My KNIVES are my KNIVES – HANDS OFF!
If you are looking for a sure-fire way to bring a cook to insanity – try picking up his or her knives to use without asking. A bartender inadvertently grabbing a knife to cut lemons on a stainless table or server using a chefs knife to slice bread needs to make sure that his or her insurance is paid in full.
NEVER, EVER, PUT DIRTY KNIVES in the SINK and WALK AWAY.
Can’t tell you how many times this has happened (usually not with a cook’s own knives). A pot washer dipping hands into a soapy sink and grabbing a sharp knife is a cardinal sin in any kitchen.
DON’T be LATE- On TIME is at LEAST 15 MINUTES EARLY.
The system in a kitchen is always a bit fragile. More often than not – preparation for service comes down to the wire. In many cases a cook’s ability to complete mise en place depends on everyone being on his or her game. When a cook shows up late the fragile system begins to crumble and nerves are on edge before the first guest arrives.
MAKE SURE that your MISE is ALWAYS TIGHT.
There is a level of trust that must exist in a kitchen. Part of this trust evolves around each player doing his or her job and ensuring that when the first ticket arrives, everyone is ready for the start of the game and throughout all four quarters. When mise en place starts to fall apart for one cook so goes the rest of the line.
KEEP your HANDS off my MISE EN PLACE.
A cook’s mise is that cook’s mise. This mise en place has been methodically planned out and meticulously executed. When Peter decides to borrow from Paul, that fragile system is again in jeopardy and tempers will be on edge. If a cook needs help with his or her mise – just ask.
I MAY YELL AT TIMES TO GET A POINT ACROSS
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY.
I know this is a lame excuse, but it is real. The stress level in a busy kitchen is always high and sometimes in order to pull in someone’s undivided attention it becomes necessary to raise your voice to accentuate the importance of an issue. The vast majority of time it is not a personal attack, but rather a means to an end. Some may view this as the creation of a hostile work environment and it can certainly be seen as just that, but when used sparingly it can be effective. The cook or chef must be cognizant of perceptions and follow up with a smile, pat on the back, encouraging comment, or sometimes even an apology.
BEND your KNEES DAMMIT!
The majority of kitchen injuries happen because an employee lifted, reached, or turned incorrectly. Lifting that 50-pound sack of onions can cause serious back problems for individuals who refuse to lift with concern for physical wellbeing. Ask for help, bend your knees, don’t lift heavy items off a shelf that is above shoulder height, etc.
WORK CLEAN – ALWAYS!
Smart cooks, even on the busiest of shifts, always, always, always keep their station clean and organized. To fail to do this will result in system breakdown. A sani-bucket with properly measured bleach or iodine water, a wet rag, plenty of dry rags, and a conscious approach towards cleanliness will always set the stage for a win.
KNOCK FIRST – WHEN LEAVING the WALK-IN and ALWAYS ASSUME that SOMEONE is on the OTHER SIDE.
There are probably hundreds of accidents waiting to happen in a kitchen. Since many walk-in coolers do not offer windows to see what is on the other side, acceptable practice is to always knock on the door from inside the cooler before opening. This must be second nature to all who work in the kitchen.
Say “BEHIND” WHEN you ARE.
Warn people where you are. Cooks are always pressed for time, they are rarely walking without something in heir hands, and every kitchen provides far too many blind corners and opportunities for collisions. When walking behind a person in the kitchen, coming up to a corner, or entering into a room or cooler – always announce your presence.
SWEAT the DETAILS – It’s ALL in the DETAILS.
Everything is important: if you are leaving a pan on the stove to turn and grab additional ingredients – make sure the handle does not lean into a traffic area, if you use a Robot Coupe, mixer, chinois, or mandolin – clean all parts and return after you use it, dicing vegetables for a garnish in a consommé – make sure that the brunoise is perfect, preparing a veal stock as the base for sauces – make sure to caramelize the mire poix. The list can go on and on. Everything is important!
NEVER SACRIFICE QUALITY for SPEED, NEVER SACRIFICE SPEED for QUALITY, be PREPARED for BOTH.
Of course, there are short cuts that every cook learns, but if those short cuts compromise the quality of a dish, then a cook compromises the reputation of the restaurant, the chef, and the crew and impacts the experience of the guest. At the same time, it is important to know that speed and efficiency are critical components of a successful restaurant. The cook needs to learn both.
HOT PANS and WET SIDE TOWELS DON’T MIX.
Steam burns are the worst – enough said.
If it’s HOT – SAY SO – ALWAYS ASSUME that it is.
Just like announcing your presence near another cook, always state when a pan, plate, or product is hot and potentially dangerous. This goes for communications with service staff, dishwashers, and guests as well.
ALWAYS TAKE CARE of the DISHWASHERS.
The chef doesn’t show up – many people are relieved. A cook doesn’t show up and although others might be upset, they rally to fill the void. A dishwasher doesn’t show up and the place falls apart. Treat your dishwashers with respect, give them a hand on occasion, and feed them well.
KEEP VENDORS HONEST – CHECK PRODUCT when it ARRIVES.
Forget the American rule of thumb that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The way to ensure that you consistently get what you ordered is to challenge your vendors. Assume that everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Vendors and particularly salespersons must earn your trust daily. Make them work for you! If you find a vendor you can trust ALWAYS, then hang on to them.
You START it – You OWN it.
Put a pan on the stove, turn on the flame, add a bit of oil, and walk away assuming that someone else will keep an eye on it for you? I think not. Sear a roast and place it in the oven – it is your responsibility to make sure that the proper degree of doneness is reached. Slide a pan of sliced almonds in a hot oven to toast – if they burn it is your fault (anyone done this before?).
A HANGOVER is not an EXCUSE.
Cooks work hard and sometimes play hard. Just because you had a great time last night and are dragging today with an earthquake level headache doesn’t work as an excuse for not showing up or performing at a substandard level. If you can’t handle the party life it might be time to cut back.
No GLASS in the KITCHEN.
Glass and food do not mix. Use disposables or plastic for your water, if you see a cook using glass – address it immediately, and if anyone ever uses a glass to scoop ice out of the ice machine – show them the door. A broken glass in an ice machine is one of the restaurant’s worst nightmares (next to a fire, sewer problem, or fire suppression activation).
ROTATE – LABEL and DATE – No EXCEPTIONS, No EXCUSES.
FIFO (first in- first out) management of perishable products is a cardinal rule in kitchens. Not only does it make sense from a freshness and product utilization standpoint, it is a critical action piece that your health department insists on.
DON’T ASK ME to TASTE if you HAVEN’T FIRST DONE so YOURSELF.
Taste – Season –Taste! Of course, other opinions will help, but every cook must understand and practice building a palate.
Put EVERYTHING BACK WHERE it BELONGS.
This should have been taught in the home when people were 4 years old, but the chef’s job is not to take on this responsibility with 20 year olds. Spices go back in the same spot, every space in a cooler is reserved for a particular product, all equipment including small wares belong in a specific location. A cook is responsible for station mise en place and for maintaining the same throughout the rest of the kitchen. Do this and life is wonderful. Things out of place effect timing and raise the temper level of every cook.
DON’T OPEN ANOTHER CONTAINER of SPICES BEFORE CHECKING for any OPEN ONES in USE.
How many open containers of kosher salt do you need in the kitchen?
CLEAN UP YOUR OWN SPILLS – IMMEDIATELY.
After lifting incorrectly, the next most common injuries in kitchens are a result of falls. A small amount of liquid on a kitchen floor is an accident waiting to happen. You spill it – you own it.
In THE HEAT of SERVICE- ALL for ONE and ONE for ALL.
No matter what you state of mind is, no matter how many things listed above have gone wrong today, when it comes to service – every cook must be functioning as a team member. You can iron out differences at the end of the shift.
When you say, “I am thirsty”, it may already be too late. Cooks sweat and need lots of hydration throughout the shift. Drink water – not soda, espresso, or energy drinks.
STAY PROFESSIONAL – DON’T be an ASS.
There is no room in a professional kitchen for renegades who think that all of this is a joke. This is serious business and your cooperation is essential. If you want to be a rebel and come across as an ass then I would encourage you to look for work elsewhere before the crew decides to straighten you out.
PUT YOUR CELL PHONE AWAY
Of course I understand that we are all glued to our smart phones, but the kitchen demands your full attention and to be perfectly honest – being separated from your phone for 10 or more hours a day is probably a blessing. Your phone creates more stress than joy, so put it on vibrate or lock it up for the duration of your shift.
KEEP POLITICAL VIEWS OUT OF THE KITCHEN
The country is so politically polarized now that any reasonable discussion will never result in bipartisan attention or compromise. The best rule of thumb is to keep all politics out of the kitchen. We should do everything possible to bring team members together rather than find ways to drive a wedge between opposing views.
SUPPORT YOUR TEAM
All for one and one for all is the rule of thumb in functional kitchens. Team members may take the opportunity to critique each other and even point out shortcomings among themselves, but no one outside of this tight group will ever have the right to criticize or harass any member of your team.
BE ON YOUR GAME
There is no excuse! Every member of the kitchen team expects everyone else to be on his or her game every day. Any weak link will quickly bring a team to its knees. This is not going to happen!
Cleanliness in a kitchen is a constant. You don’t leave cleanliness till the end of the shift, it happens after every move, every task, every plated dish, and every flip of a steak or caramelization of a sauté dish. Work, clean, sanitize, and back through the process again and again.
TAKE CARE OF THOSE INGREDIENTS
Cooks are only as good as the raw materials they work with. Professional cooks take care to properly ice the fresh fish, wrap and store meats, wash and contain fresh produce, gently handle that delicate cheese, ice bath a stock or sauce, and take care in handling all dry goods. These ingredients deserve a cook’s respect.
IT’S A BUSINESS OF PENNIES
Cooks understand what things cost in a kitchen. Not just the food ingredients being used, but the cleaning chemicals, china and glassware, disposables, small wares, and major pieces of cooking equipment. If a cook fails to understand and practice cost control savvy, then those pennies fade quickly. The fate of the restaurant is in the hands of every employee.
NO ROOM FOR DULL KNIVES
Cooks taking care of their knives means that they keep them honed with the sharpest possible edge, clean, polished and protected. A dull knife is a crime in the kitchen and any cook who fails to understand this should look for a different career.
FEET, HANDS, AND BACK
Knives and ingredients are only effective as part of a special dish if the cook takes care of him or herself. The most common aches and pains in a kitchen involve feet, hands, and backs. The right socks and shoes, isometric exercises for your hands, learning how to bend and lift, including stretching exercises in your daily routine, using dry side towels when grabbing hot pans, using gloves when appropriate, and care when using kitchen equipment will all help to prevent cuts, burns, pulled muscles, falls, carpel tunnel, and swollen feet. This is paramount.
DON’T PUNCH DOWN MY ADRENALINE
Every cook goes through an adrenaline cycle, every day on the line. Too much adrenaline early on in a shift can cause careless mistakes, too little adrenaline when orders are flying off the POS printer will back up service, and the inability to temper adrenaline after the last orders leave the kitchen will result in late nights and bad decisions. The cook needs to find rhythm to make the best use of his or her energy and part of the chef’s job is to set the stage for optimum adrenaline management. Doing anything to upset this rhythm can be disastrous.
COLD PANS DON’T WORK
Take those extra few seconds to make sure your pans are hot enough to sear, caramelize, and reduce. The sound of perfectly heated pans is music to a chef’s ears. Cold pans simply don’t work.
SIMMER – DON’T BOIL
For the most part you can assume that there isn’t much need for boiling in a kitchen outside of a light boil for pasta and potatoes. Simmer takes time, but helps to extract flavors and protect the integrity of ingredients while they cook with grace. A stock left to boil will result in cloudy, harsh flavoured broth and will give a chef premature grey hair. Be in control of the heat rather than have the heat control you.
YOU’RE NOT REALLY GOING TO THROW THAT OUT ARE YOU
Back to a business of pennies – there is a use for most every part of a vegetable and every part of a sub primal cut of meat, piece of fish, or shellfish. Scraps of certain vegetables can work in broths (not stocks), bones for stock, scraps of meat for pate and sausage, stale bread for croutons and bread crumbs, stale cakes and puff pastry for crumbs, egg shells to help clarify a consommé or compost for the chef’s herb garden, somewhat sour milk for pancake batter, and shells from shrimp and lobster for shellfish butter or fumet. The list goes on and on.
IF YOU CAN’T TAKE THE HEAT
The oldest kitchen quote in the book is still applicable. Kitchens are hot, kitchens are stressful, kitchens are intense and much of the time on the verge of chaos – if you can’t see yourself working in this environment then you should probably look for a different career. Certainly we can make things more amenable to order and comfort, but the odds of dramatic change is probably not going to happen any time soon.
FLAVOR IS MORE THAN JUST TASTE
Every good cook knows that taste is only one part of the formula when it comes to cooking. Flavor involves understanding how a dish tempts the olfactory senses, the texture impacts on bite and chew, the visual aspects of food affect the anticipation of taste, and even the positive sounds of cooking drive the experience of eating. Flavor is a combination of everything that builds up to an experience.
If you have any rules that you would like added let me know