Food Service Warrior: On the Line and Behind the Scenes

by Jeremy Hunter | January 1, 2009 8:43 pm

How many people that have never worked in the kitchen think they have what it takes?  I am going to guess maybe 1 out of 10 people actually do.  There are a lot of misconceptions about working in a kitchen. People think it’s a brainless profession, or they just wanted an easy job.  This is definitely not the case.  The back of the house is a totally different breed. There are certain skills that are needed and a lot of people don’t realize it.  Cooking is an art.  It takes loyalty, perseverance, organization, speed, consistency, and most of all pride.

Let’s start with the start with the dishwashers.  Most people in the restaurant industry will agree that this is the hardest and most under appreciated job in the place.  They show up to work and are immediately confronted with a stack of dishes that have been sitting out all night and piled to the ceiling.  They are expected to take out the trash,  dump grease traps,  scrub floors and walls, sweep the outside all while running nonstop loads through the dishwasher that runs at about 180 degrees per load. Not to mention spraying off all the plates and pans leaving you a hot, sweaty, soaking wet mess. Most realize that this is where you decide if you really want to do this as a profession. If you can make it through this you can probably make it in the business.

When you go to your favorite place do you think of who prepares the food for the line cooks to cook?  They are the prep cooks.  These are people who have showed exceptional skills being able to multitask, organize, communicate, and achieve the task at hand. For example- the chef will give the prep cook a list of items that need to be completed before the end of the shift.  A good cook is going to know what needs to be done first and what takes the longest.  They will prioritize and group the list to be the most efficient and timely.  Basically when you get your work done you get to go home.  They also have a good grasp on procedures and the recipes. Bottom line is that they are smart, organized, and cost efficient when it comes to production.  After you learn this you are ready to be a line cook.

Starting out on the line is a nerve racking position.   You are learning a whole new side of things that you did not have to understand being in the prep kitchen or the dish room. On the line it is fast paced and there is very little room for mistakes. It is definitely the battlefield.  You have to work with a number of people calling out orders, asking questions, and commanding the need to go faster and work cleaner.  You better have good multitasking skill also because if you can only do one thing at a time you will not make it!  As a line cook you have to be a team player and have good communication skills.  This is where you will test all your senses. Touch, smell, taste, listening, and communication are all necessary to be successful on the line.

Last but not least is the Chef.  This is the person who is in charge of the team.  They show up early and stay late.  They motivate and criticize.  And most important they are the bridge between the front and the back. I have heard a lot of cooks say that they could do the managers job.  WRONG.  It is not an easy job. I would say that a chef has about 15-20 things running through their head at any given time.  That is besides the 25 tickets they are trying to orchestrate.  A chef is there when you need them and when your not looking they are usually putting together orders for the next day or coding invoices from the past week.  They write the schedule, figure out labor costs, all while thinking what they are running for specials.  They are selfless and arrogant and for a good reason.  They earned it.

In conclusion the kitchen is a well oiled machine.  If one component is not working properly the whole thing can break down.  Teamwork is a must and if you do not have it be prepared for one of the most frustrating and trying jobs around.  When it works it is one of the most entertaining and fun jobs I can think of. There is nothing more rewarding than working a busy shift and knowing you did your best and it worked.

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