Many factions of today's food industry have their origins in garde manger. When the term was coined in the Middle Ages, it referred to a room in the homes of nobility and the wealthy that was dedicated to preparing and storing foods. These rooms were typically located underground where conditions were most favorable for the long term storage of food. As restaurants became ubiquitous, the meaning and responsibilities of garde manger expanded, particularly after the invention of refrigeration. Garde manger as it applied to the restaurant kitchen was similar to what it was in homes. It referred to designated areas that were kept at a cooler temperature and used specifically for preparing and storing cold foods as well as referring to those chefs who controlled that area.
Garde mangers today have numerous roles in restaurant and hotel kitchens ranging from basic appetizer preparation and service to elaborate and expansive buffet and banquet presentations. Many restaurants now refer to the garde manger station as the pantry station and have simplified the responsibilities to the preparation and service of the appetizers on the restaurant menu. This is not to imply that the pantry chef's job is simple, in fact it is often the most complex of all of the stations. Many restaurant pantry stations are responsible for both cold and hot appetizers and each individual appetizer is usually composed of numerous ingredients. Menus also frequently offer a greater number of appetizers than they do entrees, which means that the amount of time that goes into the preparation of these dishes is often greater. A solid capacity for timing and organization is required in order for them to be well executed.
In hotels and restaurants that do large banquets and buffets, the garde manger's responsibilities are also quite complex. They are not only responsible for preparing all of the food, but they are also responsible for creating beautiful and elaborate presentations of these foods often in great quantities. Many buffets consist of hors d'oeuvres and canap�s that require exacting work to create precisely assembled, uniform sized pieces. Regardless of the type of food they are preparing, these chefs are also responsible for making the entire table appear visually appealing, which regularly requires producing hand carved garnishes, flower arrangements, and even ice sculptures. It is therefore necessary that their skill sets be vast and that their attention to detail be precise.
Garde mangers of the past laid the groundwork for artisanal food as it is known today. While this type of food production has been common in Europe for quite some time, it has really only recently risen in popularity in the United States. Boutique retailers specializing in things such as salumi or charcuterie (prepared meat products such as sausage, salami, pate, bacon, and ham), family run farms with small productions of exceptional goat, sheep and cow's milk cheeses, bee keepers making their own honey, orchards making fresh jams and preserves, and so on, are all becoming common throughout the United States.
As Americans focus on gaining a greater insight into where their food comes from and how it is prepared, they are learning that smaller production means greater control over the product. It is generally true that companies focusing on just a few products are able to put more time and care into perfecting those items and maintaining their consistency than those companies who mass produce. While artisanal products are usually higher in cost than mass produced items the saying "you get what you pay for" was never truer than it is in this case. Quality, craftsmanship and pride are all factors that make these products unique and that make consumers seek them out.