many modern restaurants will have one person fulfilling both roles. When a restaurant has both of these roles, the executive chef will be paid more than the chef de cuisine.
Sous Chef de Cuisine (Sous Chef)
The sous chef de cuisine is commonly called the “sous chef” in English. Sous means “under” in French, so the title explains that this role is the chef de cuisine‘s deputy. The sous chef helps oversee the line cooks and assists with management duties. This position steps in for the chef de cuisine when needed.
Average sous chef salary: $45,000 USD
Chef de Partie (Line Cook)
Stations are a signature of the brigade system. The full brigade has stations for every type of food preparation method needed in the kitchen. The system has several types of chefs de cuisine, also known as line cooks, that oversee each station in the brigade system. Their specific duties, and titles, depend on their stations.
For example, a saucier, is in charge of creating all of the restaurant’s sauces, while a friturier is responsible for fried items.
Average line cook salary: $35,000 USD
Commis Chef (Junior Chef)
In the traditional brigade system, line cooks have junior chefs working with them. Junior chefs help execute orders at the stations to which they’re assigned. So the commis chef to the poissonnier would help their boss prepare fish dishes, while the commis chef to the saucier would help make sauces.
Average junior chef salary: $44,500 USD*
*Restaurants that employ both line cooks and junior chefs would pay line cooks more than junior chefs.
The dishwasher, or plongeur, is a critical kitchen job in the brigade system. This position cleans dishes and prepares them for another round of service by drying and organizing them.
Average dishwasher salary: $24,000 USD
If your staffing needs change from season to season, consider hiring some of these roles temporarily.
Adapting the kitchen brigade system for modern restaurants
The brigade system was useful in its full-fledged form when restaurants were larger and less prevalent, and when fine dining was the only option for dining out. Most restaurants today aren’t able to support 20-person kitchen brigades due to the popularity of casual dining, increasing labor costs, and the smaller size of restaurants. However, they’re still benefiting from the legacy of the brigade system. So what does the modern kitchen brigade look like?
Tinc Set has found success in stripping the system down to the bare essentials. “We have a small kitchen staff, including Juan, the executive chef, a chef de cuisine who is Juan’s right-hand man, as well as two cooks,” explains Brennan. “All four people contribute to the preparation before service, as well as the execution of service. We also have one dishwasher.”
Across Montréal, the team at pizza restaurant Elena has adapted its positions with Italian flair. “Elena isn’t a traditional French kitchen, so we don’t have the full range of brigade positions,” Eamon explains. “While French kitchen would have a saucier, we have a pizzaiolo. We have a chef, a chef de cuisine, a chef de production and one or two sous chefs in normal, non-COVID times, as well as garde-manger and line cooks.”
Like many others, the restaurant has had to pare down their BOH team because of the pandemic. “In the past few months, our kitchen has become less hierarchical as we have a limited staff, meaning everyone has more responsibility. We also have the luxury of putting more time into training, empowering our staff to have more ownership and input in the creative process and the daily management of the kitchen,” says Eamon.
Adopt the kitchen brigade system for maximum efficiency in your BOH
While the kitchen brigade system was born in French army kitchens, it’s been used by restaurants for centuries. As restaurants’ needs continue to change, the brigade system evolves with them. It’s time to take a look at your restaurant operations and find ways to take them to the next level. Adopt the kitchen brigade system (or its most relevant aspects) to your restaurant for maximum efficiency and consistency.