Nearly every professional cook or chef will agree that discipline in the kitchen and adherence to certain rules and methods is critical to success.  Kitchen careerists live by these rules, imbed them in their subconscious, and rely on them every day.  There are certainly more to adopt, but this is a start.  Follow a serious cook or chef around for a day and watch how they instinctively fall back on these “rules of the professional kitchen” and fully understand why they are important.


In an era when tradition seems to fall by the wayside and relying on the way things have been done for decades is oftentimes frowned upon, this is one that is designed to protect a cook’s wellbeing.  Long sleeves on a chef coat may seem to get in the way of comfort, but they are there to protect arms and wrists from splattering grease, the immediate burn from boiling liquids, and the heat of the oven and grill.  You may want to show off those cook’s tattoos, but this will help from showing off those burns and welts.

[]       HOT PAN FIRST

A seasoned chef can tell if a cook is preparing a dish correctly simply by the sound of the pan.  Hot pans before a sear, sauté, or pan fry will set the stage for the Maillard Reaction that reduces protein and natural sugars into that beautiful golden color and the umami flavor of savory that is so important to the integrity of a dish.  An added bonus is that a properly heated (seasoned) pan is far less likely to stick during cooking – this is the natural way to create non-stick surfaces.


Preparing a perfectly grilled steak, grilling an exceptional burger, setting up that lamb shank for braising, building a beautiful sea scallop, or preparing a 109-rib roast for tonight’s prime rib feature all begin with a proper sear.  It is this cooking step that unlocks the texture, color and flavor that is so satisfying.   Some may argue that it is not necessary or that it does not lock in the moisture within during the balance of cooking, but my experience points to the opposite. 


Allowing meat to set out at room temperature for 30-60 minutes prior to roasting or braising will cut down on the time of cooking and the shock of a cold product in a very hot environment.  Failure to temper is one of the reasons why meats will oftentimes fail to reveal that beautiful, even pink color from just below the exterior to the center.  After cooking it is critical to rest the meat (whether a steak or chop or a full roast) at room temperature allowing the pool of internal moisture to be reabsorbed throughout the product.  Meat that rests for a few minutes will retain more of its juice and flavor once sliced.

[]       WHEN TO SALT

There is considerable debate over when to salt foods, especially meats.  Salting before cooking (anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight) will allow the magic of salt to permeate the entire product.  At the same time, salt will draw moisture from the product which may in turn make it drier (the way that curing does).  Salting after cooking provides that immediate salt blast to your senses – one of the more impactful tastes in your mouth.  Too much salt will alter the natural flavor of the dish while the right amount can enhance those natural flavors.  We can become salt immune if our first reaction in cooking is to always “add salt”.  The more you use it, the more you need to retain the same flavor reaction.  Always keep in mind that the guest may not have the same salt immunity as you and you can always add more, but you can’t take it away.  Learning this balance is part of the art of cooking.


Aside from the importance of chilling and re-heating rapidly for food safety issues, rapid chilling can slow down or stop the cooking process (as is the case with blanching and shocking fruits and vegetables for later finishing) that will retain the texture, flavor, and nutritional value of foods – and rapid re-heating will refresh a product to its intended texture and flavor without further cooking that might change the character of a dish.


This may seem like a silly habit, but it is consistent with a cook’s need for organization (mise en place).  Every part of a cook’s station needs to flow from a map of consistent perfection just like a pilot makes sure that the cockpit is precisely organized, or a musician ensures that his or her instruments are placed just so before a performance.  The cook needs to know, without looking or thinking, exactly where everything is placed so that a rhythm can result.  When mise en place, including towel folding and placement, is tight then the flow of cooking can be maintained.


You have probably heard that a dull knife is far more dangerous that a sharp one.  In both cases a knife is only as dangerous as the person holding it.  A dull knife takes more effort to do its job, more pressure to slice or dice, and as such more opportunity to find a finger or hand.  Additionally, your knives are meant, in most cases to cleanly slice through a vegetable, meat, or fish.  If a knife is dull, it can bruise those ingredients and impact their appearance, cooking, and flavor.

[]       CLEAN AS YOU GO

Cleanliness sets the tone for everything else that a cook does.  Cleanliness is a responsibility and an action that must become habit.  No matter how busy a cook gets, constantly washing and sanitizing work surfaces and tools will ensure food safety and build a sense of pride in his or her methods of cooking.

[]       HYDRATE

The ambient temperature in front of a stove can be well over 120 degrees, the ovens on a line are probably cranked up to 500 degrees or more during service, the blue flames from a char grill can reach close to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity driven by liquids in the process of cooking and the ambient air moisture from the dishwasher can make the environment of the kitchen almost unbearable.  Cooks must constantly replenish their internal moisture levels so drinking WATER (not espresso, energy drinks, or soda) during work is critical to health.  Your body will not tell you when it is dehydrated until it is too late – you must prevent that from happening.


The uniform is a symbol of the importance of cleanliness and the respect that you have for your chosen profession.  Represent this and you will find that your personal brand will be enhanced. 


Attention to detail – clean shoes demonstrate your desire to maintain clean floors.  Polished shoes tell the world that you are a proud representative of your work.  Clean shoes symbolize that you intend to work clean – it all goes together.


The chef probably harps on this every day so cooks can choose to do this because they are told to, or label and date because they know that this simple step is a key to food safety and freshness, communication in the kitchen, and a standard that every health department demands.  Make it a habit – not a directive.

[]       PUT IT BACK

Whatever it may be, food product, tool, dish or pan, piece of equipment, clipboard, or ice scoop – when you take it – return it (clean) to where it belongs so that any other person in the kitchen can easily find it.  Avoid the frustration of: “Has anyone seen the blade to the Robot Coupe?”


Finally, back to towels.  Every cook must have both dry and wet towels.  Dry towels (only) are for handling hot pans and pans and removing items from the oven.  Wet towels (in a sanitizer solution) are used to wipe down surfaces.  Keep them separate and train your conscious mind to always distinguish between the two.


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