Mar 062013

What’s the difference between a chef de partie and a station cook? An executive chef and a head chef? You need to know this whether you are applying for a job or hiring applicants. Since there is no licensing process for kitchen staff in the United States, titles are movable targets.

Terminology and titles are dealt with fast and free in the food and beverage industry. Sometimes we receive resumes for “sous chefs” who turn out to have full charge of the kitchen, thus be Executive chefs in practice. More often we get Executive Chefs who would be very challenged in some of our sous chef positions. One man’s Executive Chef may be another’s cook. Your title in a position is what you were given, but it doesn’t hurt to know the correct titles.

 “Chef” comes from the French word for director, head or boss of a team, a department or a business. All chefs, in the culinary world, are cooks, but not all cooks are chefs. A chef has some leadership and management responsibility or at least some specialization.

Second, “Master Chef” is not a job title. It is a certification. “Star Chef” is a media creation, which means absolutely nothing. The titles only apply to chefs with European Master Chef certification or American CMC certification through the American Chefs Federation, .

The Big ones:

Chef: Anyone in charge of professional food production from a professional kitchen.

Misuse: Anyone who cooks. That is a cook. Your cousin Winston is not a Chef just because he makes great chicken. Using chef instead of cook. Chef comes from the French and means “bos”.

Misspelling: Chief.

Alternative Terms: Working chef / Head Chef.

Working Chef / Head Chef:

Definition: A chef who works “hands on” in any kitchen. Head chef correctly denotes the person in charge of production, purchasing, etc in a small kitchen with a small staff. The connotation is that this person spends most of his or her time working with the food and not in an office.

Alternative Term: Chef.

Executive Chef:

Strict Definition: Has full responsibility for a kitchen, determines menus, develops menus and recipes, responsible for purchasing and vendor decisions, food safety, menu strategies and  costing, has final say in all b.o.h hiring decisions, trains, schedules or supervisors someone who does, responsible for product, distribution or resources, staff oversight etc.

Extreme Definition: The person in charge of operational issues in multiple units of a hotel, cruise liner or other complex food and beverage delivery system. The Executive Chef may develop recipes or not, he approves all product and supervises a range of kitchen managers or unit chefs.

False Definition: A chef who is in charge of any kitchen or a chef who only cooks with no management or administrative responsibilities.

Misuse: A chef in charge of a small kitchen.

Misspelling: Execution Chef / Execution Chief

Misunderstanding: All executive chefs carry clipboards and none cook. This is not the case. Many are hands on, while others are involved mainly in operational activities. It depends on the environment.

Synonyms and related positions: Food and Beverage Director in some properties where the chef is still responsible for but not active in production, so the chef responsibilities are operational management.

Corporate Chef:

Definition: The chef charged with all culinary development and kitchen operational responsibilities for multiple restaurants in a corporation. Duties include R&D, menu development and implementation in separate units, hiring and training of management staff, equipment selection, development of new kitchens, and much more. Corporate chefs generally travel and spend several weeks at a time at various restaurants.

Misuse: The Executive Chef of Kitchen Manager of a single or multi-unit corporate dining facility. The appropriate term would be Executive Chef.

Alternatives: At the high management responsibility level of Corporate Chefs there is a great deal of inventiveness in title creation. Vice President or President of Culinary Development, for instance. R&D Chefs, although their function is non-operational, are frequently titled “Corporate Chefs”.

Synonym: Executive Chef for the company/corporation.

Misuse: The head or executive chef of a corporate dining room or an executive dining room. A chef working for a company like Bank of America or Google. These chefs are generally Executive Chefs, Kitchen Managers or Chefs de Cuisine, depending on the level of responsibility.

Regional Chef:

Definition: The chef in charge of multiple corporate restaurant units. Like the Corporate Chef the Regional Chef is responsible for frequent restaurant checks, works on new openings, works with unit chefs on occasional hiring, but is not responsible for day to day kitchen operations such as scheduling. Regional chefs may be stationed at a single unit, where they also function as Executive Chef.

Misuse: none.

Alternatives: Regional Executive Chef, Corporate Regional Chef, Multi Unit Chef.

Executive sous chef:

Definition: The direct subordinate to the Executive Chef in a volume restaurant, hotel or other volume or multi-unit property. The Executive Sous chef is in full charge of all kitchen and culinary operations in the chef’s absence. In extremely large properties the Executive Sous Chef may actually perform the duties understood under Executive Chef including banquet planning supervision, ordering, all supervision, training, etc. Depending on the property, the Executive Sous Chef may either be hands on or have extensive office duties.

Alternative: none

Misuse: The person directly subordinate to the head chef in a small property. The term “Executive” indicates volume and complexity.

Sous Chef:

Definition: The person directly subordinate to the head chef in a smaller property or the Executive sous chef in a larger one. There are also departmental sous chefs such as banquet or pastry sous chefs. The sous chef’s main duties are production, frequently receiving, carrying out the chef’s menu and depending on the property some minor management. The sous chef may contribute to specials. Sous chef is generally seen as a transitional position in which an experienced cook who has proven him/herself responsible is trained and groomed for a chef position.

Definition 2: In some hotels the chef in charge of any single outlet may be given the title of sous chef, although he is in full charge of the kitchen and would qualify as chef or executive chef of a mid-sized property.

Synonym: In some cases (see above) Chef de Cuisine.

Misuse: The person under the head chef in a two or three man kitchen. This is generally a cook or chefs’ assistant.

Misspelling: Sioux Chef, Sioux Chief, Sue Chef, Sow Chef.

Chef de Cuisine:

Definition 1: The chef in charge of an entire hotel restaurant with responsibilities extending from writing the menu to hiring subordinates and everything in between. The position is similar to a restaurant executive chef or head chef with the exception that hotels have departments which take care of some duties of the independent chef.

Definition 2: The Chef under the chef owner of a free standing restaurant. The chef owner is usually established as a culinary figure with a signature cuisine. Chef de Cuisine is responsible for executing the chef’s cuisine and most of the kitchen management. It is a highly responsible  position which requires a great deal of kitchen discipline and subordination of the Chef de Cuisine’s creative forces to create the chef’s vision.

Synonyms: Sous Chef, Unit Chef, Restaurant Chef.

Restaurant Chef:  The chef of a single restaurant in a property with multiple outlets. S/he is responsible for the production in that kitchen and may or not be responsible for menu development, hiring, ordering.

Synonym: Chef de Cuisine, Sous Chef.

Kitchen Manager:

Definition 1: The Kitchen Manager is the person in charge of all administrative and supervisory duties in a property with a preset menu. This can be a family dining concept chain restaurant, a retirement facility or a unit of a industrial, educational or retirement food service facility. The Kitchen manager is charged with maintaining company policy and keeping order, food safety, and quality standards in the kitchen. This position involves little to no creative input and implementing all of the provisions of operational and employee manuals.

Definition 2: The person in charge of all administrative and management issues in a free standing or hotel kitchen. These may include receiving, accounting for employee time, scheduling, checking produce and much more. The Kitchen manager may also cook, but the purpose of the position is to relieve the chef from the time burden of operational administration.

Synonyms: Depending on the venue, either Food Service Director or Sous chef for a restaurant.

Chef Manager:

Definition: In the recession many restaurants have decided to try to save money by firing a manager and giving the chef a slight raise. In theory at least this chef is in charge of both front and back of the house and FoH office duties like Workman’s comp. Considering the time demands of a well running kitchen on a chef, it is hard to see that any chef can do those and all FoH jobs well.

Abuse: The term in itself is questionable, as no one person can take care of front and back of restaurants. It requires further investigation of the actual duties and capacity of any person using it.

Synonyms: Chef&B, restaurant owner.

Chef Partner:

Definition 1: This generally refers to the Executive Chef of a multi-unit operation who has bought into the company. As such it is not a title but a definition of organizational structure. The Chef Partner for most operations is depending on the nature of the corporation or restaurant for all practical purposes the Executive Chef.

Definition 2: DA chef who owns part of a property either in partnership with a corporation or with an individual. This person is both Executive Chef and Chef Owner.,

Definition 3: A person who is given a non – equity partnership, that is, a partnership which expires when s/he leaves the property but allows him or her a percentage of the profit during employment. This person, too, is in reality an Executive Chef or Head Chef.

Misuse: The title is vague. If you are hiring, you should ask the nature of the partnership. If you are an applicant, you should clarify it as much as possible.

Synonyms: Executive Chef with non-equity partnership. Executive Chef and Equity Partner.


Definition: This is relatively rare as a title, as it generally indicates a duty rather than a position. The Expediter is the chef or cook who oversees the interaction of front and back of the house, calls out orders, checks food going out. In newer, trendy restaurants it is the person you see standing at the counter, often with an earpiece. In most restaurants the chef in charge takes care of this.

Synonym: Wheel man.

Banquet Chef: The banquet chef is the culinary professional in clubs or  hotels in charge of banquets. S/he generally is responsible for meeting with clients to discuss recipes, often for developing recipes and menus working with the Executive Chef and Banquet director, ordering, supervision and execution. The banquet chef may also function as Executive Sous Chef. The position requires very specific skills and holds a great deal of responsibility.

Synonyms: Event Chef

Celebrity Chef:  This is not a title.  It is applied either to someone who gets a lot of media coverage (As Thomas Keller or right now Josh Skenes) or someone who is a media personality, for instance Martha Stewart. You cannot apply for the job of celebrity chef.

Synonym: Star Chef

Misuse: Calling yourself one. It shows bad manners at best.

More: Stay tuned.

-garde manager

-Executive Assistant or Assistant to Executive Chef
-chef de partie
-station cook

-prep cook





Mar 192012


Think before you move. Start out in the right spots.

It’s no secret that Location and demographics are two of the main factors in determining the success of a restaurant. The same adage holds true for careers.

At some point in your career you will decide what you want from life, or your history will decide it for you. My advice would be to choose the former, although a lot of happy chefs have done very well with the life-as-grab-bag philosophy.

That means you figure what your priorities are: Family, Life beyond the stove, fame, artistic fulfillment, money – some of which are mutually exclusive. And you decide what concessions you are willing to make. If you shoot for the prestigious and demanding spots, your social life may be dysfunctional for a few years.

It also means that you need to take responsibility for choosing the actual demographics of the place you work. The best regarded restaurants tend to be clustered in a few places: New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles with various outliers. If your aim is to build a career based on the most current and rigorous techniques, you need to start in those areas or continue there at a fairly early point – no later than sous chef.

These locations support the most demanding dining culture because of the composition of their diners. They all serve both a large population of well-educated and demanding affluent local diners, international business travelers and destination tourists. Each of these three towns boasts exceptional food centered media. They also have in common substantial populations of young, aggressive professionals on the rise who work hard, play hard, and live in apartments with small to limited cooking facilities.

The cost of working in the hot spots is high: higher rents, igher prices, lower wages, stronger competition, greater stress and longer hours, but the return on that investment, assuming  you make the cut, is great: With a stint of three or four years a respected kitchen in a top location you write your own ticket or attract more investors.

If the citadel is where you want to be, citadel is where you have to start. You cannot easily move into the New York or Chicago big leagues from  New Jersey or Atlanta, no matter how great a chef you are. It’s been done, but it’s rare. You can’t get there from most locations in Florida – although you can take a good history and a strong attitude as a cook or at times a sous chef up to the next level in the most desired areas. If you don’t get sidetracked, it’s definitely worth the investment, but it’s not for everyone.

Less celebrated locations offer good demographics offer great careers and often better lives than the hot spots. You can expect better hours and less stress, although it is exactly that stress which creates the winners in the race to the top. There is no law that requires you to indenture to the exacting standards of the “top” locations. Hotels in particular offer highly satisfying careers in places where the food culture and the demographics are do not support a lot of international destination restaurants.

The word here, however, is “good demographics” – determining them is a bit of a challenge. Take for example Florida, an attractive state which sucked up chefs in the nineties and early 00’s – A population boom of refugees from New York and Chicago winters, who didn’t want to cook demanded more restaurants, and investors gladly built them. Disney  provided jobs and training for the hordes of aspiring culinary professionals.

Today my inbox is full of requests from chefs from Florida desperate for local jobs and, if they have been out of work for more than a year, willing but not necessarily financially able to relocate. What was the problem?

Apart from the financial disaster of the past years, or rather combined with it, demographics. The expanding population of Florida was composed to a great extent of 1) Retirees, 2) Military, 3) People looking for more bang for their housing bucks and 4) people living in other people’s investments. To that comes a low spending tourism, much of which stays in Disney, some ethnic corridors, whose inhabitants are most likely to stay within the dining culture they love, and snow birds.

Some of the characteristics of this demographic picture are: Fixed income, demand for large portions, a lower expectation of adventurous and cutting edge cuisine. The high end tourist population is likely to eat mostly in hotels, but note that many cutting edge chefs who have opened there have since retreated. Demographics rule.

That’s fine in good times, and there’s nothing wrong with the professional preparation of large portions of meat and potatoes – it’s the stuff of family chains and country clubs, a respectable part of the industry, but it doesn’t create the kind of career profile that will induce another restaurant to bring in a chef from out of state.  Private clubs usually flourish in this kind of climate, but in recessionary times, they let their well paid staff go in favor of merely adequate cooks. (Family chains thrive).

Of course you can’t predict economic trends, but the past thirty years have shown us that they happen too frequently, so they need to be factored in your considerations. The fact that Florida now has a lot of cheap housing is a sign that Florida does not offer a lot of good jobs. People who moved to Florida in its good years would hardly have asked is this economy sound, but they might well have asked themselves, “where do I go from here if there are problems.” Many wish they had.

Poor Florida is a good example, but it doesn’t stand alone.  I thought for years that Sacramento would be great restaurant territory, until I realized that the well-educated and moneyed carriage trade were all drawn from the Inland Empire, and Sacramento is the center of an agricultural rather than a trade and professional region. Farmers and Stock Brokers have different tastes. Sacramento is finally coming into its own (several IT firms have large locations in the area) Until a few years ago, though, all Sacramento diners wanted (like Florida diners) was large portions at a reasonable price.

Where are you going to grow your career? What do you look for? Areas with locations like Research Triangle Park will support more and more sophisticated dining than locations like Phoenix, which caters to a demographic similar to Florida. You need to choose what works for you, and Phoenix can be a terrific place, but it is not a way station to Manhattan. Denver, for instance, has many good restaurants and a fairly stable (non speculative) dining public – a great middle choice. Seattle, Oregon are highly respected and solid locations both for permanent careers and for interim positions, as graduates of their many good restaurant are welcome elsewhere. The industrial belt is coming back and is not likely to fail again, and the area will be needing professionals. The positions available will in all probability offer stability and better quality of family life – housing, time and economic benefits – than the Meccas. Unless you make it to the “top”, in which case the world is your Belon.

The problem (actually only one of them) with life is you can’t be everything.  The good thing (actually one of them) is that you have the power to choose.