Samui Wining & Dining
Who Does What?

A kitchen brigade is run very much like a military operation – for very good reasons.

 

20All the very best restaurants seem to operate like clockwork. Complex dishes are deftly prepared and presented to eager diners with almost military precision – and that’s not by accident. The traditional kitchen structure of a brigade led by the head chef has its roots in European military organizations.

From the 14th century on, travelling armies had to be fed and cooks were often selected from amongst the ranks. During peacetime, rulers would set up tournaments to keep their warriors prepared for future battles and the military cooks followed the knights to castles and ultimately became the cooks to kings and the nobility. They could orchestrate huge and complicated meals and feasts for vast entourages. And they had to do it well; in those days the discerning diner wouldn’t complain about a poor meal, he’d just cut the head off the cook!

Trade guilds soon developed and these were carefully controlled monopolies for cooks that ensured the membership steady employment. Expensive and exclusive, these guilds adopted uniforms, rigid hierarchies, and systems of exhaustive apprenticeship. This caste of cooks continued to work exclusively for the aristocracy until after the French Revolution and the subsequent rise of independent restaurants. Their classic double-breasted white jacket is vestigial; it originated when chefs were servants of the king and presumably might be called upon to serve in battle as well as in noble households. By the 1820s, chefs were wearing uniforms purportedly based on those worn by soldiers in the Turkish army. White eventually became the standard to emphasize cleanliness and good sanitation.

Late in the 19th century, following a French army career, gifted chef, Georges Auguste Escoffier, developed the modern brigade system in London’s Savoy Hotel. For maximum efficiency, he organized the kitchen into a strict hierarchy of authority, responsibility, and function. In this brigade, later widely adopted by fine-dining establishments, the general is the executive chef, assisted by a sous chef (sometimes an executive sous chef). Subordinate are the chefs de partie, each in charge of a production station and assisted by demi-chefs and commis chefs (apprentices). The number of production station chefs in a very large kitchen with 100-plus personnel can get exhaustive.

sauté chef (saucier) is responsible for all sautéed items and their sauces. This position is often considered the most demanding, responsible, and glamorous on the line. The fish chef (poissonier) is responsible for fish items, often including fish butchering, and their sauces. This position is sometimes combined with the saucier position. A roast chef (rôtisseur) is responsible for all roasted foods and related jus or other sauces. The grill chef (grillardin) is responsible for all grilled foods. This position may be combined with that of rôtisseur. A fry chef (friturier) is responsible for all fried foods. This position may also be combined with the rôtisseur position. The vegetable chef (entremetier) is responsible for hot appetizers and frequently has responsibility for soups, vegetables, and pastas and other starches. (In a full, traditional brigade system, soups are prepared by the potager, vegetables by the legumier.) This station may also be responsible for egg dishes. A roundsman (tournant) or swing cook works as needed throughout the kitchen. The cold-foods chef (garde-manger), also known as the pantry chef, is responsible for preparation of cold foods, including salads, cold appetizers, pâtés, and the like. This is considered a separate category of kitchen work.

A butcher (boucher) is responsible for butchering meats, poultry and, occasionally, fish. The boucher may also be responsible for breading meat and fish items. The pastry chef (pâtissier) is responsible for baked items, pastries, and desserts. And the pastry chef frequently supervises a separate kitchen area or a separate shop in larger operations. This position may be further broken down into the following areas of specialization: a confiseur prepares candies and petit fours, a boulanger prepares unsweetened doughs for breads and rolls, a glacier prepares frozen and cold desserts and a décorateur prepares showpieces and special cakes. The expediter or announcer (aboyeur) accepts orders from the dining room and relays them to the various station chefs. This individual is the last person to see the plate before it leaves the kitchen. In most operations this will be either the executive chef or sous chef.

Also in a kitchen you may have a communard who prepares the meals served to the staff. And there will be a number of kitchen stewards responsible for cleaning the pots and pans, operating the dishwasher, disposing of waste, cleaning down the kitchen and helping unload deliveries.

Today, most restaurants use some simplified variation of Escoffier’s kitchen brigade. Typically, the executive chef coordinates kitchen activities, sets standards, manages costs, and directs training and work efforts. The sous chef sees that the food is prepared, portioned, and presented according to the executive chef’s standards. And the line cooks run the stations and prepare menu items according to specifications, aided by assistants and apprentices.

As an example of a kitchen brigade on Samui, we have Don Lawson who’s the Executive Chef at the Anantara Resort in Bophut and also the President of the Samui Culinary Circle. The resort has 126 rooms and pool villas and two restaurants, the Full Moon (Italian) and the Hide Tide which hosts breakfasts, lunches and a Thai menu in the evening. They also have pool-side snacks all day, 24 hour-room service, in-villa private dining, private dining on the beach and dozens of events and weddings to cater for. In addition, his in-house bakery not only supplies all of the resort’s breads, cakes, pastry and dessert requirements, they also make all of those for the Starbucks coffee houses on Samui. And they supply many of the leading restaurants and high-end resorts with bakery products.

Below Don there is an executive sous chef and then three sous chefs. One of those is responsible for the main kitchen production in the High Tide restaurant, one is based in the Full Moon kitchen and the third is responsible for the bakery section. They each have a number of chef de parties and commis chefs to assist them. There is also a butcher who also runs the beach barbecue events and a team of six kitchen stewards.

This structure is common in all the big restaurants on Samui and indeed around the world. Smaller teams of chefs simply have to multi-task. So spare a thought for the chefs the next time you have a great dining experience. They won’t mind at all if you pop your head into the kitchen and just say thanks.

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