No chefs? No food.
Chefs are essential to every restaurant. They plan recipes, manage the kitchen staff, and are ultimately responsible for what ends up on a guest's plate.
That said, there are so many types of restaurant chefs, and restaurant owners and managers really should be familiar with all of them.
Here's a list of 15 types of chefs and cooks who work in restaurants, what their duties are, and why they matter.
In the market for a new restaurant chef? Download our Restaurant Hiring Kit to learn how to hire and onboard effectively.
Chefs vs. Cooks
Before we get into the list, let's draw a line between chefs and cooks.
Both of these roles are responsible for making and cooking the food in a restaurant, but their duties in the business and their backgrounds tend to vary.
A chef is a higher-ranking employee in the back of the house. They're usually tasked with organizational and managerial assignments, like contributing to the menu and developing recipes. Some chefs, like Pastry Chefs, are hyper-focused on one area of the kitchen, while Executive Chefs or Sous Chefs may control aspects of the entire kitchen. Chefs commonly have some level of culinary education, mentorship, and/or formal training.
A cook, on the other hand, is someone who is more entry-level or lower-level in the kitchen. They're responsible for fulfilling orders for specific stations. The Fry Cooks manage fryers, Grill Cooks work on the grill, etc. They tend to have less input in recipes, instead following the instruction and recipe cards set by the chefs.
Types of Chefs
Specialties: Kitchen Management, Business Entrepreneurship, Menu Engineering
The head honcho! This person clearly has their plate full, as they're running not just the kitchen but the entire restaurant. Chef-Owners tend to be the most passionate individuals in the restaurant industry, as their love of cooking is so authentic that it drove them to open and run their own restaurant. An example is Boston's Ming Tsai, Chef-Owner of Blue Dragon, who recently appeared on Toast's podcast!
Specialties: Culinary Genius, Delegation, Impeccable Palette
Also known as the Head Chef or the Chef de Cuisine, this individual runs the kitchen. Typically this person doesn't own the restaurant but may be a founder or recognized leader of the business, though they forego operational duties to put all of their effort into creating the best meal possible for guests.
Specialties: Pastries (duh), Breads, Desserts
Restaurants that aim to offer the best baked goods and sweet pastries need an all-star Pastry Chef. This role can often extend past breads to designing the entire dessert menu and formulating recipes.
Specialty: Meats & Roasting
Also known as the Rôtisseur or the Meat Chef, this chef takes meat cooking to the next level. Any roasted menu items are in this chef's wheelhouse, extending to the broiler and to the spices/gravies used.
Formally referred to as a Saucier, this chef is responsible for choosing and preparing sauces used in a kitchen – ranging from salad dressings, to gravy, to pasta sauces, to soups and stews.
Specialties: Ambition, Understanding, Team Management
Tasked with managing the Line Cooks and running the kitchen in the Head Chef's absence, the Sous Chef is the back of house's second in command. While the Sous Chef isn't an entry-level position, it's typically a role most don't want to stay in forever – many of those in this spot have their eyes on the Head Chef position.
Types of Cooks
Handles all seafood. At the chef level, they are known as a Poissonier.
Much like SpongeBob SquarePants, the Fry Cook manages the fryers and occasionally the grill – particularly at fast food restaurants.
Grill Cooks are responsible for grilling – mainly meat and burgers, but it's not uncommon for veggies to fall onto their grill as well.
A Line Cook is a generalist who takes orders as they come. While these roles do exist in fine dining establishments, they're not nearly as common as they are in quick-serve or casual restaurants. Some prep work may be required by Line Cooks.
Serving food that is prepared and served cold or at room temperature? We're talking about salads, cold cuts, and cheeses. The Pantry Cook is a restaurant kitchen's go-to for these menu items.
Prep Cooks, as their name implies, handle the kitchen's daily food preparation. Prep Cooks are often new to working in a kitchen, which is why you'll find them learning the basics, like chopping, mincing, labeling, defrosting, and generally preparing the kitchen to handle meal service.
Sometimes called a Tournant, the Relief Cook assists the head chef or any other chef/cook when they are overwhelmed.
Short-Order Cooks are the "body builders" of the restaurant industry, according to Ryan Gromfin, because their task is to clear tickets as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality. They're trusted with simple-to-make dishes instead of intricate ones.
Sometimes called the Entremetier, the Vegetable Cook works on veggies, starches, and even eggs. Smaller restaurants may not have the resources to hire a dedicated Vegetable Cook, and instead divide their duties among the rest of the BOH crew.
No matter who is in your back of house...
...make sure the kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine.
Download the Restaurant Back of House Guide for free kitchen checklists, recipe card templates, and par inventory sheets – all so easy that your cooks and chefs can follow effortlessly.