plating 1

I know that I seem to consistently promote that cooks are different from most everyone else, but most people would agree that identifying these line pirates from just about any other person is just as easy out of uniform as it is in full cooks regalia. Comments are often made about identifying accountants and librarians by the way that they carry themselves, farmers and plumbers by the war torn hands that are a result of the abuse they take, and white collar workers by the opposite – hands that are soft and unscathed, but I can’t think of another profession that unveils its secrets in so many ways other than cooking. Just as cooks focus on incorporating all human senses in the dishes that they create, so too are these human senses piqued when the cooks whites are thrown aside and a person emerges from the heat and intensity of the kitchen.

While some people are able to set aside their jobs when they punch a clock on the way home, cooks find that their job follows them wherever they go. Here are some tongue and cheek examples to what I am inferring:


There is something about garlic and onions that permeates every layer of a cook’s skin. The smell seems to be impervious to soap and water and although a good scrubbing may seem to mask the aroma, it tends to reappear hours later for no apparent reason. The presence of a cook can turn heads for more than one reason.



Not to dwell too much on the “odeur du chef” but certain foods aside from onions and garlic, tend to cling to cooks for quite some time. Fish and lamb are maybe the worst offenders. You can always tell that a person is a professional cook by how many dogs and cats follow him or her on the way home.


Time is never a friend to a cook. We are always faced with the pressure of seemingly unmanageable time constraints. Because of this, a shift meal in the restaurant is often times 5 minutes of force-feeding while on your feet, standing over a garbage can to catch the crumbs. Cook’s at home tend to maintain this practice of upright dining and doing so in the shortest possible amount of time. Most cooks are done with a meal before others have had the time to spread out their napkins.


Take the dishwasher as an example – to most “civilians” loading the dishwasher at home is a random process of cramming plates, glassware and flatware into any and every slot without consideration for a system. In a cook’s home, this is a major, major bone of contention. Cooks at home will always presoak silverware, make sure that all plates are scraped and pre-rinsed and organized with like plates in due order. If anyone violates this need for order they will surely experience the wrath of the kitchen pirate. This same order applies to spices, the refrigerator, and pantry cupboards (although it might not apply to any other part of a cook’s home).


First and foremost, if a professional cook is given the opportunity to cook at home it is crucial to know that everyone else must stay away. Once the cook has taken control it will be obvious that he or she spends a significant amount of time in a larger, well-equipped space. The home kitchen will find that workspace for a cook is never sufficient. The cook will use every bit of counter space, insist on setting up his or her mise en place in small bowls, use every pot and pan that the home calls it’s own, and fire up the oven and burners in ready for real cooking to take place. It would be wise to hire a dishwasher to keep the kitchen space from total meltdown.

Make sure that there are plenty of side towels and paper towels in close proximity to the cook at home; tensions will be very high if these essential tools are in short supply.


You know you are in the presence of a cook when they are consistently saying “behind” when maneuvering through a crowd. The cook will also knock on doors before moving from room to room to ensure that no one is battered by an unexpected exit from one space to another, and on occasion you may even hear: “Hot stuff, coming through”.


Hansel and Gretel left crumbs to help them find their way back through the forest, cooks leave have consumed cups of coffee strewn from one end of a house to another. This is a telltale sign that a cook has been there.


Early on cooks learn about FIFO management (first in- first out) and control the freshness of food products by labeling and dating everything in sight. This is a habit that they cannot break when at home. Another sign that a person is a cook is the “labeling system” that will be obvious when you open the refrigerator.


When that “professional” cook at home finally completes preparation of a family meal don’t be surprised to hear him or her shout out “pick up!” When this happens, make sure that you drop everything else and move quickly to his or her side waiting for further directives.


In the restaurant kitchen, a line cook functions efficiently through the power of strategic lists. Prep lists, BEO’s, menus, recipes, are all part of a cook’s box of tools. Without these lists, cooks become powerless, so at home you will find the same to be true. First thing when a cook wakes up, he or she will automatically build a list for the day and then methodically check off items when they are complete. You may even find that a cook will prioritize the items on the list to make sure that he or she stays true to a self-imposed timeline.


Cook’s do not like to use other people’s knives – in particular. This is true for many reasons including a level of comfort with their own to real distain for home knives that are never sharp. When in the home kitchen, cooks will usually bring their own tools of the trade. Make sure, and I can’t emphasize this enough, that you never, ever, under any circumstances, pick up a cook’s personal knives and attempt to use them for any reason. I don’t even want to think about what might happen if you violate this rule.


When around a cook (another giveaway to his or her profession) make sure you understand that when he or she says something to you, your responsibility is to always repeat what the cook says, followed by: “Yes chef”. Don’t ask why, this is just how it must be.

Painted in Waterlogue


After a long, hard, stressful, hot day on the line, cooks will typically unwind for a time at the local bar that is patronized by every other cook in town. That first beer goes down way too easy. You know that you are in the presence of a cook when in a restaurant or bar; he or she kicks back that first beer in less that five seconds. Habits are hard to break.


There is a common, unwritten agreement in kitchens that language be interspersed with a heavy dose of four letter words used as nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs. You know that you are in the presence of a cook when for no apparent reason he or she breaks into a swearing tirade. No offense.


Meals cooked at home by a cook will almost always result in excessive leftovers. The reality is that cooks do not know how to cook for two or four.

In the end, you can take the cook out of the kitchen, but you can never take the kitchen out of the cook. I can pick a cook out of the crowd more often than not; we have our trademark methods of operation, way of walking, talking, working, and interacting. Yes, cooks are unique in yet another way.


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  1. This is so very true. I am a third generation Chef, two of my 4 sons are also Chefs. We grew up in a home kitchen that operated like a commercial one. Cook books were read like novels, recipes picked apart and reconstructed. Dishwasher loading still is an Olympic sport. “Order up” was your call to breakfast. Still is. You are spot on.

  2. This is so true. The one thing that I would have mentioned is our tattoos, not saying all Chefs have tattoos but the vast majority do. My wife is so annoyed when I say heard to everything people ask of me, but I can’t get it out of my system. There have been many,many times that we have gotten into very big arguments about how I can’t seem to live work at work. She says all I talk about is cooking and food and how shitty the servers are to me. That’s another article I would like to see, ” the sacrifice husbands and wives have to make in order to support their Chef”.

  3. This is so very true. My friend is also a chef. I look in the kitchen of his house is always available materials strange dishes, cookbooks thick that speak French.

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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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