Food & Drink

The anatomy of a kitchen staff: a guide to what everyone actually does

knife tattoo on chef
Drew Swantak

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the same thing is true for a plate of scallops. A professional kitchen is a team environment, so to give a better idea of what each player does, we interviewed the staff of The Gander in Manhattan's Flatiron district. They were all very good looking and also full of insight. Read on to learn what the hell they're doing in there.

exec chef
Drew Swantak

Executive chef

Typical years experience: 10-15 years (although that number is shrinking)
Normal hours: 9am-10pm (after the last diner finishes)
Responsibilities: The bottom of the funnel in terms of quality control, the exec chef is constantly bouncing around the restaurant checking on every stage of food prep, but also whether light bulbs are out or if the bathroom is clean. The EC crafts the menu, generally using the rest of his team as a sounding board for ideas and tweaks. Oh, and there are also fun administrative tasks like crunching profits and losses, and handling communication from investors, accountants, publicists, and men's lifestyle publications who want to shoot portraits of the staff right before lunch rush.
Best part of the job: Being able to build a team of badasses
Worst part of the job: Cleaning bathrooms
Most used tool: Mouth (for both tasting and barking orders)
You might hear them say... "Treat it like yours and one day it will be." - Thomas Keller

Corporate chef
Drew Swantak

Corporate chef

Typical years experience: 10-15 years
Normal hours: 10am-12am
Responsibilities: When a chef has more than one restaurant, he's gotta have someone that ties them together. The corporate chef handles catering and events, oversees the line during lunch and dinner, and works on maintaining consistency in menus throughout the restaurants.
Best part of the job: Being able to build a team of badasses
Worst part of the job: Serving as the staff's psychiatrist/union rep
Most used tool: Spoon
You might hear them say... "Wake up!"

Chef de cuisine
Drew Swantak

Chef de cuisine

Typical years experience: 10 years
Normal hours: 10am-12am
Responsibilities: Corrals the staff, making sure they stay in formation and that all the cogs are spinning. Corrects small inconsistencies in dishes and tests new recipes. Orders the food, charts costs of all goods.
Best part of the job: The rare times the food comes out exactly how you want it
Worst part of the job: That it's really hard to ensure the food comes out exactly how you want it
Most used tool: Unfortunately, a cell phone
You might hear them say... "Don't do dumb s**t."

sous chef
Drew Swantak

Sous chef, head of culinary development

Typical years experience: +5 years
Normal hours: 10am-12am
Responsibilities: Manages the mise en place and garde manger (hot and cold station cooking essentials), directly guides the line cooks. Tests recipes, selects specials, and pushes the creative boundaries of the menu.
Best part of the job: Working closely with people that are hopefully awesome
Worst part of the job: Being responsible for more than just your station
Most used tool: Notebook
You might hear them say... "Work smarter, not harder."

AM sous chef

Typical years experience: 2-4 years, at least 2 as a sous chef or management
Normal hours: 7am-7pm
Responsibilities: Comes in first thing in the morning. Makes stocks and sauces. Oversees everyone. Basically in charge of the day crew.
Best part of the job: Being in charge
Worst part of the job: Dealing with so many different personalities, making sure everyone's on task
Most used tool: His brain, or a chef's knife
You might hear them say... "Make it nice so you don't have to do it twice."

Junior sous chef

Typical years experience: 2-4 years as a cook. After a year, they'd be pulled off the line to become an official sous.
Normal hours: 12pm-12am (or closing)
Responsibilities: Helps prep the line during the day, oversees lunch a bit, becomes a cook at night, then makes sure everything is wrapped, labeled, and organized.
Best part of the job: Gaining responsibility and working towards chefdom, but still getting to sweat on the line
Worst part of the job: The hours
Most used tool: His brain, or a chef's knife
You might hear them say... "Yes, chef."

line cook
Drew Swantak

Line cook

Typical years experience: 4 years
Normal hours: 8am-3pm, 3pm-12am
Responsibilities: Mans either the grill, saute, or fry stations. Breaks down meat if restaurant doesn't have a butcher. Preps mise en place. Does most of the actual cooking.
Best part of the job: When it gets busy, because suddenly the shift is over
Worst part of the job: When it's not busy and shifts take forever
Most used tool: Frying pan
You might hear them say... "I need fries in two minutes."

Prep cook

Typical years experience: 0-1 year
Normal hours: 6am-3pm
Responsibilities: There are usually several prep cooks with different major responsibilities, from making pasta to cleaning produce.
Best part of the job: Learning from the rest of the staff
Worst part of the job: The monotony of shucking whole cases of corn
Most used tool: Plastic wrap and Sharpie
You might hear them say... "Yes, chef."

Butcher

Typical years experience: 2-3 years as a prep cook
Normal hours: 6am-3pm
Responsibilities: Breaking down all the meats and fish that come into a restaurant, portioning out the protein and saving the lesser cuts for stock
Best part of the job: It's a day job with good hours
Worst part of the job: Animal anatomy isn't evolving at a very rapid pace, so you're pretty much cutting the same thing over and over
Most used tool: Boning knife
You might hear them say... Butchers don't usually talk much.

Drew Swantak

Steward

Typical years experience: 3 years
Normal hours: 6:30am-2pm
Responsibilities: Anything that comes into the restaurant, the receiver touches. Washes dishes, helps out where needed.
Best part of the job: Being irreplaceable
Worst part of the job: Constantly shifting the same things around the restaurant
Most used tool: Eyes and hands
You might hear them say... "It's not coming."

Porter

Typical years experience: 0-1 year
Normal hours: 7am-3pm, 4pm-12am, 12am-6am
Responsibilities: Cleaning: floors, counters, bathrooms, even the ceiling.
Best part of the job: It's an honest day's work and the staff always treats them with respect
Worst part of the job: Cleaning very dirty things
Most used tool: Dish towels
You might hear them say... "Yes, chef."

Dishwasher

Typical years experience: 0-1 year
Normal hours: 6:30am-2pm, 2pm-12am (or close)
Responsibilities: Washing dishes
Best part of the job: Staff camaraderie
Worst part of the job: It's not a position many people choose, it chooses them
Most used tool: Squeegee
You might hear them say... "Hey chef, the dish soap is low."

Pastry chef
Drew Swantak

Pastry chef

Typical years experience: 5-10 years
Normal hours: 9am-9pm
Responsibilities: Has total control over the desserts, and manages the pastry line cooks. Bakes bread and garnishes like crackers. Usually more of a planner than a regular chef, but often also well-versed in the savory side of things.
Best part of the job: Making dessert, duh
Worst part of the job: Being surprised by unexpected variables (they're planners!)
Most used tool: Kitchen mixer
You might hear them say... "Keep that line straight."

Pastry sous chef

Typical years experience: 3-5 years in pastry
Normal hours: 8am-8pm
Responsibilities: Preps desserts, from ice creams and doughs to danishes and scones. Keeps track of inventory and sales.
Best part of the job: Having a say in the creative process
Worst part of the job: When the pastry cooks don't show up
Most used tool: Kitchen mixer
You might hear them say... "We sold 40 croissants yesterday, I'll probably make 45 today. What do you think?"

Pastry cook

Typical years experience: 1-2 years
Normal hours: 8am-3pm, 3pm-12am (or close)
Responsibilities: Stands at a station during service and plates desserts, mostly pulling items out of the fridge and making them look pretty.
Best part of the job: Being able to learn from the chefs. And eat delicious pastries.
Worst part of the job: You don't yet have creative control
Most used tool: Palette knife
You might hear them say... "Yes, chef."

Pastry assistant

Typical years experience: 1-2 years
Normal hours: 8am-3pm
Responsibilities: Makes all the bread
Best part of the job: The hours are good, and you're in and out as long as you get your work done
Worst part of the job: Monotony. Watching bread rise is like watching grass grow.
Most used tool: Bench scraper
You might hear them say... "Yes, chef."

staff
Drew Swantak

Special thanks to Jesse Schenker, Ed Brumfield, James Bowen, Christina Lee, Christina Han, Francisco Melchor, and Tio Martin from The Gander.

Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. The role he plays in the kitchen is generally that of intrusive photographer, but luckily this time Drew Swantak got to be the annoying one. Follow him to more blame-dodging at @Dannosphere.