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Advice for a line cook

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Hey everyone, my names Ben. I just signed up for this cause it seems like a really great way to get to know people and get advice and especailly give advice. I have been in the business for 5 years since i was a sophmore in highschool...im now going into culinary at Grand Rapids Culinary Institute. I just recently got promoted at my job as one of the head line cooks. I work the "Middle" as we call it. My chef likes to refer to me as the "quaterback." I make sure everything flows well on the line, I plate the food that is cook...do all the garnish, and I even cook the food during busy rushes. I was just wondering if anyone can give me any good advice on really how to be a "quaterback." I do a great job as it is..but i would always love advice on how to get better...i know im young and i have alot to grow on...but why not start now. So if any of you have any advice...it would be wonderful Thanks!!
post #2 of 16
First of all, Ben, Welcome to ChefTalk! You've come to a great site to share information, ask questions, learn, and teach (yes, even a young cook starting out can teach somebody something!).

Second: I'll tell you what I think you should need to do to get better, even if you are already doing your best:
  • keep your eyes and ears open and learn everything you can about what is going on;
  • make sure that if you have to keep communications open between others on the line, you do it as well and as clearly as you can (I've worked the middle, and know just how important it is to get everyone coordinated so that a table is ready all at the same time);
  • work clean!!!!!!!
  • always be willing to do whatever your chef tells you to do;
  • ask lots and lots of questions (when there's time for your chef to answer them, of course).

But now I'm going to give more members here a chance to answer -- which they might not do if your question stays on the "Cooking Questions" board -- by moving this thread to another part of ChefTalk where more folks will see it.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #3 of 16
no mater how bad the rush how pissy your broil cook is(that was me when i worked the line and we have bad aditudes he he he) and when the wait staff is loosing it YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO!!!!! and do not let the wait staff talk directly to your cooks make them talk to you very very important keeps the line flowing.....and remember to sing a happy song no mater what(im not kidding keep your line as light hearted as you can)and always have fun!!!!! and thats an order from this humble chef
post #4 of 16
Everyone here is right. I am the head line cook at my boss's new fine-dining/piano martini bar. Place has been open for 6 months. Anyways, I have to work expo, saute and oven while making sure all cooks online know what they are doing."120 seater"small" The key is being able to ride wave too wave of orders. I do this by having a totally organized station, all the speedpourers facing the same way, same spot everytime. Set up your station as if you have no eyes, create a place for everything, rags, tongs, food, knives, everything... and make sure if it isn't in your hand, its there. Thats what I do, it saves me lots of hassles to be neat, clean and organized "n.c.o." Those were the primary skills my boss taught me when I started in the buisness and I can say they are good to possess. I want to know how long I have to go before I can claim the title of sous or assistant chef. I started writing prep lists and do most of the ordering...infact... I need more salary! Cya, hope this helped...
"Set the gearshift to the highgear of your soul...You've got to run like an antelope, out of control" ~Phish
"Set the gearshift to the highgear of your soul...You've got to run like an antelope, out of control" ~Phish
post #5 of 16

Everything said before, also what I found in my personal climbing the ladder was, do everything that no one wants to do and be very good at it. Later down the line you can say "when I was a ..... I did ..." and then you explain how it is done. Also your Chef/ boss will see that you are open to do any and everything. more $$$$ and knowledge.

Work in other sections/ departments to learn other things that you dont like also.

Good Luck,
post #6 of 16
Your biggest challenge will be communication. Communication and keeping it together. Learning how people work and getting the most out of your team is the most difficult part of all. Getting your team through difficult situations is way up there as well. Here are some of my tips.

Learn to trust your team members. This doesn't mean letting anyone do anything they want. You still have to do the all days and compare it to what the broiler guys has on the grill.

Show them that they can trust you. You're there to lead, not to be friends, but you can still do it with respect and dignity without screaming your head off.

Be responsible for your actions, and hold others accountable for theirs. At the same time understand that sometimes mistakes will happen. Instead of assigning blame, regroup and take it from there. You can always improve the system, but you can't do it in the middle of lunch.
post #7 of 16
:smoking: Hey man.... good choice of job.... i used to work the middle at this restaurant back at home before i came to college. some advice is always be on top of things stay concentrated never get lost know what is cooking everywhere communicate with your expiditer and have him control them waitresses who get out of hand alot. key rule is communication. dont be afraid to admit mistakes though. and last but not least do not loose it you are not allowed to loose it you are the one that can bring all back together if anything goes wrong....i would say my advice is good i used to work at a 412 seat restaurant where lines would go out the door and around the parking lot but hey its the same almost everywhere.... good luck man :smoking:
post #8 of 16
Communication: don't yell, but make sure you can be heard. Don't get upset - ever. If a cook @#$%s up then just calmly make sure the problem is going to get fixed, and bump that bill back if needed. Stay organized, calm, and everything will be alright.
post #9 of 16


if you are doing the plating and the garnishing, then look into as many cooking mags as you can in your spare time to get new ideas on plating
and presentation (of course, discuss such with the head chef or sous chef
first!) customers eat with their eyes before they eat with their mouths
and if the plating brings raves, the upper ups will hear about it from the
customers. it's all good.
post #10 of 16

Just to reiterate what's already been said: expo is all about communication. Clear, concise, and effective communication. Know who you're working with, their limitations, their skill level, and their timing. Then orchestrate the service. You're the conductor, they are the musicians. In my opinion, it's the most important position in the brigade (which is why in larger brigades it's often filled by the Chef or the Sous), and if you lose it, the whole service is going to go up in smoke. 


So just remember: stay calm, stay focused, and if a station goes down or is lagging then get them the help they need.

post #11 of 16

I don't know if you've gotten around to it or not but I'd recommend Anthony Bourdains book Kitchen Confidential. Its great for people just starting out and great to reread as time goes by.


Always keeping a cool head is definitely number 1, when the chef or middle guy starts to lose it the line can feel it and quickly lead to disaster. Learn to let things go, it does get intense on the line at times, there may be a dispute amongst guys on the line, someone messing up/slowing things down but you need to quickly take action to fix the problem and then act like nothing ever happened to keep their morale up. "You know what you did wrong? You know how to avoid it? Good, now don't do it again." and right back to smiles and good times.


As a line cook in general its good to know your place, don't go trying to change things or be an "artist" its the chefs menu, execute it as best you can as consistently as you can. however, don't be afraid to discuss ideas with the chef once you kind of proved your value/knowledge on the line.


Consistency... consistency is everything. You need to be able to turn out the same dish, the exact same way you've done it all previous 150 times that night.


Cleanliness, organization, take responsibilty for your station and take ownership of it and your "meez." I've gone and bought several pieces of my own equipment just to have my meez precisely how I want it, and so that no one on the line will need to borrow anything of mine. This doesn't mean not to look out for other stations, the line is a team, but remember your station comes first, and you don't want anyone having to get you out of the weeds, you wanna be the guy getting everyone else out of the weeds. Make a list of everything you need and if there's downtime instantly restock it. I mean EVERYTHING.


Its fine to talk with the guys on the line and make it fun, but remember the priority is good food, when you get an order in stop whatever bullshitting you were doing and get on it. Food first, over everything.


learn spanish.

post #12 of 16

than you so much

post #13 of 16

You will be degraded every time you try something new because you did it wrong, work harder than the people you see around you who are given praise for doing menial tasks without a hint of recognition for your accomplishments, and question your whole career choice.  It will break your pride and your back.  That said, if you watch the more established people around you and emulate the best qualities and voice they bring to the table, have the humility to learn from them and the work ethic to outshine everyone around you without the need for praise, and the drive for picking up new skills, you'll do just fine in the long run.  Get to the point where you can garner some pride and confidence in your work and the Chef's goals, and start teaching others.  Don't be afraid of a new complicated recipe, because if you get it wrong the first time, someone will make sure to get it right the next time.  Your Chef has a message.  Get on board with it, and never complain about your role.  Just make yourself more valuable.  Good luck to you.

post #14 of 16

AMAZING advice.  This is by far the best way to be the 'go to' guy at your work.  Line cooking is bitch work.   Own it, love it, live it, do what no one else wants to, clean like you're gonna lick every surface that you touch, and always cook everything like you were cooking for yourself. 

post #15 of 16

I agree with Dele, You have to lead By Example. 

post #16 of 16

I can't really add much to what has already been said  except to say again how important communication is, having your "mise en place" and taking criticism and yes i agree with above if you haven't already read kitchen confidential by anthony bourdain.

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