“YES CHEF” – WHAT THE LINE COOK REALLY MEANS

Painted in Waterlogue

Since the days of Careme, Point, and Escoffier, there has been a military approach to how a kitchen is run. We have learned, rightfully so, that this type of order and control is essential if cooks are able to accomplish their daily goals. This, of course, doesn’t always mean that cooks enjoy the focus on directives (just like military personnel), but everyone seems to understand that this is the way it is.

There is an organizational structure (developed by Escoffier after his time in the French military) that delineates responsibility and reporting. The Executive Chef is the administrator of the kitchen, the Sous Chef is the production manager, Rotissier focuses on roasts, Grillade on steaks, Poissonier on fish, Potager on soups, Saucier on sauces, Boulanger on breads, and Patissier on pastries and desserts. Although most kitchens (outside of very large and formal hotel kitchens) no longer have such breadth to their staff, the breakdown of responsibility still exists at some level. Each person has definitive tasks to accomplish and fully understands how reporting works – respect for the chain of command. The common response by cooks to any question or directive given by their immediate supervisor is “Yes chef”. To those who live outside of the restaurant kitchen or military unit, this interplay between staff member and supervisor is very strange. It is, however, the environment that we live in.

Having spent time in a military environment and in numerous kitchens, I have lived this reality for decades. Since I have spent time on both sides, as a cook and as a chef, I understand the need for “Yes chef”, but also understand that underneath that response sits the reality of what the cook really means. So, for those who have forgotten or want to kid themselves about hidden meanings – here is a sampling of questions, responses, and real meanings. I would encourage all of you to add your own to this reality list.

[] THE CHEF ASKS:

“Is your mise en place tight; we open in 15 minutes?”

RESPONSE:    “Yes chef!”

WHAT THE COOK REALLY MEANS:

Crap! I’m screwed. I still have shallots to mince, pork medallions to pound out, shrimp to devein, and parsley to chop. Please, please, please do not call any orders to my station for at least 30 minutes.

[] THE CHEF SAYS:

“Ordering – three strips mid-rare, lamb rack for two – rare, two pork – extra well done, and four shrimp.”

RESPONSE:    “Yes chef!” (from two different stations)

WHAT THE COOK REALLY MEANS:

I’ll look at the tickets in a minute. I’m still trying to sort through the last three orders.

[] THE CHEF ASKS THE PREP COOK:

“Did you check all the quality points on that fish delivery?”

RESPONSE:    “Yes chef!”

WHAT THE COOK REALLY MEANS:

As soon as the chef walks away I better double check the gills, eyes, and cavity of the fish that I just signed for.

[] THE CHEF ASKS THE LINE:
“Is this the gluten free item for table 34 in the pass?

RESPONSE: “Yes chef!”

WHAT THE COOK REALLY MEANS:

I can’t remember if I dredged that fish in flour or not.

[] THE CHEF ASKS:
“Did you taste this sauce before it went in the bain marie?

RESPONSE: “Yes chef!”
WHAT THE COOK REALLY MEANS:
Please let it be right, I didn’t taste it after adjusting seasoning.

[] THE CHEF SAYS:
“We have a very busy week coming up, so I had to schedule you for seven days in a row.”
RESPONSE: “Yes chef!”

WHAT THE COOK REALLY MEANS:

What am I – your slave? I have a life outside of the kitchen. When am I supposed to take care of personal affairs? This is getting ridiculous – I need to find a real job very soon. In the moment I will be tactful, but this really pisses me off.

“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”

Winston Churchill

[] THE CHEF SAYS:
“This is a special order for the owner and his friends. Treat each dish as a VIP – make sure that it is perfect!”

RESPONSE: “Yes chef!”
WHAT THE COOK REALLY MEANS:

So, do you think that I don’t treat every order like it is special? Are you saying that most of the food we make is not perfect? He might be the owner, but what about the other seventy guests in the dining room right now; aren’t they the reason we are still in business?

________________________________________________________________________________

Kitchens without order, without respect for the chain of command, without the discipline to simply do what needs to be done, in the moment, will quickly fall into chaos. If you have worked in kitchens for a period of time I know that you have experienced that chaos. Because this is true, we follow the lead, respect the system, and learn that in the moment, this is what is necessary. It is always good, however, to understand that these hidden meanings cannot be ignored forever. Successful chefs and restaurants with longevity are cognizant of this and create ways for cooks to communicate their feelings and their needs.

“Good units (kitchens) walk a thin line between indiscipline and ineffectiveness. Ignore the rules too often and you’ve got a mob, but enforce the rules too strictly and you’ve got a herd.”

            Henry O’Neil

*The picture in this article is of a team of professional cooks from the U.S. Coast Guard with whom I had the pleasure to work this past week.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericaventures.com

  4 comments for ““YES CHEF” – WHAT THE LINE COOK REALLY MEANS

  1. Marcella
    October 17, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    This is more than accurate. Great post.

  2. Debra Hintz
    October 19, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    My daughter is a fine chef!! If its not right, she doesn’t serve it. She learned from her mother. Haha

  3. October 24, 2015 at 12:54 am

    “Larder! Going up, Table 12 to the pass in 2 minutes. Need sides and garnish. They’re my mates, make it swanee.~”
    “YES CHEF!”
    ~translation~

  4. Julia Mirek
    February 20, 2016 at 6:16 am

    Say what you mean, mean what you say. Responses like, “Heard that, Chef,” “60 seconds on ticket 57, Chef,” and “Chef, I need help,” communicate clearly and are respectful of the kitchen hierarchy. Disappointed to see the Garde Manger excluded from the conversation. Honest, concise communication is key.

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