It’s likely everyone is familiar with the statement by Voltaire, “Common sense is not so common.” From our personal experiences I know that you, like me, have found this to be true. People are not born with common sense; they acquire it through life experience. I would present a theory that there are few environments more appropriate for acquiring common sense than a professional kitchen.
Those who have spent time as a cook or chef have all fallen prey to or effectively acclimated a new member of the kitchen family with a directive to “Go down to maintenance and bring back a bucket of steam.” Of course, if we were to sit down and analyze the request one would assume that the obvious response should be, “You can’t fetch a bucket of steam.”
“Never assume that the obvious is true.”
To that young, eager new hire, it is his or her responsibility to act on a request and do so with enthusiasm. Returning to a room full of laughter, this new recruit is embarrassed at his or her lack of common sense.
The Internet is filled with ample quotes on the value of and the lack there of – common sense. This gives credence to the importance of the subject and the need for a solution to the world’s terrible grasp on the obvious.
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”
So why is the kitchen a perfect environment for learning common sense? First, we work very hard; second, we all practice stick-to-itiveness; and third we acquire common sense through vivid everyday, hands-on experiences that test our true understanding of the obvious. Here are some examples:
 LIFT WITH YOUR KNEES, NOT YOUR BACK
Kitchen employees are constantly lifting heavy objects whether a pot filled with stock or sauce, a strap pan from the oven with two full rib eyes, or a 50-pound bag of carrots, onions or flour. It doesn’t take much to tweak that back as a person bends at the waist rather than spreading the weight by bending your knees. The majority of Workman’s Comp claims in kitchens are due to back strain. We learn after that second visit to the chiropractor.
 DON’T PULL A PAN FROM THE OVEN OR STOVE WITH WET OR DAMP SIDE TOWELS
Cuts in a kitchen are one thing. In many cases they become an annoyance. Burns on the other hand can totally consume your thoughts, your physical abilities and your desire to continue with any task. Steam burns are the worst. We learn after the application of burn cream and a lost-nights sleep popping painkillers.
 WATER AND OIL DON’T MIX
You might be able to challenge this when creating a sauce emulsion or vinaigrette, but when you apply heat to this mixture, the water and oil go into battle with each other. Whichever one loses winds up spit out in any and all directions. Once the loser of the battle comes in contact with your arms or face you learn about common sense.
 DULL KNIVES ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAT SHARP ONES
Actually, it might be more appropriate to say that people lacking common sense are dangerous; the dull knife is just a tool that they use to hurt themselves. Dull knives require more pressure creating more opportunity for slipping from your grasp and finding some appendage to damage. Additionally, dull knives, when they cut through skin do so with reckless abandon, never a clean cut.
 IT’S HOT IN THE KITCHEN – DRINK LOTS OF WATER
The body rarely sends advance warnings of dehydration. When you are dehydrated the body stops. You get dizzy, break out in cold sweats, lose your ability to think clearly and become weak in the knees. At this point it is too late – time to sit out the game. Hydrating is common sense, once you sit the bench.
 LET PEOPLE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE
Kitchens are high traffic areas: servers in and out from the dining room, dishwashers carrying stacks of plates, line cooks moving with lightning speed behind the line, deliveries on two-wheel carts and nosy managers who fail to understand that the kitchen is not a place to hang out. “Behind you. Coming through. Hot behind you. Corner.” These are all simple communications that can save a crash, broken plates or injuries. Until you have collided with a server carrying a tray for a table of six, you will never understand.
 ASSUME IT IS HOT – USE A DRY SIDE TOWEL
Whether you are a cook on the line, a pot washer or a server picking up orders in the pass – assume that the pan, pot, or dish is hot – very hot! Use a dry side towel. You learn common sense as the welts start to appear on your palm or the first layer of skin on your fingers is seared shinny from the heat of the vessel.
 REMOVE THE HOT PAN FROM THE FLAME BEFORE DEGLAZING WITH BOOZE
Flaming a dish is a line cooks favorite thing to do. We love flames and these pieces of showmanship allow us to stand out in the moment. This is great if you are in control of the flame. Adding booze to the pan while still on a flame will result in an explosive burst of flame headed right for you arms or face. You learn common sense when the flame wipes out your eyebrows for the third time.
 HOT FOOD HOT AND COLD FOOD COLD
These are the most important Cardinal Rule in a restaurant. Hot food on cold plates will chill down the food by the time it reaches a guest table and a salad placed on a plate just removed from the rinse/dry cycle in a dish machine will wilt and lose its texture and eye appeal. We learn common sense after we are made to re-fire dishes or re-plate salads and desserts.
 DON’T WEAR SNEAKERS IN THE KITCHEN
Sneakers do not provide enough support for the most important part of your body – your feet. Sneakers do not protect your back from the strain of being on your feet for 10-12 hours at a time, and sneakers will not protect your feet from hot liquid spills or that out of control 5 gallon pot that finds its mark on your big toe. Purple toes and lost nails as well as another trip to the chiropractor will teach common sense.
 DON’T SCOOP ICE FROM THE MACHINE WITH A GLASS
The absolute WORST act of sin in a restaurant. Broken glass and ice cubes are indistinguishable. God forbid that a glass of water reaches a table with shards of glass hidden behind a scoop of cubes. This is something that you never want to learn from experience. Teach your staff this “law of the restaurant” and if anyone ever violates it – fire them on the spot.
 UNPLUG IT BEFORE YOU CLEAN IT
There are some safety mechanisms on power equipment in the kitchen, but foolish people can over ride them all. If you know of anyone who has ever been hurt by improper use of a slicer, Robot Coupe, blender, Buffalo chopper, stick blender, etc. then you know what you should do. Knowing is one thing:
“Knowledge counts but common sense matters.”
-Lou Anne Johnson
 THE COOKS UNIFORM HAS A PURPOSE
Setting aside the concepts of professionalism and tradition, long chefs pants protect against burns, long sleeve chef coats protect against splashes, burns and general heat and aprons add the extra layer of protection as well as keeping your uniform fairly clean.
Common sense is not so common, but it can be acquired. The learning process must always be a result of either personal experiences or observation of the impact that common sense has on another person’s wellbeing and performance. To this end, kitchens are filled with daily opportunities to learn.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
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