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In The Family
Why Is the Brigade System Essential in Restaurant Kitchens?

How a kitchen organizes itself is essential to its function.

“Chef de cuisine” is one of those French terms, like laissez-faire and tout de suite, that are often repeated and often misunderstood. Literally it means head of the kitchen; the word “chef” on its own has nothing to do with food and everything to do with being a boss. More broadly, the term is part of a curious hierarchy called the brigade, an organizing principle that’s governed the structure of Western-style restaurant kitchens for hundreds of years.

The idea of a brigade is to break down cooking into essential functions—one woman grills all the meat, another guy preps all the vegetables, and someone else makes all the sauces. Like a fast food restaurant, a brigade kitchen means your dinner is probably the result of a dozen people working together, each preparing and assembling separate components under the supervision of white-hatted bosses.

Even if you never plan on setting foot in a restaurant to work, understanding the functions of a brigade may help make you a better cook, particularly for parties and cookouts that involve idle hands and lots of preparation. By keeping all your helpers on specific tasks, you keep them focused on single skills. In no time, your crew will be running like a well-oiled machine.

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Max Falkowitz

Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.