LIFE LESSONS FROM A LINE COOK

LIFE LESSONS FROM A LINE COOK

I may be a showing a bit of bias, but I do believe that there are many lessons that anyone can learn from observing the daily activities and mindset of a typical restaurant line cook. These seasoned disciples of the range, maniac adrenaline junkies, talented players in the kitchen orchestra and salty dogs sailing pans across the flat top range are models to be followed through life. Here are some examples of the line cook curriculum for an organized life:

[] BE PREPARED:
In life, as in the kitchen – those who anticipate, run through potential scenarios, methodically build the skills and aptitudes necessary for success are the ones who do, in fact, succeed.

[] EVERYTHING HAS A PLACE AND EVERYTHING SHOULD BE IN ITS PLACE:
In a foodservice operation we refer to this as “mise en place”. It is a focus on all of the minute details that go into the make up of a plate of food and establishing the precise location for those details (ingredients) so that they can be imbedded in memory. This can also apply to playing a musical instrument, flying an airplane, driving a car or functioning effectively in an office cubicle.

[] DO NOT REARRANGE ANOTHER PERSONS FURNITURE:
Once a line cook has determined the precise set-up of his or her station and has designed a process by which he or she cooks and assembles plates – any disruption to the “plan” will result in chaos. If another cook steps into a line cooks domain he or she must respect the established mise en place. This is why many line cooks do not appreciate it when the chef steps in thinking that he or she is helping out. As in the previous statement about mise en place, this need for organizational respect applies to all other trades or professional work environments.

[] CLEAN AS YOU GO:
Maintaining a clean kitchen is only difficult when line cooks do not stay on top of cleaning constantly – even when they are busy. This trait, maybe above all others, is applicable in any person’s everyday life.

[] IF YOU CAN LEAN, YOU CAN CLEAN:
Line cooks realize that they are never paid to stand around. There is always something to clean in a kitchen. Once again, it is easy to see how this lesson can be applied elsewhere.

[] DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU:
What goes around comes around. If you ignore the needs of others, fail to jump in when someone else is having a difficult time, choose to constantly focus on yourself, then you (line cooks in this case) will eventually face a time when your needs will be ignored by others. If you are disrespectful, insubordinate or condescending – then you should be prepared for payback. This is not exclusive to kitchen life.

[] LISTEN MORE, TALK LESS:
On the line it becomes essential to keep the communication focused and relevant. “Yes, chef” says it all. To divert attention to trivial chatter is to disrupt the concentration and problem solving abilities of those who are under the gun.. Line cooks cannot afford distractions.

[] STAY FOCUSED:
Once that first ticket arrives in the kitchen, all attention must be on the process that a line cook has prepared him or herself for. Nothing else is important during the time of service. Apply this, as you desire to anything and everything. Focus is critical in life.

[] BEND YOUR KNESS BEFORE YOU LIFT:
Macho and smart do not always coexist. Smart people lift with their knees, not their backs. An interesting statistic points to a reality that the majority of all workmen’s compensation claims are for back injuries.

[] ON TIME IS 15 MINUTES EARLY:
Everyone needs those 15 minutes to make sure that they are properly dressed, groomed and mentally focused to start work. Restaurants do not pay people for this adjustment time, nor should any other employer.

[] STAY HYDRATED:
You body does not warn you of hydration needs until it is often too late – especially in a kitchen where cooks may be working with ambient temperatures well over 100 degrees, staying hydrated is essential. Line cooks (most of them) also realize that the best source of hydration is water.

[] WE ARE ALL DISHWASHERS IN GOD’S EYES:
No one in a kitchen is above doing what dishwashers do day in and day out. You have a minute – jump in and help the dishwasher. Apply this to any position, in any business: help those who help you – we are all equal in life.

[] PLAN AHEAD:
No excuses. Better planning = fewer problems, happier employees and better results.

[] DON’T RUN OUT OF MISE EN PLACE:
The kiss of death on a kitchen line. Run out of mise en place and it is all down hill from there.

[] MAKE SURE THE PAN IS HOT:
In life, always follow the steps that you know are important to success. Do not compromise or take short cuts when you know that the results will not be acceptable. On the line a hot pan will allow that fish to slide smoothly during sauté or the meat to properly caramelize and add wonderful color and flavor to the dish.

[] A DULL KNIFE IS MORE DANGEROUS THAN A SHARP ONE:
Respect your tools! A sharp knife will slice cleanly and effortlessly through a product. If it is dull you will need to apply more pressure, the product may slip from a solid position on the cutting board and find one of your fingers as a target. Additionally, that dull knife will bruise the food unnecessarily.

[] WATER AND OIL DON’T MIX:
Many of the kitchen injuries on the line are burns. Hot oil will push water away and spit in all directions. Whether it is in a sauté pan or friolater – cooks need to pay attention to and respect this rule. In cold cooking we also realize that many liquids and oil will not stay in suspension without the addition of an emulsifying agent to bind the liquid and the oil.

[] THE NOSE DOESN’T LIE:
Fish that smells fishy is not fresh, meat that smells off – usually is, vegetables that have the offensive odor of rot cannot be brought back to life. There are far more olfactory senses that taste buds – respect what your nose is telling you.

[] SNEAKERS ARE NOT SHOES – PROTECT YOUR FEET:
Your feet are the most important part of your body if you are a line cook. Sneakers may seem comfortable but they do not provide enough support or protection in a kitchen. Pick the right shoes for the job.

[] WET TOWEL/DRY TOWEL – DON’T MIX THEM UP:
Wet towels (in a sanitizing solution) are for cleaning, not for holding hot pans. Enough said.

[] TASTE-SEASON-TASTE:
My friend Chef Michel LeBorgne held this close to his heart as the mantra for all cooks. Know where the flavor is, adjust it and taste again before it winds up on a guests plate.

[] IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO IT RIGHT, WHEN WILL YOU FIND THE TIME TO DO IT OVER:
Before it leaves the kitchen it must be right. Plan and take the time to do it right the first time. There is no room for beta testing with your restaurant guests or for that matter with any product that consumers choose to purchase. The customer is no longer as forgiving as they may have been in the past – they are not interested in downloading “fixes” simply to allow the manufacturer the privilege of getting it out to market quicker.

The next time you are looking for worldly advice, check in with your favorite restaurant and watch how line cooks treat their jobs, their responsibilities and their peers.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

FOLLOW MY BLOG AT: http://www.culinarycuesblog.wordpress.com

  23 comments for “LIFE LESSONS FROM A LINE COOK

  1. Martin Harrap
    April 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I have been a chef for 47 years and this is the best written piece of advice I have seen in a long time. Excellent I will be using for my apprentices.

    • Shaina Stephens
      June 1, 2014 at 8:59 pm

      I’m just starting out but this has really made things a lot clearer to me. Great advice.

    • Felicia Brown
      January 6, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      I totally agree with you I will also be using this forum.

  2. jim
    April 16, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Great advice. I’ll only mention that a wet towel in a sanitizing bucket is for sanitizing, not cleaning.

    • Christina Williams
      June 9, 2014 at 3:47 am

      I CONSTANTLY have to explain this bit to certain coworkers. Also, leaving sanitizer towels out of the solution is a good way to contaminate surfaces through simple neglect.

  3. Joseph Hawks
    April 22, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Beautifully put. I have been a chef for 17 years and this is by far simply the best way to explain this not only in the kitchen but in life. Well said and well put.

  4. Bruce
    April 22, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Great

  5. Austen Ono
    April 22, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Heard..:)

  6. Justin
    April 22, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Respect your tools part for sure. I recently signed up for this thing called the toolbox from these guys. Worth taking a look if you like unique tools and gear – Equippedcook.com

  7. Scott Reichert
    April 22, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    I’m a culinary instructor for 18 years and a chef for 30 this will now hang in my classroom. We’ll put!

  8. April 23, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Reblogged this on Encyclopedia of a Boring Life and commented:
    Definitely. I spent 6 years as a dirty line cook all through my undergrad days, and I still use all these tips in my life. Lift with your knees dammit! NEVER run out of mise en place!!

    Current Jam: “What’s the Difference” Dr. Dre

  9. Sean Slattery
    April 24, 2014 at 12:33 am

    Ring so true for an old line cook!

  10. Simon
    April 26, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    HEARD

  11. April 27, 2014 at 5:49 am

    Reblogged this on @ChrisKaton.

  12. Chef Anthony Onduso
    April 29, 2014 at 5:28 am

    I love this piece.Its sooo true.

  13. Wagner
    May 18, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Trust it.

    • Shaina Stephens
      June 1, 2014 at 8:57 pm

      I think I will. It makes so much sense. I’ll try to never forget this list.

  14. June 6, 2014 at 4:27 am

    Thank you for putting in writing the credo that a lot of us preach on a daily basis. Maybe now that it is in print “they will start listening”.

  15. Chef Ag
    August 6, 2014 at 12:32 am

    I have been a chef all my life and every thing you wrote is gospel.. I learnt them all my 1st yr in the business and they all helped me to suceeed to the top. Two words I believe makes a difference for the better, no matter what the situation ure in.. “yes chef”..

  16. America Markel
    August 31, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    All those tips help me no only in the class also in my job and in my future business.Thank you very much!

  17. Felicia Brown
    January 6, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    I am very new to this but I am looking so forward to learning more and applying it to my everyday living.

  18. Mario Palmer
    May 28, 2016 at 1:27 am

    Gonna use this as a personal “go to guide”, for all the hard times that come my way in the in this career. Very helpful indeed!

  19. September 7, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    This article gave me a great insight on what is expected of me in this line of work.

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