Garde manger "keeper of the food" or pantry supervisor, refers to the task of preparing and presenting cold foods. These typically include such food items as salads, hors d'œuvres, cold soups, aspics, and charcuterie. Larger restaurants and hotels may have the need for the garde manger to perform additional duties, such as creating decorative elements of buffet presentation like table arrangements and edible centerpieces made from materials such as ice, cheese, butter, salt dough or tallow. In most modern kitchens however, the garde manger is synonymous with pantry chef, having duties focusing on salads, soups, cold food items, and dessert platings. It is usually the entry level line cook position within a restaurant.
The term "garde manger" originated in pre-Revolution France. At that time, maintaining an ample supply of food was an outward symbol of power, wealth and prestige. Noble families had a household steward who would manage their cold store room. The steward was referred to as the "officer de bouche", a title that was eventually replaced with "garde manger". This position was tremendously important, because much of the food was butchered, pickled, salted, cured, or smoked during the fall season and stored for months, even into the spring months. It is because of this duty of supervising the preserving of food and managing its utilization that many interpret the term "garde manger" as "keeping to eat."
The food storage areas in these castles and manor houses were usually located in the lower levels, since the cool basement-like environment was ideal for storing food. These cold storage areas developed over time into the modern cold kitchen.
Most merchants who worked outside noble manors at this time were associated with a guild, an association of persons of the same trade formed for their mutual aid and protection. Guilds would develop training programs for their members, thereby preserving their knowledge and skills. "Charcuterie" was the name of a guild that prepared and sold cooked items made from pigs. Through this organization, the preparation of hams, bacon, sausages, pates and terrines were preserved. When the guild system was abolished early in the French Revolution in 1791, garde mangers took on the responsibility for tasks that had formerly been performed by characutieres, who had difficulty competing with the versatile garde mangers due to the limited range of skills involved in charcuterie.
The position of "butcher" first developed as a specialty within the garde manger kitchen. As both the cost of and demand for animal proteins (in the form of pork, beef, etc.) increased, more space was required for the task of fabricating and portioning the raw proteins. This increased need for space was due not only to an upswing in the volume of protein sales, but also to the need for separating raw proteins from processed foods to avoid cross-contamination and the resulting possibility of foodborne illness. Special "butcher shops" were created where portion sizes, product utilization, and temperature could be tightly controlled. Today butcher shops exist both as standalone establishments and alongside kitchens in large hotels, country clubs and high volume restaurants.
Modern garde manger can refer to different things in the professional kitchen. In many restaurants it is a station which is generally an entry level cooking position within a restaurant, as it often involves preparing salads or other smaller plates which can be heated and quickly plated without significant experience. In other high-profile classically influenced restaurants and hotels, the position still pertains to the classical preparations.