How to Become a Saucier
In its simplest form, an individual with the title of saucier is nothing more than a sauce cook. The imagery behind this description suggests a person guarding over several large pots all day, adding seasoning and other ingredients to a variety of sauces that will eventually be dished over various entrees. In reality, an individual granted the title of saucier performs a much more crucial role in the kitchen.
The term brigade d'cuisine was coined in the late 1800s by the French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier. Literally translated to 'kitchen brigade' it served to provide a more formalized, almost military, structure to the various members of the kitchen staff. This came in particularly helpful in the massive kitchens of the grand hotels at which Escoffier was employed. The term is still frequently used in France where the hotels and restaurants tend to offer some of the finest cuisines and employ the largest kitchens. While a kitchen brigade could contain a multitude of various positions, the top three roles were often the most crucial.
At the head of the kitchen brigade was the chef d'cuisine, also known as the head chef, kitchen chef or the chief of the kitchen. This role is, of course, the most pivotal in the kitchen as the person serving as the chef d'cuisine is responsible for the oversight of the entire kitchen operation. The second in command is referred to as the sous-chef d'cuisine, also known as the deputy kitchen chef or the sub-chief of the kitchen. The individual serving as the sous-chef d'cuisine takes his orders directly from the head chef, while also serving in a head chef capacity when the chief d'cuisine is away from the kitchen.
The remainder of the positions in the kitchen brigade commonly refer to various stations within the kitchen. This can include anything from the individuals responsible for desserts and pastries, to those in charge of soups or vegetables. Of these various station positions, the most honored and respected role is that of the saucier.
The saucier is, in fact, in charge of much more than simply sauces. He is directly responsible for any hot hors d'oeuvres. These are any small dishes that get served before the main course and are often referred to as appetizers. The saucier is also in charge of preparing any made to order sauteed foods, as well as overseeing the preparation of any stews. In smaller venues, the saucier may also be in charge of preparing various meat and fish dishes as well. The role of saucier is the highest ranking of any station positions in a kitchen brigade, ranking only below the head chef and the sous-chef.
Training & Education
Since the role of saucier is such an esteemed one, it often demands more intensive training and education that other kitchen staff may be required to have. For starters, a saucier must have graduated from high school or obtained his GED in order to begin his official training. This typically consists of six months or more of hands on, introductory training in the food service industry. This not only gives the potential saucier a general idea of what working in a kitchen environment is truly like, it also provides the fundamental knowledge of basic kitchen operations on which he will build his culinary knowledge base. Once the hands on portion of his education has been completed, the saucier in training will generally move onto a more structured learning environment.
Education from a culinary school is the most widely accepted form of training a chef or respected kitchen staff member can obtain. The education requirements for lower skilled positions can often be satisfied through various certification programs offered at the culinary institution. These are generally basic classes focused on a specific cooking technique, such as baking, to provide the student with a basic overview of the technique in a short amount of time. Certificate courses typically ranging anywhere from two to three months in length. Some certificate programs also focus on more business oriented skills such as restaurant management or hotel dining operations. These training programs are often taken by head chefs or sous-chefs who want to learn more about the business side of cooking, or who may even be considering branching out to start their own establishment.
For more detailed training, students will often pursue an Associate's degree in the culinary arts. Similar to a traditional Associate's degree program, this two year culinary program touches on the basics of nearly all aspects of kitchen techniques and operations. The Associate's degree program at a culinary institute is ideal for the person wishing to enter the food service industry who may not know exactly which aspect of kitchen operations he would gain the most satisfaction from working in. These programs will typically offer a variety of elective classes specializing in a variety of more specialized areas that allow students to explore particular areas in a more in depth manner. Once a student has obtained an Associate's degree, he may either seek employment in general kitchen operations, or continue on to pursue his Bachelor's degree.
The Bachelor's degree program is typically four years in length, or two for a student already holding an Associate's degree. The latter two years of the program are what allow a student to choose the specific area they wish to pursue a career in and receive the focused training they will need to master that area. For a potential saucier, these final two years of a Bachelor's degree program are where he will learn nearly all of the ins and outs of the role of a saucier. Various courses will focus on specific areas of study, such as pasta sauces, cream based sauces, or the basics of beef stews.
The student must also typically complete an unpaid internship period with a seasoned saucier to learn some of the techniques and tricks that simply can't be conveyed in a classroom environment. This not only provides the student with valuable knowledge from someone highly experienced in the industry, it also allows them the opportunity to start making connections that may play a huge part in obtaining references or employment once they graduate. Most experienced sauciers are, in fact, always on the lookout for potential proteges to pass their knowledge on to.
Once the potential saucier has successfully obtained a Bachelor's degree in the culinary arts, he must return to the hands on aspect of his formal training. Most respected restaurants will not consider a saucier fully trained until they have had at least two years of experience in a professional restaurant setting. In some cases, the saucier in training will have developed a relationship with the professional they served their internship under and be able to gain employment as their assistant. This is often the case when the professional saucier may have a plan to retire or move on in a few years and needs ample time to groom their replacement. Other graduates may have to opt for work in a slightly lower quality restaurant and gradually work their way up to the more established locales. Regardless of the path chosen, once an individual has obtained his culinary degree and obtained the necessary hands on training, he can officially be considered a professional saucier.
A Day In The Life
A saucier's day is often focused on four basic areas of cooking-hot hors d'oeuvres, saute's, stews, and of course, sauces. While specific job descriptions may vary depending on the type and size of the establishment, mastery of these four areas are the basic tools needed for a successful career as a saucier.
Hot Hors d'oeuvres
More commonly known as appetizers, these are small portions of food served before the main course of a meal or during cocktail parties. Typically designed to be eaten in one or two bites, hors d'oeuvres can be made from nearly any types of food, such as seafood, vegetables, meats, or poultry. The saucier is only responsible for preparing hors d'oeuvres that are meant to be served above room temperature. Some of the more popular example of these type of appetizers may include grilled scallops, baked puff pastry filled with exotic cheeses, fried or stuffed mushrooms, or miniature beef wellingtons. The ideal hot hors d'oeuvres is one that can be prepared and replenished fairly quickly while also being able to hold together at room temperature while being consumed in a more casual manner.
The basic definition of a saute is combining foods that are cut into small portions with a type of butter or animal fat and heating quickly in a large pan for rapid cooking. The saucier must be able to properly prepare saute ingredients in advance or be able to quickly get the items together as they are ordered. Sauteing dishes requires an excellent sense of timing as the food is cooked so quickly it can become very easy to burn the dish if not timed properly. Once the food has been cooked, the saucier will often de-glaze the pan with wine or other liquids to create a light sauce for the dish using the flavor left behind in the pan during the cooking process. Some common saute dishes include various seafood items, as they are able to cook very quickly, vegetable dishes, particularly those containing onions and peppers, and meat dishes containing thinly sliced or cubed portions.
A stew is essentially very similar to a soup, only much thicker in texture. It is made by taking meats and vegetables and cooking them slowly in a variety of different liquids while adding various seasoning to help enhance the overall flavor. As the items cook, the natural fats in the meats help thicken the liquid, creating a gravy like substance which is served with the ingredients. Stews were originally designed to make use of excess vegetables that needed to be used up before they expired, along with the less prime cuts of meat that remained that were often too tough to cook in a regular manner. The most common meats used in stews are beef, venison, game, pork, and mutton. Nearly every culture across the globe has some variety of a stew like dish. Unlike a saute, making a stew requires a great deal of patience, as a good stew is typically cooked over very low heat for several hours. Some stews may even be started the night before to ensure they are ready for inclusion on the next day's menu. The saucier must also tend to the stew on a regular basis, periodically checking to see if additional seasonings, liquids, or thickening agents are needed. Some of the most popular stews are beef stew, ratatouille, Irish stew, and Brunswick stew.
As mentioned earlier, the role of the saucier was created by a French chef. This is largely due to the fact that sauces themselves play such a major role in French cuisine, both old and new. By definition, a sauce is a liquid or semi-solid mixture that is served on top of other foods or used for other foods to be cooked in. Some sauces can be prepared in a matter of minutes, such as pan sauces created by adding liquid to a pan that has been used to cook food, or over several hours, such as many tomato based sauces that are designed to simmer for several hours to reach their optimal flavor.
While there are nearly an endless variety of sauces in existence, many are simply variations off a base sauce, also known as a mother sauce. Mother sauces were originally classified into one of four categories, created in the 1800s by Antonin Carême. These included Espagnole, a brown sauce typically made with meat, Bechamel, a milk based sauce, Veloute, based on poultry or other white meats, and Allemande, which was nothing more than a Veloute that had eggs and cream added to serve as thickening agents. In the 1900s, Escoffier once again played a pivotal role in the saucier traditions by adding several more classifications to the list. His additions included tomato based sauces and butter or lard based sauces. Escoffier was also responsible for creating a category to include emulsified sauces, with common members of the category being Hollandaise sauce and mayonnaise.
While the term sauce may not be a global one, the recipe itself is. English and American cuisines are often noted for their rich gravies. Spanish dishes are often accompanied by salsas. Even various salad dressings are technically considered a form of sauce. In other cultures, the term sauce is a common one, used in many popular items such as soy sauce, fish sauce, curry sauce, or even custard sauce. The sheer number of different sauces that can be created is what provides the bulk of a saucier's knowledge base.
Many people may not know that March is considered national Sauce Month. Others may not be familiar with the term saucier at all, however, they will most likely recognize the names of some of the most famous sauciers the world has known.
Possibly one of the most famous sauciers in the world, and also one of the most beloved, was Julia Child. Known for her ongoing desire to make the wonders of French Cuisine accessible to Americans, her most pivotal work was 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. She was also known for hosting her own television show, The French Chef, during the later half of the 1900s. Julia Child was not only a famous saucier, she was also a household name. She was just as well known for her personality as she was for her cooking techniques. It was her constant drive to better her life, in fact, that led to her becoming a top female chef in a male dominated field. Many current females chefs and sauciers believe that it was she who paved to road that allowed them to get to where they are today.
Julia Child was also the co-founder of The American Institute of Food & Wine in 1981. Upon retirement, she also donated her personal kitchen which had been used to film her three most recent television shows. Because of her status as an American icon, her entire kitchen is now on public display in Washington, D.C at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Another popular household name in America is Bobby Flay. Catering more towards the younger generations of budding chefs, Bobby Flay is one of the cornerstones of the Food Network, a channel devoted entirely to cooking and other food related items. He has hosted over eight shows and has been featured as a regular guest on other competition types shows, such as Iron Chef and Iron Chef America. He is known for many of his Cajun and Creole style sauces, as well as his unique penchant for grilling sauces. Many of his shows also focus specifically on barbecue. Flay currently owns and manages ten restaurants around the country, while continuing to gain popularity as a celebrity chef and saucier.
Other notable sauciers include Yutaka Ishinabe from Japan, Benjamin Christie from Australia, and Francois Pierre La Varenne from Burgundy.