Recently, I pointed to the things that drive a chef crazy, but line cooks share a list of actions or lack thereof that push their buttons as well. Some of these actions are real and correctable while others are simply a result of a lack of understanding. In all cases, if they allow it to, cooks will find that these perceptions and realities can get in the way of a smooth running kitchen.
The list is not meant to rally cooks around common frustrations, but rather put them on the table for cooks, chefs, managers, servers, and customers to recognize, ponder, and in some cases correct.
To all the line cooks out there – this is a partial list, I am sure that you have others that you connect with.
 EQUIPMENT THAT IS IN DISREPAIR
The job is hard enough without faulty equipment- slicers with dull blades, cracked vita mix containers, un-calibrated ovens, gas jets that don’t fire, oven doors with busted springs, sauté’ pans that are belled from excessive exposure to heat – and the list goes on and on.
 ITEMS NOT RETURNED TO THEIR PROPER HOME
Just as a pilot must be confident that his or her gauges and levers are imbedded in his or her memory, a line cook depends on pans, mise en place, sizzle platters, small tools like tongs and whisks, and side towels to be exactly where there should be. Wasted time looking for key equipment is highly inefficient and incredibly frustrating.
 USING A COOK’S KNIVES WITHOUT PERMISSION
As has been said countless times before – a cook’s knives are his or her most treasured possession. They are cared for and protected like a first-born. Grabbing a cook’s knives to use for something that they were unintended for and doing so without permission is parallel to stealing that first born. Do so at your own risk.
 SPILLS THAT ARE NOT ATTENDED TO IMMEDIATELY
Your spill may be my fall (or someone else’s). If you spill it then clean it immediately before it causes someone else harm.
 GRABBING A DISH ONLY TO FIND THAT IT IS NOT CLEAN
The cook just spent time, energy, and passion creating tasty, beautiful food. Assembling that plate in the pass is comparable to an artist passing a paintbrush over a canvas and signing his or her work. A plate that is not pristine and free of dings and cracks is an insult to the cook. It wastes time and shows how little someone else cares about the quality of work being presented.
 FAILURE TO PICK UP FOOD IN THE PASS WHEN IT IS READY
The waiter waits for the steak, the steak never waits for the waiter. Every second that a finished dish sits under the heat lamp robs it of quality. When the dish is ready it must move quickly to the waiting guest. Line cooks steam when a well-prepared plate of food is prisoner to the ticking clock.
 FELLOW COOKS WHO ARE NOT SERIOUS ABOUT THEIR WORK
When a cook takes pride in his or her work then it is essential that others in the operation support this effort. The weakest link will always bring down the team and the work that is done.
 CHEFS WHO CRITICIZE RATHER THAN CRITIQUE
Some chefs still believe that motivation is demonstrated through pointing fingers, yelling disapproval, and belittling a cook into submission. It doesn’t work! Critique involves highlighting the positive, pointing to areas where improvement is necessary and showing the cook how to improve. Criticism is in their face condemnation with malice and without the objective of making things better.
 CONFLICTING STANDARDS BETWEEN CHEF AND SOUS CHEF
When the chef and the sous chef can’t agree – how can a cook decide how to proceed and whom to follow? Get your act together!
 MISTAKES IN ENTERING ORDERS IN THE POS
The cook can only produce what is clearly called for. Mistakes happen and both front and the back of the house need to understand this and get over it, but when these mistakes are repetitive and done so without understanding the implications to the line and the system of delivery – then chaos is the result.
 CHEFS WHO DO NOT SUPPORT THEIR LINE COOKS
“All for one and one for all” has always been the battle cry of teams. A chefs job is to set standards, train, and monitor that those standards are met. The chef should also realize that when this system fails it is ultimately his or her fault for not fulfilling the job requirements. When mistakes happen the chef should be expected to own up to it, support the team, readdress training, and set a new course as the leader of the crew.
 RESTAURANT OWNERS WHO FAIL TO UNDERSTAND A LINE COOK’S VALUE
Time and time again line cooks will point to the meager wages paid for the unique expertise of those who prepare most of the restaurant’s food. Inferior wages and viewing cooks as interchangeable parts does very little to inspire loyalty and push a team towards excellence.
 CHEFS AND OWNERS WHO NEVER GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
The chef is the face of the restaurant – we get it. It is the chef’s cuisine that sets the tone for the operation, but it is the line cook who has to follow through and ensure that everything is prepared and presented correctly. On occasion it would be nice for the owner and the chef to acknowledge this.
 SERVERS WHO BLAME THE KITCHEN FOR THEIR OWN FAILURES
OK – things occasionally go sideways. Timing is off, a dish is lacking a component, the degree of doneness is not what was intended, or the flavor profile doesn’t quite match the description. Pointing fingers never solves the issue. Whether it was the fault of the kitchen or the fault of a miscommunication from a server is not the issue – the issue is how to salvage the situation and take corrective action. Cooks hate it when that finger is always pointed their way.
 OTHERS WHO BORROW FROM A COOK’S MISE EN PLACE WITHOUT PERMISSION
Don’t even go there. A cook’s mise is the comfort that allows for efficient and focused work during service. When a cook’s mise en place is appropriated without knowledge then disaster looms around the corner. Yikes – this is the quickest way to unleash a line cook’s wrath.
Go ahead – add your own pet peeves.
PLAN BETTER _ TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training