Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Chef De Partie - The Second Rung

A Chef de Partie, also known as a "station chef" or "line cook", is in charge of a particular area of production. In large kitchens, each Chef de Partie might have several Commis and/or assistants. In most smaller kitchens however, the station chef is the only worker in that department.

There are varying degrees of Chef de Partie who run particular sections at certain times in their training. Only once these sections are mastered can a chef continue on his merry way up the 'Food Chain'.

Pantry Chef (Garde Manger) - They are responsible for preparing cold foods, including salads, cold appetizers, pâtés and other charcuterie items.

Butcher (Boucher) - Butchers meats, poultry and sometimes fish. May also be responsible for breading meats and fish.

Pastry Chef (Pâtissier) - Prepare baked goods, pastries and desserts. In larger establishments, the pastry chef often supervises a separate team in their own kitchen.

Due to the scholastic and practical teachings of many a great Chef (and my dedication to hard graft of course), I pretty much missed this particular position. I worked within smaller Brigades, usually short-staffed or low on funds for wages which meant pulling together and getting the job done no matter what position you were in.

Do I regret skipping this level......Yes, I guess I do. At this level you are accepted for your abilities. Trusted to run a section of the kitchen on your own. Your the 'bloke' of the kitchen. Chasing after waitresses, pulling pranks on the lower level kitchen staff and having all-night drinking sessions with colleague's. You are the 'International Playboy' of the Brigade. A 'cheeky chappy' of perpetual japes and larks of many kinds.

Sending Kitchen Porters and Pot Washers to collect air from the car park in over-sized bin liners for your 'souffle pump'. Asking Commis Chefs to search for tubs of chicken lips in the far reaches of the walk-in fridges and freezers. The 'Long Stand' was always my favourite.

Telling a naive waiter or Commis to go and get the 'Long Stand' from the hotel across the road as it is needed for that evenings' wedding then phoning said hotel and informing them of the inevitable arrival of this 'wet fish'. Usually, after 30 minutes or so, the other hotel would tell the poor waiter or Chef that the stand had been lent to another hotel several streets away and that he would have to make his way there as quickly as possible. I have heard stories of this to-ing and fro-ing going on for over three hours. It makes me chuckle every time I think about it. Childish......YES! Do I feel for the poor souls it has affected......Only when I was standing at my third hotel (a mile and a half away from my place of employment) searching for this 'Long Stand' and realising they had got me! I even missed Staff Lunch. Woe is me......

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Le Commis - The First Rung

An apprentice or Commis Chef in larger kitchens would work under a Chef de Partie or Station Chef in order to learn the station's responsibilities and operation.

A Communard would be in charge of preparing the meal for the staff during a shift although, in smaller kitchens, this job is handed to the Commis Chef. This meal is often referred to as staff or family meal.

Ah, the memories of bygone days. Up early and arriving at your place of employment before the other Chefs' have risen from their kebab encrusted 'pits'. Sometimes even before the Sun had shone over the horizon encouraging the rooster to crow his morning overture.

The Commis, with exception of the Breakfast Cook and Night Porter, is the first to arrive and usually the last to leave. In my experience as a young whipper-snapper you obeyed one vital rule......Be in your full Whites five minutes before the Brigade arrive and at least fifteen minutes before Chef appears, and be at your station working! Lateness, shabby work attire, bad attitude and laziness were my four horsemen of the apocolypse and if I let any one of those take over, World War Three would erupt with me on the losing side. Any cheek or back-chat that was unauthorised or taken the wrong way resulted in dire consequences for the villian that commited the awful crime.

So, to sum up, to be a Commis is to work extremely long hours, get paid very little and to graciously receive anything that is thrown at you (literally!).