Chef de partie is a confusing title for many. A kitchen hierarchy is based on a traditional French structure, hence why many countries borrow the French titles for the different chef positions.
This interesting name for a chef is a common term that comes up again and again; but many find themselves asking what does chef de partie mean? and what do chef de parties do?
I worked as a chef de partie for several years and it is perhaps one of the most demanding roles in the kitchen, even if it does not carry the kudos that other higher ranked titles come with.
A Chef de Partie is the head of a section within a kitchen. A professional kitchen is divided into sections such as meat, fish, veg etc and it is the role of the Chef de Partie to ensure their section runs smoothly. They also have several other important responsibilities.
So that’s the basic answer, but as always there is a little more to it than that! There are important little nuances that anyone looking to begin a chef career should be aware of.
With that in mind we’ll take an in depth look at the role of the chef de partie and what their responsibilities are within a kitchen.
What Does a Chef de Partie Do?
As mentioned above a chef de partie must take control of a section of the kitchen, so that it can work alongside all the other sections to produce flawless dishes every time!
A Chef de Partie will control their section of the kitchen. They will often have more inexperienced chefs, known as commis chefs, working below them. As a team they will produce the elements of the dish, that their section is responsible for.
Kitchens operate by having a number of sections working together. For example, it is far more efficient to have one team producing the veg for all the dishes than have each team producing multiple elements. (My experience as a commis chef)
As a basic illustration, so we understand why sections are so important in a kitchen at scale, we shall look at a very simple example below:
If our restaurant has just two items on the menu (probably wouldn’t be very popular but we can run with it!)
- Fillet steak with green beans and new potatoes
- Sirloin steak with mushrooms and chips.
Now, in theory we could ask one section to produce all of dish number 1, and another section to produce all of dish number 2. This would be an even way to split the work load in principle.
However, the problem is, this would be chaos! The chefs would be tripping over each other to get to the grill, they would be getting in each others way in the veg store, and there is also the food hygiene cross contaminating issues to consider!
A far more efficient way is to ask one section to cook the meat for both dishes, and one section to cook the potatoes and veg for both dishes.
A very simple example but hopefully illustrates the point. Especially when we consider the menu will have multiple dishes; having clearly defined sections is the only way to do it efficiently.
The number of chefs on a section varies depending on the size of the restaurant, and the number of people in a brigade. For example, if we look at a medium sized hotel, it would not be uncommon to see 3 chefs per section.
In our example, if there were 3 chefs on a section; one of those would be a chef de partie and the other two would be commis chefs.
The chef de partie will be guided by the sous chef and head chef working above them, in the same way a manager in other career areas will guide their staff.
Chef de parties will then take this information and relay it to the commis chefs working below them.
The Responsibilities of a Chef de Partie
The role of a chef de partie is very hands on, as they are ultimately responsible for all the elements being produced on their section. They will prep the dishes during the day and be on the stove cooking during service times.
It is their job to speak to the sous chef and the head chef to make sure they understand the elements of the dishes they are responsible for. Whilst a chef de partie has input in menu creation they are expected to carry out the vision of the head chef.
Morning meetings among the chef de parties, sous chef and head chef will focus around which sections are going to be responsible for which elements that day.
Some may be obvious, the fish fillets are clearly going to come from fish section! However, often times there is some ambiguity, for example the sautéed beans may come from that fish section as well that day rather than the veg section.
This approach prevents one section becoming overwhelmed during service. When a menu is written, it is done so with the idea of sharing the work load out among the sections but in reality this can be tricky.
A situation where one section is so busy it is unable to cope, while another section stands by twiddling their thumbs is no use to anyone!
Once the chef de partie knows exactly what their section is responsible for, and how the elements of each dish should be created, they will set about putting their team to work.
They will relay the information to the commis chefs on their section and assign tasks to each one based on their experience levels.
It is a chef de partie’s role to train the inexperienced commis chefs below them, as well as to ensure the overall section is ready for service on time.
This role carries a high amount of responsibility and is often the first step up that ladder from beginner chef. As such there are several important qualities which are needed before taking on the role.
What Qualities Does a Chef de Partie Need to Have?
We can see that the role of a chef de partie is very demanding. For chefs looking to make the step up from commis chef to this level they will need to demonstrate several important characteristics.
A Chef de Partie should be well organised, comfortable with issuing instructions, and a very reliable cook during service periods; as well as many other important points we shall look at.
Important Chef de Partie qualities are:
- Organised: There’s a lot going on in a kitchen on a normal day, and it’s even worse on a busy day! Chef de parties must be able to prioritise the workload and hopefully be staying one step ahead on the prep work.
- Leadership skills: An ability to lead a small section of chefs is vital. Chef de parties must be able to get respect from the commis chefs below them.
- A great chef: Perhaps the most important skill for a chef de partie is an ability to cook well on the stove during service time. They must be able to stay calm and produce high quality dishes. Any chef who cannot perform this task will struggle to ever progress.
- Ambitious: Leading a kitchen section is often challenging and not a job for the faint hearted. A healthy dose of ambition is vital to keep the chef de partie on course and enthusiastic for the rigours of the role.
- Confidence: Taking responsibility for a section can sometimes require us to take the blame for things that are out of our control. It’s important we can take this ‘on the chin’ without letting it damage our confidence levels.
Although these are the main traits, there is no one size fits all type of person that steps up to become a chef de partie. Section leaders can range from loud and brash personalities to quiet and unassuming.
A great advantage of kitchen life is that respect is earned through hard work and talent. If a chef has great cooking talent, but is naturally quieter, this is not a problem. They will be followed by the other chefs as they have gained their respect by the cuisine they can produce.
We often see under confident newcomers gain in stature as they progress in their career. Often those who start of shy and unassuming soon find their feet and are issuing out orders without any problems!
How Long Does It Take To Become a Chef de Partie?
Timescales vary greatly depending on the type of cuisine being cooked. Generally, the higher the standard of cuisine, the longer a chef will stay at commis level; there is just so much more to learn that it takes longer!
However, as a general guide;
To become a Chef de Partie takes on average around two years. This is the amount of time required for a commis chef to gain the necessary experience and culinary qualifications. However, the standard of cuisine being produced has a large effect on this timescale.
Working in a reasonable kitchen that cooks food from scratch, a commis chef can work their way around all the sections (gaining the required experience) to then be considered for the promotion to chef de partie.
A chef de partie will always be qualified, or if they have chosen not to complete a qualification, they will need to be able to demonstrate considerable cooking experience.
This two year timescale is a guide, as it is up to the head chef of a kitchen to decide when a commis is ready to run their own section.
Job opportunity also plays a large part. If a commis chef is ready to step up, but there are no chef de partie vacancies in their kitchen, then unfortunately they will have to bide their time.
Often, due to the transient nature of catering, in these circumstances we see the eager commis chef start to look for other kitchens where they can progress their career quicker.
We must also remember that a chef de partie in one kitchen is very different from another. A chef de partie in a pub restaurant, will not be able to become a chef de partie in a Michelin star restaurant overnight. They will need to step back down to commis level in the higher standard restaurant before progressing again. (Michelin star restaurant prices)
Many chefs also choose to stay at commis level for a long time in order to gain as much experience as possible. Chefs that like to travel may choose to spend years moving between high end kitchens staying at a lower level. This has a catapult effect on their careers when they do decided to move up the ranks.
Commis chef can be a difficult role for some, and they are eager to progress as quickly as possible. As well as the extra respect and status chef de partie level gives someone, the associated pay rise is also very welcome!
How Much Does a Chef de Partie Get Paid?
I wrote a whole article discussing how much the various levels of chef earn, especially factoring in tips and staff accommodation. I will link to that article here for those who want the full picture. However if you just want the quick answer:
A Chef de Partie in the UK earns on average £22,080 per year. This is based on the data we collected when looking at a wide spread of areas. Important factors, such as cuisine level and size of the kitchen brigade must also be taken into account.
Larger kitchen brigades will require that the chef de partie has a higher number of commis chefs under their control. This (in theory) should translate to higher earnings.
In contrast a small kitchen of only a few chefs may have just one chef de partie and one commis, in this case they can expect their wages to be slightly less.
The issue of tips and accommodation where covered in detail in the article mentioned, but safe to say that the higher the cuisine being served the greater the tips a chef is likely to receive!
To Sum Up
We have covered the traditional role of the chef de partie, but like all things, this is not a fixed concept that has to be adhered to at all costs!
Head chefs are free to staff their kitchen how they see fit. We may see two chef de parties on the same section, or we may see a kitchen with just a head chef, a sous chef and a commis chef, with no chef de partie present.
In general, the larger kitchens tend to stick more rigidity to the traditional structure. A large restaurant, and hence a large kitchen, gets very busy so they tend to follow the traditional structure as this produces consistent results.
Chef de Partie is a great level for commis chefs to aim for and is really achievable with a little hard work and by listening to sound advice.