An aspiring chef exiting culinary school would be a good fit for a job as a commis chef. As the primary assistant to the sous chef or executive chef, a commis performs nearly every task in a professional kitchen. The commis chef moves from one kitchen station to another every several months, slowly mastering all the tasks of each station. This is one way for a young chef to find the area in which she will specialise.
The Kitchen Brigade System
August Escoffier devised the kitchen brigade system in the 19th century. This system divides the many tasks of a kitchen among cooks with different job descriptions. Before the brigade system existed, cooks were not assigned specific tasks.
In the brigade system, the commis reports to the chef de partie (senior chef) or to another chef at or near the top of kitchen management. The commis may perform the tasks of the saucier (sauce or sauté cook), the rotisseur (roast cook), the grillardin (grill cook), poissonier (fish cook) or the entremetier (entrée cook).
A commis chef is likely to be a graduate of a culinary school. Culinary education is offered at community colleges, four-year universities and at stand-alone culinary institutes, such as the Culinary Institute of America. Culinary school can cost anywhere from several thousand dollars at a community college to more than £32,500 at a top culinary institute or four-year university. A student can earn a professional certificate, associate's degree or even a bachelor's degree in culinary arts.
A kitchen is a high-pressure, high-stress environment, particularly during meal service times. A commis chef should be a quick learner because he will need to learn many tasks quickly while moving from station to station. A good commis chef also will work well under pressure and tight time and space constraints. The job of a commis chef is very physical; a lot of lifting, bending and quick motion is required. Commis chefs also should have good knowledge of kitchen sanitation practices; a sanitation license may be required by some restaurants.
From the commis chef position, an aspiring chef can move in to virtually any position in the kitchen; advancement in a kitchen can happen quickly if a cook is skilled and is a good employee. The commis chef will gain experience in many positions in the kitchen and will gravitate to one that she will want to specialise in for a career. A reasonable promotion for a commis chef will be to a station cook position, rather than a management position.
A commis chef can expect to make between £13,000 and £16,250 annually, according to hcareers.com. Salary is also dependent on the size of the restaurant and its location; jobs in major restaurants in large cities may pay more money; competition for those jobs is steep. Chefs higher up the brigade system are paid more money; the executive chef is typically the highest-paid person in the kitchen.
Like every cook in a professional kitchen, a commis chef can expect to work nights, weekends and holidays because they are the busiest times for restaurants. Days can be long in kitchens; it is not unusual for professional chefs to work 12-hour days. Time off and other benefits vary from business to business.