Deceiving as it may be, the sous in sous chef has very little to do with the Afrikaans word for gravy. We deconstruct the main positions in a typical restaurant kitchen.
The chef de cuisine (head chef or executive chef)
The chef de cuisine is king of the kitchen, and usually has complete creative freedom. He, or she, is in charge of menu compilation and presentation, and oversees kitchen staff and overall kitchen management. While an executive chef has ultimate authority, a head chef does not necessarily have the final say and often makes decisions about menu direction in conjunction with senior management, stakeholders or owners of the restaurant.
The sous chef
The sous in sous chef comes from the French word for “under”, and refers to the chef who’s second in charge.
He assists the chef de cuisine in supervising all the different sections in the kitchen, and is often more involved in actual food preparation, especially in larger establishments where the executive chef oversees more than one kitchen.
The chef de partie
Chef de partie is the name given to the chefs in charge of each different department in the kitchen, which could range from the grill section to the cold kitchen and the pastry section.
Often one of the most respected positions in the kitchen, the saucier is in charge of all sauces.
In a large, formal kitchen set-up, the poissonier will oversee the preparation of all fish dishes and their accompanying sauces.
This chef is in charge of preparing side dishes and starters. The position is often further divided into the subsections, such as legumier (vegetables) and potager (soups).
The chef who is in charge of roast meats.
Heads up the grill section, and is often combined with the position of rotisseur.
Responsible for the preparation of all fried foods.
Head of the cold kitchen, the garde manger oversees the production of cold starters, salads, pâtés and charcuterie.
The pastry chef is in charge of all sweet pastries, cakes, desserts, chocolate work, confectionery and baked products.
The commis chef
An entry-level chef. Commis chefs are either untrained kitchen staff who are learning on the job, or qualified chef school graduates working their way up the ranks.
Fast facts – famous partnerships
The infamous Gordon Ramsay once worked as a sous chef to equally temperamental celebri-chef, Marco Pierre White. White, in turn, was once second in command to revered British chef Albert Roux of Le Gavroche – the first British restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star.
Closer to home, Franschhoek’s golden boy, Reuben Riffel, was second in command to Eat Out Chef of the Year 2005, Richard Carstens, at the previous incarnation of Grande Provence’s restaurant in Franschhoek before going solo to open Reuben’s.
Franck Dangereux of The Foodbarn in Noordhoek, and previously of La Colombe, worked with the late and legendary Frank Swainston, Eat Out lifetime achievement award winner in 2008, at Constantia Uitsig.