In my last column, we visited the restaurant kitchen that lies behind the dining room access door and found it to be bright, hot and noisy. But who’s cooking your food?
Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) simplified the elaborate and ornate kitchen brigade first popularized by Antoine Careme, one of the codifiers of French haute cuisine. The 21st century kitchen brigade has been even further distilled, personnel-wise. Who’s cooking your food? A little bit of everyone. Let’s look at the Brigade de Cuisine in the modern restaurant kitchen, shall we?
The Sous Chef. This is the guy who orders all the ingredients, comes up with most of the specials, (probably) makes the schedule for the secondary cooks, decides when the bread gets made, and decides how much prep gets done. Most importantly, he’s there all the time. Literally, all the time the restaurant is open. Not something that happens in a bank or a bookstore. This is a person who’s there whenever we are doing business.
The Sauté Guy. This person makes your pasta specials, your vegetables for your entrees … basically anything that gets sautéed. He’s the “sauté guy.” Enough said.
The Grill Man. This person is very, very important. Who is more important than the guy (or girl – they’re both known as “grill man”) who grills your steak to temp? Nobody, that’s who. A good grill man is golden.
The Pantry Person. Also known as the “salad monkey” or “salad bitch,” this is the person who tosses and plates all your salads, cold appetizers and desserts. Also known as the garde-manger (keeper of the cold foods).
The Prep Cook. The backbone of the restaurant. The prep cook comes in, faithfully, day in and day out, to make the basic ingredients for the line cooks and pantry people. Blue cheese dressing and marinara sauce for the Italian menu items. Polenta cakes and garlic aioli for the sub sandwiches. A dependable prep cook is worth his weight in bourbon (kitchen currency).
The Pastry Chef. I’ll admit to some prejudice here – I am a pastry chef. The pastry chef formulates and executes all the desserts. People generally love dessert, but only about 25 percent of patrons actually order it. However, the dessert course has one of the highest profit margins on the menu. So it’s good for a restaurant’s bottom line to have a pastry chef who makes the tastiest possible sweets.
The Dishwasher. Possibly the most important person in the kitchen. Actually, definitely the most important person. Need I say why?
In the end – and I want to be honest here – kitchen life is not anything like corporate, cube-dweller life. We say the most awfully (albeit hilariously) inappropriate things to each other, and nobody blinks. We suffer the worst heat – not just the grunt cooks, but anyone who works in the kitchen.
Next column: You can get your ingredients where we get ours, if so inclined.
The writer, a graduate of Sullivan University, has worked at many of Louisville’s independent restaurants, including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s and L&N Wine Bar and Bistro. She is now the pastry chef at Café Lou Lou.