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What Is a Chef? | Types of Chefs

By
Matthew Krimmel
Table of Contents
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The word “chef” comes from the term “chef de cuisine”, the director or head of a kitchen. Chefs use their culinary expertise and talent to create tasty cuisine that people will enjoy. Different types of chefs might become experts in one culinary area, such as pastries or vegetables.

There are many different types of chefs, each with specific names, responsibilities, and skills. Many chefs attend culinary school to master their craft and prepare for work in the hospitality industry.

There are even specific kitchen slang words and expressions that chefs use when communicating with each other. Read on the learn about the various types of chefs you encounter in commercial kitchen and restaurant operations.

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What Is a Chef?

A chef will plan menus, interact with kitchen and restaurant staff, and ensure that their food meets high-quality standards. It could be for a family reunion at a restaurant or a wedding celebration at a hotel. This means cooperating with the restaurant manager or banquet manager to foster an excellent casual or fine dining experience.

In either case, the chef is in charge of providing an optimal culinary experience for their guests. Chefs cooperate on various activities as part of the back of house staff. The various types of chefs cooperate to prepare food in a timely manner to ensure customer satisfaction.

Many restaurants have several different types of chefs, each with specific responsibilities. The various types of chefs in a kitchen must communicate and work together to define menu concepts. It might mean establishing and following a standardized recipe or adding their own ingredients to improve a dish. This might involve monitoring the overall food cost and recipe costing to minimize expenses.

How did the modern chef achieve the status the position demands today? Read on to learn about the history and evolution of chefs, including the types of chefs and the function and meaning of each chef uniform item.

History and Evolution of Chefs

The Middle Ages

The traditional kitchen structure- a chef followed by his culinary assistants- traces its roots to European military organizations in the 14th century. From the Middle Ages, traveling armies had to be fed and kept well-nourished for battle, so cooks were selected from among the ranks.

The wars ended and they followed knights to their castles. They became employed by kings and nobility, preparing large, ornate feasts for fine dining occasions. Chefs were not only employed to serve meals but could also be drafted into battle when conflict erupted.

Modernization

Trade guilds soon developed and adopted uniforms, strict hierarchies, and systems of apprenticeship throughout Europe. This organization worked exclusively for the aristocracy until the French Revolution gave way to the rise of restaurants and hotels.

Auguste Escoffier

The lineage of a modern highly trained chef dates back to Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). He was a French chef and restaurateur who modernized and promoted traditional French culinary methods. He began his career at age 13 and was highly motivated to succeed, eventually becoming known as the “King of Chefs, Chef of Kings.”

During his lengthy career, he prepared meals for world royalty and celebrities. He supervised kitchens in Paris and London and came up with many restaurant improvement ideas. He wrote a book called Le Guide Culinaire, still an influential book in the culinary industry.

Types of Chefs

Generally speaking, we think of a chef as the one person who oversees staff in a kitchen. However, there are numerous types and names of chefs that are employed in many restaurants and hotels. They have various duties to ensure operational efficiency in restaurants and kitchens.

Executive Chef

An executive chef, or chef de cuisine, oversees all kitchen activities. They are the highest-ranking member of a kitchen's staff. Some don't participate in cooking but simply taste dishes before they are served to customers.

It takes years of education and experience to become an executive chef. In many kitchens, a head chef is another name for an executive chef.

They monitor kitchen procedures, order supplies, maintain an inventory (see inventory definition here) and have contact with vendors. Head chefs may also train new employees and interact with other staff members and customers in the restaurant or hotel. An executive chef oversees inventory and recipe costing to ensure they remain within their financial budget.

Sous Chef

A sous chef works directly with an executive or head chef and is the second in command in a kitchen. The other types of chefs in a kitchen report to the sous chef or executive chef. They usually support the executive or head chef in maintaining inventory and ensuring the kitchen runs smoothly.

Types of Chefs de Partie

A chef de partie, also known as a line cook, or a station chef, oversees a particular area of production in a restaurant. Each chef de partie has a specific name and duties for their kitchen station.

Butcher Chef

Some kitchens have a butcher chef, or bouchier, who examines the quality of meat on delivery, stores it, and maintains the meat inventory. They cooperate with the executive chef to order quality meat products for the menu. The butcher chef should also be aware of the shipping meat cost to help control expenses.

Sauce Chef

Sauce chefs, or sauciers, are usually the third-highest in command in a kitchen. They prepare sauces for all dishes to be served to customers, including salad dressing, pasta sauce, gravy, stews, and soups. They use special ingredients and test the taste of the sauces they prepare to ensure a high level of quality for their restaurant's diners.

Pastry Chef

A pastry chef, or patissier, produces all desserts and baked goods. This includes preparing dough and batters, baking them in the oven, and adding decorative features. A good pastry chef focuses on customer satisfaction by producing sweets that retain customers.

Pantry Chef

Some larger restaurant operations hire a pantry chef, or garde manger, to prepare cold dishes and oversee refrigerator supplies. The pantry chef should practice inventory management strategies to help monitor inventory.

Roast Chef

They may employ a roast chef, or rotisseur, who prepares and cooks meat and vegetables in ovens. They include the perfect complimentary sauce for these dishes. A roast chef should have knowledge about wholesale meat and seafood to get the best prices and products.

Vegetable Chef

A vegetable chef, or entremetier, handles all dishes involving vegetables. They roast, steam, fry, or sauté vegetables and might create egg dishes. A vegetable chef plays an important role in creating vegetarian and vegan menu options.

Fish Chef

A fish chef, or poissonnier, is in charge of the seafood portion of the menu for a restaurant or hotel. They determine which fish are in season and fry, roast, steam, or sauté fish. A fish chef will research where to buy wholesale seafood online. Some fish chefs also specialize in wine pairings, such as wine pairing with salmon.

Meat Chef

A meat chef will determine the best cuts of meat for different dishes and ensure quality products. They cook them appropriately while including the best sauce for each meat. A meat chef should know how to pair sauces with the appropriate meats to deliver a tasty meat dish. Meat can drastically differ from one type to the next. So, it’s a bonus if meat chefs learn which wines taste best with various meats, including what wine pairs with turkey.

Fry Chef

A fry chef, or friturier, operates a fryer to cook meats, vegetables, and cheeses. They include the appropriate sauces for each dish, monitor cooking times, and maintain cleanliness in their station. It's important that they know how dishes should be fried for optimal taste.

Prep Chef

A prep chef arrives earlier than other chefs to assist kitchens in getting ready for mealtimes. They bake bread, cut vegetables, and often prepare items from the refrigerator or freezer. It's important that a prep chef gets their tasks done so the rest of the kitchen staff can get to work as soon as they arrive.

Commis Chef

Lastly, a commis chef is an entry-level chef who learns kitchen responsibilities by shadowing another chef. They often assist other chefs in preparing meals, maintaining clean workstations, and preparing tools and ingredients for cooking the meals.

A highly professional kitchen will employ many of these chefs and ensure they are working in unison to provide an elegant dining experience. They work cohesively to provide excellent options for a fine dining menu.

Chef Uniform

The chef’s uniform has become a well-known symbol for delicious food and fancy restaurants and hotels. It has taken many years for the uniform to evolve to what it looks like today. Each article of clothing serves a specific purpose.

The uniform we see nowadays was created by the world's first celebrity chef, Marie-Antoine Carême, in 1822. In his sketch titled Le Maitre d’Hotel Francais, two chefs stood next to each other. They dressed identically wearing white hats, double-breasted jackets, and aprons tied around their waists.

In 1878, Angelica Uniform Group began mass-producing uniforms, making them accessible for chefs everywhere. Escoffier was the first chef to standardize the uniform, requiring the employees in his kitchen in London to wear the uniform.

Interestingly, the modern chef’s uniform still closely resembles the original sketch drawn by Carême. Do you know the practical function and symbolism of each article of clothing?

White Hat

When you think about a chef, the first thing you picture is probably a tall white hat, called a toque blanche. The term “toque” is Arabic for hat and the word “blanche” is French for white, translating to white hat in French.

A chef’s hat is very symbolic as the taller the hat is, the more experience that particular chef has in the kitchen. Similarly, the number of pleats in the hat shows how many cooking skills and techniques the chef has mastered.

The toque blanche serves the functional purpose of keeping the chef’s hair away from the food. It also helps other kitchen staff quickly identify where the chef is located in the room.

Double-Breasted White Coat

Your picture of a chef probably also includes a double-breasted white coat. But why would someone who works in a kitchen with various oils and sauces wear white? The reason is that white represents authority and influence. It also projects cleanliness, a quality you look for when someone is preparing food that you will eat.

The functional purpose of the double-breasted jacket is also connected to the color white- it deflects heat instead of absorbing it. This is very practical for someone who spends most of their days in a hot kitchen.

Additionally, the jacket is reversible, so a chef who has a stain can fold down the flap to hide it. This makes the chef instantly presentable to customers.

Black or White Pants

Comfortable pants are also a necessity for chefs who run around in a kitchen for hours during the average day. The uniform mostly includes black or white houndstooth patterned pants to hide stains easily. The waist is usually a drawstring or elastic and contains side and back pockets for utility purposes.

Apron

Chefs wear an apron around their waists to protect their legs from hot spills. These aprons usually end just below the knee, so the chef can move quickly without getting tangled in the apron. They are usually white, black, or striped to match the rest of the uniform.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Types of Chefs

What Type of Chef Gets Paid the Most?

Executive chefs who work at country clubs, resorts, and private dining operations earn the highest salary. Next are hotel executive chefs, fine dining executive chefs, and upscale casual executive chefs.

What Is a Beginner Chef Called?

A line cook, or commis chef, is typically an entry-level position in a kitchen. This person cooperates with the other cooks to prepare dishes for a stand-alone restaurant, hotel restaurant, or virtual restaurant. A line cook can work hard and earn promotions, eventually achieving the title of sous chef or executive chef.

What Is a 5 Star Chef Called?

A five-star chef usually goes by titles such as executive chef, head chef, or chef de cuisine. They oversee all kitchen operations, including the delegation and supervision of work performed by cooks, dishwashers, and other kitchen workers.

Back of House

The next time you speak to a chef, you'll understand the meaning of their title. You will also know the history of their profession, specific chef names, and why they are dressed the way they are.

Collectively, all members of a kitchen's staff are called back of house workers. Now you know the different types of chefs and how they coordinate to provide an excellent dining experience for everyone.

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