Restaurants are two completely different worlds: In the front of house, where guests are dining, it’s a controlled, peaceful environment that’s relaxed and comfortable. But in the back of house, out of view of the guests, it’s hot, chaotic, dangerous, and a mad rush to get the customers their food. How exactly do restaurant kitchens operate? What are the rules that kitchen crews live by? This question was posted to Quora, and plenty of chefs weighed in. The key takeaway? Efficiency and safety are everything.
Don't screw with my mise
Ninety percent of a kitchen's efficiency and quality of food can be attributed to the hours before the doors open, when everything is readied for the actual cooking hours. That's called ‘mise en place,’ everything in its place, and is part religion and part true art and craft. Most any bozo can heat a bunch of things and arrange them on a plate. Touching, taking, rearranging, my mise is a beating and firing offense in my place, worse in many others.
Mouth shut, eyes open
Kitchens are loud and dangerous places. People get cut, burned, crushed, and worse. Most days have hectic phases where a keen eye on the food and your surroundings will make the difference between success and failure or injury.
My tools are mine, my knife is MINE
Almost worse than touching my mise is touching my knife. It's mine, it's what separates me from savages, foodies, and the diners outside. It's a precision tool, it's my precision tool, and it defines me as a cook or chef. Don't touch it. Ever.
We work when we work, we party when we party
A good differentiator between bad and good kitchens is when the party starts. While we all hold somewhat romantic notions of the early 90s and late 80s when lines of coke and bottles of whiskey were consumed directly from the prep table during rush, that's not really how it happened in most places and definitely not how it happens today. Sober cooks make good food, healthy cooks keep making it. Drinks and drugs (and sex, much sex) happens after the kitchen goes cold, all else is dangerous, problematic, and unhygienic.
Chef is Chef
It doesn't matter that you know it better, it doesn't matter that you know more. Kitchens are military style organizations (and that's a good thing, not everyone wants to work in granola munching kale and cubicle land) and what chef says is the law. If you're a cook, what Sous or your Chef de Partie says, is the law too. And if you're 45 and came from a high flying investment broker job, that 19 year old girl is still your freaking boss and if she tells you to cut one way, you cut one way.
Label and date
This is to ensure that the oldest products and ingredients are used first, but also increases efficiency, when you're rifling through the walk-in looking for prepped mushrooms it’s a lot easier to read
“mushrooms 6–9 ” than to peer through the quart container to see what’s inside
- First in first out
This goes back to labeling, the oldest products must be used first. Also it is important to organize products in the walk-in or dry storage so that the newest product is behind the oldest. If there is an open bag of panko in dry storage it should be prominently displayed so that someone doesn’t come in looking for panko and opens another bag, now you have two open bags of panko that will eventually attract moths.
It gets hot on the line
- really hot, so cooks sweat a lot, it’s hard to be at your peak performance if you're dehydrated. When I was a runner back in the day would bring the line quart containers of water every hour or so without them asking, I was normally compensated with a burger at the end of the shift. That brings me to another point, NO GLASS ON THE LINE. If you're drinking from a glass on the line and you break it all of the Mise en place on the pass must be discarded. This is especially problematic if it happens on grade manger, you're throwing out all of your cheese, greens, nuts etc.
If something is hot, let people know
“‘Hot pot!’ or equivalent must be shouted if placing hot equipment away from the stove and where it can be handled by others. Failure to do this can lead to nasty contact burns in the potwash or by other chefs or [servers.] It's a very important rule usually learnt the hard way. I have heard of chefs marking hot pots and handles with flour but that doesn't sound good enough. And when I say ‘hot pot’ I need to hear ‘yes chef.’”
You burnt it, You clean it
“Maybe not universal, but I came across it as a junior apprentice and was impressed to see the head chef and scary sous scrubbing badly burnt pots when they messed up. But then they very rarely burnt anything. Promotes team cohesion and the sense that everyone is as important as everyone else in a kitchen. They are, everyone needs to be doing their job. No one needs to be scrubbing your mistakes. Either do it yourself or make less mistakes.”
Do not touch the food
“If you want to taste something and this is permissible as part of your job or you are invited to taste something, use a clean spoon or fork. Always. This applies to chefs, auxiliary staff, waiting staff, kitchen managers, restaurant owners and anyone else hanging about in a kitchen. I don't care if you just washed your hands. In my kitchen you go get a spoon.”
Let someone know when you’re behind them
“One of the most important rules in the kitchen is that anyone who walks in (whether it's FOH or BOH employees) must say ‘behind’ or ‘back’ whenever you are walking, standing, or just around the back of someone. During service, no one wastes time to look behind and walk; they just turn around and walk. Imagine turning with a hot pan to plate, only to be stopped, tripped, or stumbled into someone else.”