You Would Be A Bad Ass Line Cook If…
To be a restaurant line cook is quite an unusual job, with a skills and personality traits to match. The kitchen is a dangerous environment, with it’s own peculiar ethos that varies from restaurant to restaurant. Yet, there are some universals. This list may seem to be generic or even cliché’d good qualities in any employee. But it’s not a job that a good employee in another industry can just step into. I personally have a longlonglong way to go on this list, but if you consistently exhibit these qualities, you would be considered a bad ass line cook.
You Would Be A Bad Ass Line Cook If You…
(list follows after the link)
(in somewhat of an order)
• you show up early, and work off the clock for a few hours each day.
• you have a good attitude – show enthusiasm for food and find satisfaction in doing good work and good cooking.
• you are coachable – don’t get defensive or act like you already know everything.
• you season everything. The “right” amount of salt and pepper is probably 50% of being a good cook.
• you taste everything on your station to make sure it is what it’s supposed to be.
• you never complain - especially about things that the chef can’t control, like customer requests, the hours the restaurant is open, how busy or slow it is, etc.
• you show respect for the chef, the food, how they want things done in THIS restaurant (not in any of your previous restaurants), and your co-workers. More specifically, co-workers to be respected includes dishwashers, prep cooks, bussers, expeditors and food runners, but does not necessarily include FOH staff. Servers are fair game.
• you always show up for work, even if sick as a dog. Let the chef see that you're really sick and send you home.
• you don’t get sick often.
• you can stay focused under pressure - expect to be in the weeds, and work your way out of it.
• you can handle anything that is thrown at you with a smile.
• you pay attention to what is happening around you. If the cook next to you is starting to get buried, help him/her out.
• you always have enough mise en place (preparations for the station). If it's a Saturday night, be ready. If it’s a holiday, be ready.
• you are conscious of minimizing waste – each $1.00 saved in waste is worth about $1.30 in revenue.
• you are fast, but aren't sloppy - have an extra gear of speed when needed
• you are efficient with organizing tasks - you make fewer trips to the walk-in, carrying something in each direction every time.
• you take your breaks when it's slow.
• you have good timing – if your food needs to be in the window in 2 minutes, make it happen. If you suddenly need to hold off for 4 minutes, figure out a way to pull back.
• you jump in and help when needed, without waiting to be asked.
• you know about food, but are eager to learn, too. Most times, technique is more important than recipes.
• you cook your dishes exactly as the chef taught you, the same every time.
• you have good short term memory, then can wipe it clean for the next set of picks – you don’t get confused easily.
• you stay until all the work is done, without asking to leave early. Ask if there’s anything else to do before leaving.
• you do it right, without cutting corners, even if it’s a pain in the ass and tedious. If there's any doubt on how to do something, ask for a sample before cutting up a whole side of salmon the wrong way.
• you work neatly, always Cleaning As You Go (CAYGo). At the end of your shift, you actually clean your station using actual sanitizer and an actual scrubbie, and actually label and date all your mise.
• you admit when you’re wrong, but don’t point it out when others are wrong – especially the chef.
• even if you think your way is better, do it the way the chef would want you to do it. If you must suggest something, do it in private. Or phrase it so it seems like it was the chef’s idea. Let the chef save face.
• “Yes, chef!” or “Oui, chef!” is the only proper response in a traditional kitchen. All questions to cooks will be phrased such that “Yes, chef!” is the correct and only response. If it sounds militaristic, that’s where it came from.
• you always callback orders and directions appropriately.
• you work in a safe manner, so neither you nor any cooks near you are likely to be injured.
• you warn chef when you are running low on an ingredient for your station, so that more can be ordered. Especially if it takes a few days to get.
• you warn chef ahead of time when you are counting down the number of an item you have left. "I have 5 fish specials left all day, chef." This is to be able to 86 something before a customer orders it, then has to be told that it's not available. That makes everyone look bad.
• you are able to work double shifts for many days without days off.
• you expect to give more than you get.
• you work for the good of the team and the restaurant.
• you ask for days off well in advance.
• you always know exactly what’s on your stove, or on your grill, or in your oven, even if it’s not yours.
• you anticipate what the chef needs next. If chef is about to put a sheet tray in the oven, open it for him or her. If he/she gets a can of tomatoes, go get the can opener.
• you don’t take yourself too seriously. Be able to laugh at how you fucked something up. But learn from it.
• NEW, 6-08: you are observant of what's going on in the kitchen. You smell when food doesn't smell right or is already bad. You smell when something is burning, especially paper or plastic (i.e. not just food). You notice if your food isn't as cold as it should be, meaning your lowboy might be on the fritz.
• NEW, 6-08: you work efficiently with regard to time. Most of the time, this means starting the longest process first, then do other things while that is working. This means both in your overall workday, as well as any set of dishes you have to pick up at the moment. For instance, you start your braises and roasts early in your day, since they take several hours and don't require much attention. Then you do your other prep work. Or if you have to make a dish that takes 5 minutes, a dish that takes 3 minutes, and a dish that takes 1 minute, you can do all of them in 5 minutes, rather than one after the other, taking 9 minutes.
• NEW, 6-08: you always tell chef when you leave the line.
• NEW, 6-08: you clean when it's slow. There's always something that can be cleaned. The old saw, "If there's time to lean, there's time to clean." is annoying, but accurate.
• NEW, 6-08: you never just stand around, talking, leaning, and waiting. This is a pet peeve of many chefs. Stand at the ready.
Please comment on anything I forgot!