Sorting through my files in a fit of first-of-the-year enthusiasm recently, I came across a folder full of correspondence I should have dealt with ages ago. Like this letter from Emil Davis taking me to task for using the term executive sous-chef . "I know the table of organization of the classic French kitchen," he wrote, "but what the hell is an executive sous-chef and what are his duties?"
Good question. Executive sous-chef is in fact something of a nonsense term, unknown to the classic French kitchen. It isn't exactly a macaronic, as Davis accuses it of being (a macaronic mixes two languages; sous-chef, I would argue, is English--despite its French origins). But it is certainly an oxymoron, sous meaning under and executive meaning, among other things, "having administrative or managerial responsibility." But, then, terms like executive vice president and chief assistant are just as bad--and twice as common.
The real problem here, though, is that the typical New American kitchen has a different table of organization entirely from a kitchen of the classic French variety. In France, traditionally, the chef de cuisine would direct a sous-chef, a chef-saucier , a chef-rotisseur and/or entremettier and a garde-manger , in addition to numerous lesser or more specialized positions. In America today, it goes more or less like this:
Executive Chef. Also known as "Superstar" or "Great Chef." Between 25 and 35 years old. Experience includes approximately three years in the kitchen at one or more other noted local restaurants and, in some cases, a 1-month unpaid stint at a famous restaurant in France--formerly Maxim's, now usually Senderens, Guerard or Boyer. Has had at least one recipe published in Food & Wine or three in the Cook's Magazine. Either has a cookbook deal or is holding out for an advance of $75,000 and a guarantee of at least 48 four-color pages of food photography.
Executive Sous-Chef. In charge of the kitchen at lunch time and on weekends, when the Executive Chef is off. Also takes over when the Executive Chef is participating in seminars, cooking demonstrations and "Great Chefs" events in New York, New Orleans or Bangkok. Will become an Executive Chef himself in about another six months or so, probably at another restaurant, for which the financing has not yet been arranged.
Executive Pizza Chef. Former Executive Salad Chef (see below). Principal duties include rolling out dough and positioning goat cheese, spicy pheasant sausage and alderwood-smoked king salmon rillettes on top of the resulting forms. Is experimenting with steamed, boiled and wok-fried pizza, in hopes of getting a book contract.
Executive Salad Chef. Former dishwasher. Specialist in cleaning exotic greens with long Italian names. Knows where they keep the sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Once took a class in Japanese flower arranging.
Pastry Chef. Not given "executive" status because usually a woman. Must be able to make at least three desserts: creme brulee , chocolate walnut torte and passion fruit sorbet. Has read Nancy Silverton's book.
WINING FOR DOLLARS: The California Restaurant Writers Assn. will distribute a $2,000 grant from "21" Brands, a leading wine and spirits importer and distributor, to between six to eight Los Angeles area restaurant employees who want to learn more about wine. The fund will pay for formal wine education--wine classes at a local university, cooking school or whatever. Any restaurant employee who is neither an owner nor a wine buyer but who wants to improve his or her wine knowledge is eligible for the grants. Applications may be obtained from the association at 8430 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 201, West Hollywood 90069, (213) 650-3752. Winners of the grants will be announced at the writers' annual banquet, to be held on March 7.
A LA CARTE: Axel Dikkers, former sous-chef at the Regency Club and chef at Jimmy's has taken over Elka Gilmore's old spot as head chef at Camelions in Santa Monica. . . . Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras from Monday through Feb. 16 with numerous events including jazz concerts, an All-You-Can-Eat Cajun Crawfish Boil, a gumbo cook-off and so on. Call the restaurant for details.