June 22, 2014
A healthy restaurant ecosystem has many components: a charming front-of-house
team, cunning managers, and a motley crew of underpaid misfits that are actually
cooking your food.
Unless you've worked in a kitchen, it's hard to understand the chaotic dance of a
dinner rush. Coded language, constant personality clashes, and thick-as-blood
camaraderie are side dishes to every entree you've ever ordered.
To turn the world of cooks into an open kitchen, we asked back-of-house staff from
around the country to enlighten us on some of the things that they're always having to
explain to their friends who they only get to hang out with on Monday nights.
Salt and butter are everywhere
But always unsalted butter. Also, half-sticks of butter look downright cutesy
compared to 1lb blocks.
Cooks don't get tipped out
If you're going by the book, it's illegal to force employees to pool tips for back-of-house
workers. Therefore the kitchen is always making way less money than the servers.
"No, I can't just take Saturday night off..."
Not Friday either. But are you free on Monday?
Kitchens are both mentally and physically draining
Most jobs are either physically draining or mentally draining, not both.
Dead, in jail, or in the hospital...
No other excuses. You're expected to perform flawlessly at all other times, even if
you're sick, hungover, grieving, or heartbroken because you found the person you love
screwing someone else because you're "never around".
Cooking is like sex
Sometimes you need things to be hot, hard, and fast. Sometimes you need it gentle,
slow, and easy.
You get really gnarly scars
Also, say goodbye to the feeling in your fingers.
You must over-communicate
It's crucial to say things like "corner, behind, sharp beside, hot".
If your friends say you should open a restaurant, you really shouldn't
Being a good cook at home with friends and family is absolutely nothing like cooking
in a restaurant kitchen.
You stand for 10 hours with no breaks
That's not to mention dead-lifting a 50lb box of frozen chicken while stooped over in
the freezer while your non-slips are freezing to the ground and you are rushing to put
away the order because you are now down a guy because he took two fingers off in the
Robot Coupe and your kitchen manager had to go with him to a hospital because he
doesn't speak English and may be in the country illegally.
If you have time to lean, you got time to clean
This is manager-speak for "There are innumerable things to do constantly in a
professional kitchen. Rarely is there time to chill."
You answer someone with a clear "yes" or "no"
Anything else is too ambiguous.
Urgency and precision are paramount
It's OK if Bob in Finance doesn't have that report ready yet. It does matter if Mikey on
Fish doesn't have that sole cooked at the right time and for the right amount of time,
because if it's there a minute too long, the 50 other items and dishes stacked behind it
begin to slip into oblivion.
Just because you're around food all day doesn't mean you're eating it
Most cooks eat like 3-year-olds. You're tasting a dozen things at all stages of cooking,
sweet after savory. It makes you not want to eat, and when you do it's generally
hunched over a trash can.
It's harder to cook in small portions
After you're used to cooking for hundreds of people a night, making one cup of rice
Even in scratch kitchens, 98% of everything is prepared ahead of time
Kitchens spend all day prepping for dinner, so while a special order might not seem
like too much trouble, it puts a wrench in six hours of prep and the next six hours of
The kitchen has read your Yelp reviews
They may seem masturbatory, but you're actually screwing someone else over.
Never spray water directly into a spoon
Unless you like the taste of dish water.
Specials aren't necessarily just things the restaurant can't sell
Surplus goes into the family meal. More often this is to test out new menu items.
Menus are based on kitchen limitations
There's only so much space on the grill. A grilled salad might sound like a great idea,
but odds are a small kitchen needs those grills for steaks.
Most floors are slightly pitched for drainage purposes
So without thinking about it, you're balancing yourself constantly. That's why your
legs feel like you've run a marathon when you get home and your calves have wicked
Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way
If you can't keep up, you had better find some sort of use for yourself to avoid
becoming a weak link.
Kitchen teams include felons, perverts, and addicts
And they're all pretty okay as long as they don't screw you over or steal money.
There's no such thing as personal space
Just "the dance".
No matter how hot it is, don't drop it
Refer to the note about losing feeling in your fingers.
Everything is very specifically labeled
Don't show up 10 minutes to close and course out your meal
The kitchen is already cleaning up.
When your rec league softball team decides to come for lunch...
For God's sake, call ahead.
Constantly making sex jokes isn't sexual harassment
It's more of a camaraderie. There are boundaries, but in a kitchen being treated with
respect isn't the same thing as being spoken to with it.
A little kindness goes a long way
Unless they're wearing a chef's coat, people in kitchens are generally treated like they
don't exist. Treat them like human beings, and you'll likely be rewarded.
Your day off isn't for hobbies
It's for doing laundry. Really, really smelly laundry.
Don't ask "Why don't you work somewhere that pays better?"
Odds are cooks didn't choose their careers based on finances.