Executive Chef vs. Chef de Cuisine vs. Sous Chef vs. Line Cook

Have you ever wondered why there are so many chef’s positions in some restaurants? For instance, an Executive Chef manages the entire kitchen while the Chef de Cuisine manages all the other chefs. A sous chef is the executive chef’s right hand, while a line cook tends a single station such as the grill or fryer.

Understanding the restaurant kitchen hierarchy

Just like an assembly line in a factory, a large restaurant may have multiple stations crewed by various chefs or cooks. Depending on the restaurant’s size and the complexity of the dishes prepared, you could have four different titled cooks, including the executive chef, chef de cuisine, sous chef, and the line cooks. In addition to all these cooks, a well-run commercial kitchen is staffed with prep cooks, grill masters, kitchen assistants, and dishwashers.

The kitchen hierarchy derives from the French term Brigade de Cuisine, a system adopted by large commercial kitchens to ensure kitchen operations run smoothly. Many positions exist in a large commercial kitchen, but here we will clarify the top 4 members of your favorite restaurant kitchen.

Role of an Executive Chef

The executive chef of a restaurant is the restaurant’s kitchen manager. Only the largest restaurant or those exceptional four- and five-star restaurants will generally hire an executive chef to oversee all kitchen operations and personnel supervision. Rarely will you see an executive chef donning a uniform and chef’s hat. Instead of cooking meals, they are tasked with the following responsibilities:

  • may be in charge of multiple locations or regional operations
  • ensures that the quality and type of culinary dishes are consistent
  • identifying and resolving kitchen problems immediately
  • coordinates the activities of all the other kitchen employees
  • in charge of staff oversight, menu creation, and signature dishes

Executive chefs have generally completed culinary training and have demonstrated their expertise by working their way up through the ranks of experience. An executive chef is highly trained and is usually an expert in many specific cooking types or culinary regions like French cuisine.

What is a Chef de Cuisine?

A chef de cuisine is also known as the head chef. The head chef plays the role of executive chef in smaller restaurants. Their part is less about supervising people and more about controlling the restaurant’s menu and keeping costs down in larger establishments. But, in smaller kitchens, the chef de cuisine is the top manager when there is no executive chef. Other duties include:

  • creating menus that support a variety of offerings to attract customers
  • quality control and approval of dishes before delivery to the customer
  • will plan and order produce, meat, staples, and kitchen equipment
  • maintains payroll records to ensure staff is correctly paid
  • ensures restaurant complies with sanitary and safety standards

A chef de cuisine sometimes cooks, but only those dishes that are the restaurant’s specialty. The more common menu selections will be relegated to a lower-level cook to prepare.

What does a Sous Chef do?

A sous chef is a cook working their way up the ranks to become a head chef or an executive chef. The word ‘sous’ means under in French, so a sous chef is directly under the chef de cuisine. When the head chef is off or unavailable, the sous chef is left in charge and expected to perform the same duties as their boss.

It is typical for a sous chef to have studied all cooking styles, including French and Italian. They may also be experts in regional cuisine such as southern cooking or Mediterranean dishes. As an assistant to the head chef or the executive chef, a sous chef will have duties including:

  • will develop restaurant menus and signature dishes
  • will train and guide junior kitchen cooks
  • makes sure guests are served in a first-in, first-out rotation system
  • may hire and train new chefs and other employees
  • finds ways to reduce waste and save food costs
  • will choose food vendors and inspect food shipments for freshness

A sous chef must not only have top-notch cooking skills, but they must also do well working under pressure and supervising other people in the kitchen. Since a sous chef is involved in all aspects of running a commercial kitchen, they are often the ones who will venture out to open their restaurant.

Line cooks make a strong kitchen

Imagine going to your favorite restaurant, and it is crowded with full tables of four or more guests. In a large kitchen, many people are ordering food and a lot of food that must be prepped, cooked, plated, and served. It is the job of line cooks to do one thing and one thing only – cook food the way the chef desires it. Most of any kitchen staff would be made up of line cooks.

Requirements to become a line cook may only be work experience. Some restaurants want to see some culinary education or training such as a certificate of completion in a hospitality program or an Associates’ degree in culinary arts. Since the job duties of a line cook are to cook, here we list the different types of line cook jobs that are offered:

  • Line Cook (traditional) – crews one specific station
  • Short Order Cook – creates simple, easy, but very fast
  • Prep Cook – is tasked with chopping, cutting, peeling, and prepping foods
  • Fry cook – works the fryers and sometimes the grill
  • Sauté Cook – is responsible for sautéing and creating sauces
  • Grill Cook – grills burgers, steaks, fish, and veggies
  • Fish Cook – an expert in cooking fish dishes
  • Appetizer Cook – cooks and assembles appetizers

As you can see, the modern restaurant kitchen operates like an assembly line. The larger the establishment, the more of these employees they will hire. The great thing about the cooking industry is that you can work your work up the line by learning as much as possible about the restaurant and being a dependable part of the entire team.

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