10 Things I Learned While Working As A Line Cook
1. It’s not as glamorous as people think When I first started fresh off my Netflix binge of Chef’s Table and Cooked, I walked into a busy restaurant still with Vivaldi’s Winter humming in my ears. I expected an organised silence of artists excelling in their trade. But the kitchen is a place of hectic […]
1. It’s not as glamorous as people think
When I first started fresh off my Netflix binge of Chef’s Table and Cooked, I walked into a busy restaurant still with Vivaldi’s Winter humming in my ears. I expected an organised silence of artists excelling in their trade. But the kitchen is a place of hectic adrenaline-fueled mayhem that somehow produces dishes that are delicious and wholesome. The kitchen is hot and fast paced. It is all focused around this small window of perfection between customer wait time, cooked food that is hot or perfectly chilled and then there’s that whole thing about not slicing,chopping, or grating any body parts. Getting it right is rewarding. Getting it wrong is demoralizing.
2. Communication is crucial
A well run kitchen is much like a winning sports team. If there isn’t constant chatter then be prepared to fail. On the line there can be 3 or more working on the one table, it all needs to come out at once so being clear is important. It’s not just the line you have to worry about but inventory too. If you forget to mention that we’re low on eggs then it’s going to be an expensive dash out the door hunting for eggs to buy.
3. You need thick skin
I’m not talking literally although that does help when it comes to burns. In the battle for perfection, tempers flare. You mess up a dish, you’ve not only wasted money but set the whole kitchen behind. Many chefs who I have worked with take pride in the new and unique way they can conjure a new insult that is both damningly harsh and yet relevant to the situation. But what many forget is that kitchen work is frustrating and any mistake is quickly forgotten about. Grudges aren’t/shouldn’t be held, it’s a team after all.
4. Chefs rule the roost
This could be disputed – but from my experience – you don’t mess with the chef. The saying “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” never rang so true. I once saw a waiter complain that his staff lunch was taking too long in the middle of a busy lunch period, for the next year he was lucky if he got a sandwich in less than an hour. Respect is everything in the kitchen.
5. Open Kitchen VS Closed Kitchen
In recent years, open kitchens have become the trendy thing to do, but if I’m honest I way prefer closed kitchens and I’m sure I’m not the only one. To put it bluntly, an open kitchen is just not as fun. There is a decorum expected of you and it feels like a whole new world of restriction. In a closed kitchen there’s music, singalongs, jokes. It makes for a happier work environment … in my opinion.
6. Quality Vs Speed
If you’re not willing to wait for your food and expect fast food then that is what you’re going to get. Good food takes time. A lot of us now think that food should take less 10 minutes. If it’s not a fast food restaurant then don’t expect your food to be ready as quickly as it does to microwave a hot pocket.
7. Social Life?
You can pretty much kiss your social life goodbye for the most part. This isn’t a regular 9-5 job, there will be times where you get out early but when your friends are out on the weekend partying you’re at your busiest. I used to switch my phone off on the weekends to avoid the incessant Whatsapp messages of “tequila?”, “where is everyone” or “best night EVER!!!!”. Mondays are your new Fridays. The upside is Mondays are usually when the best drink deals are on. ?
8. Your roster (schedule) is a lie
Now this might not be the case for everyone, but my rosters were a total lie. My roster might say 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. but this seemed to be only a loose estimate as I could finish anywhere between 1pm to 12am. Many places hate writing the roster and often want to cut the planned hours down and find themselves understaffed. If only there was an online restaurant scheduling app for this?
9. When the kitchen closes you’re only half done
It’s 10.30 p.m., you’ve made your last meal of the day after a 12-hour shift. But you actually have a lot more to do. You’ve got to take inventory, clean the kitchen and take temperatures of fridges among the seemingly endless pieces of paperwork. So next time a waiter says at 10.35 p.m. “sorry the kitchen is closed,” know that we’re not nearly done and want to get out as quickly as possible.
10. You have to be crazy
I would like to think I fit in the category as I would whole heartedly say that enjoyed my time as a line chef. I often asked myself why am I putting myself through this when working but the skills you learn from working in the food industry are valuable. I carry these life lessons on today. Teamwork, being prepared, handling stressful situations and the appreciation of constantly learning.
About the Author:
Marketing Intern, from Dublin Ireland. Studying Management Science and Information System studies at Trinity College Dublin.