Many sources conflate the chef de cuisine with an executive chef. However, while the positions and duties of these two roles do significantly overlap, they are not necessarily interchangeable. Those pursuing a career in the culinary arts should grasp the finer distinctions between these roles so they may tailor their ambitions and rise within the ranks accordingly. Below, this article describes the duties of this position in order to facilitate such understanding.
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The Basic Recipe
The word Cuisine in the role’s title should give most readers a sound basis for what to expect with the profession. It’s the word for “kitchen” in French, and such chefs are the lead position in any restaurant kitchen. However, they often report to the executive sous chef and chef, so it should be clear that these roles are distinct within the restaurant hierarchy.
A chef de cuisine runs the practical aspects of the kitchen. They are responsible for managing staff, from the dishwasher to line and prep cooks. But their list of required tasks and functions is far more complex than merely ensuring the smooth running of a kitchen’s line. As Chron.com notes, while they report to one or more executive superiors, these chefs may also be required to design menus and create recipes that correspond. They use their refined palates to imagine such creations and then to ensure that preparation of the dishes meets the highest culinary standards.
Because they are necessarily a kitchen manager who also cooks and creates, they may be expected to maintain inventory, keep a weather eye on the condition of essential equipment, and place necessary orders to replenish pantry stock or schedule necessary maintenance. It is a role that requires not only a degree from an accredited institution but also years of practical, hands-on experience. They must anticipate needs, understand the unique relationships between vendors and restaurants, lower kitchen staff and management, and dining clientele and the establishment. It is a role that is as profoundly integral to image as it is to function.
The Edible Pageant
One of the chief requirements of anyone who wishes to fulfill this role is intuitive organization. This comes from a combination of the education provided in a culinary arts program and the experience gained by years of working in fine dining kitchens. Menus must be planned several weeks in advance for a few reasons. First, even recipes that are old favorites must bring something unique to patrons’ palates. That requires experimentation and taste testing.
Then, once the chef derives their recipe, the staff from both the Front of House and the kitchen must be educated, so they can create the dish or answer questions about it in the course of the dining experience. Then, the chef must arrange for sufficient ingredients for their entire menu, from salt to garnish. They must forecast demand for any particular dish and also account for accidents or other mishaps. As one might imagine, that in and of itself is a tall order.
These experienced professionals earn every iota of respect. They work hard and often without days off because the success of the kitchen and every individual who works under them is both their responsibility and their pride. While it’s understandable that the roles of chef de cuisine and executive chef are often used synonymously, these culinary masters take a much deeper role than many executives and work closely with other employees, suppliers, maintenance companies, and vendors.