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Struggling as a line cook...

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
I finished 3 semesters of culinary school, and I've had a few part-time jobs in the past year or so afterwards. And at every single one of them, I keep hearing that I need to "pick it up"...even if I was trying my best, the chefs made it seem like I was dicking off.

The last one even resulted in me getting fired a few months ago, after about three weeks. It was a super-high volume steakhouse, and by the end of the second week they were expecting me to cover flat-top AND char-grill. Granted, someone would jump in and help during the weekend dinner rushes, but I still had a hard time keeping up. I was rock solid on my temps for the most part, but when their little screen had me in the weeds by about 10 tickets, I'd sometimes spend 15 minutes on one ticket...but I never had any plates come back. And then I called up to ask about my schedule for the next week one day and they put me on with the chef and he said that I "wasn't working out" and that they were gonna cut me loose. I was hoping I'd get more of a chance to prove myself than three weeks...and everybody on the line was saying how much I'd improved in the little time I had been there. I don't get it...it's not like they were throwing a lot of money at me or anything, and I'd like like to see someone come in and get thrown into the fire that quick and do a better job. :(

So anyway, I'm beginning to wonder if I picked the right industry to work in...it seems that I can't keep up with what most chefs are going to expect of me. What do you guys think?
post #2 of 25
15 minutes per dupe is a long time considering you can cook many steaks at once. The key to working a line is The minute you hear or see ordrd put it on , then pull it off half or 3/4 way.. Or possibly you are not cut out for the line work. Try pantry.Good Luck
CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 
But I really like working the line, and wish I could be better with my drop times and stuff. It's really exciting, especially when I'm able to keep up. What do you mean by pantry?
post #4 of 25
The line isn't for everyone. I've heard the same speech of "pick it up". Some chef's believe you should be able to do it all on your own. Which I think you should as well.

Advice on how to rock the line and make your ***** is:

Keep your cook.... No need to panic when it hits the fan. Just remember you can do your best and nothing more then that.
Be organized. Make sure you have all your stuff you will be needing ready and waiting for you so you dont have to run around like a mad man.
Remember you can cook more then one bill at a time..... Stagger everything by a min or two so it gives you time to plate.
Oh and make sure your garnish is easy and ready ahead of time. No need to fiddle **** around when your trying to get food out.

Most off if some chef fires you who cares. He probally wasn't worth busting your balls for anyways. There are alot of kitchens in this world. You just havn't found your little kitchen home yet. Keep looking..... Its out there I promise.
"If You Can't Handle The Heat... Get Yo Self Out The Kitchen"
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"If You Can't Handle The Heat... Get Yo Self Out The Kitchen"
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post #5 of 25
Lets not think that just because someones a Chef it makes them a master at every station on the line. In most cases a Chef is the worst one to have working the line. The line cooks do this everyday. The Chef is the leader, calling in the orders. He calls the bullet, you need to shot. A Chef will see if your worth your weight by watching if your orders come up when needed. If hes yelling at you all the time to shake your Butt, then you may be to slow........................Bill
post #6 of 25
True. A chef has the knowledge and when no time restraints are there can make the best food in the kitchen. On line I have never met a chef that could cook as good as his Sous or top Line Cook. If anything they mess up the flow of everything cuz now everyone feels they have to bring their best. If your slow though you will never last in this industry.
"If You Can't Handle The Heat... Get Yo Self Out The Kitchen"
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"If You Can't Handle The Heat... Get Yo Self Out The Kitchen"
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post #7 of 25
I'm going to be completely honest. Based on what you have said, it appears as if you haven't learned the importance of multi-tasking and speed. These two things combined with focus, communication, and organization will turn you into an all star line cook.

Anybody can memorize recipes. Anybody can learn how to grill, braise, poach, bake, etc. Anybody can cook a great steak. But can you cook 20 great steaks at the same time, while setting up your plates, while communicating with the rest of your line, while staying clean and organized, while keeping your cool? That is what being a line cook is all about. It is tough and frankly, some people are simply not cut out for it.

I've cooked in high volume restaurants for years and being in the weeds comes with the territory. But it's all about how you handle yourself that matters the most.

Ask yourself a serious question because there is a big difference between being a chef and a cook. Do you want to create the menu or do you want to cook the menu?
post #8 of 25
My advice, Start in pantry. That station will make you a speed demon or break you. Others may laugh that you work in the pantry but it will train you far better than any other station. Pantry deals with all salads, cold apps, desserts and most of teh time all at once.

In order to handle all that you have to be organized like a pro, be lighting fast, able to think ahead. By far the busiest station, well at least where I have worked. Once you mastered the pantry the rest of teh stations will seem much easier, because you know how to be organized, how to prep and how to keep it cool during battle.

Pantry might be the lowest spot on the line but I will always remember what my old GM told me. "You work the most important station in the restaurant, the guest start and end their night with your food"

The way all my former chefs trained new blood was the totem pole way. Pantry, then HOT APPS, SAUTE, GRILL, then sous chef(maybe) Anyways its late and Im losing my train of thought, Good luck to you, start off small and work up
post #9 of 25
Great point Rivver, thats a lot of the problem today, these kids get out of culinary school, and no offense Copter, but hey dont know how to work a line and they do need to start from the beginning. However they will progress faster because of skills they have learned, case in point you always get your steaks right..but you have to learn how to balance the whole scene, and that takes time, but dont give up
post #10 of 25
15 minutes for the 10 tickets is optimum.
:peace:
post #11 of 25
Organization, organization and a little more organization....don't get caught with your pants down i.e. running out of prep, poor organization. When cooking multiple small tickets try combining them, i.e. three table of two come in at the same time, fire it all as a table of six...Don't read just one ticket, fire it and then read the next. It's always easier to look at 3/4 tickets at a time and fire the whole lot...work the grill from bottom to top with rare meat at the bottom and med rare etc above (depending on the hot spots of the grill). Maybe look for a job as lunch line cook to begin, this can sometimes be an easier time of day to learn. All these things might help, but not everyone can handle the pace of a busy kitchen. There are plenty of hotel jobs that don't require you to work a line, maybe try banqueting.
UNDER PRESSURE AT PEMBROKE
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
http://thepembrokekitchen.blogspot.com/
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UNDER PRESSURE AT PEMBROKE
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
http://thepembrokekitchen.blogspot.com/
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post #12 of 25
The advice above is pretty sound, the key is to be vigilant and to get a handle on multiple tickets. It's also a good idea to organize things in terms of meats and pickup/standby. So in the rush you'll count all the tickets (or the first several if you are starting out) and you find that you have 4 strips, 6 tenderloins, 4 lamb, 2 pork, 6 venison, and 7 chicken and that 3 of those strips, 2 lamb, 2 pork and 5 chicken are on pick up.... what do you do??? Your food's starting to get burnt and the chef is yelling at you to give him the food.

First thing is don't stand there like a doofus! Keep yourself busy, don't stare at a steak grilling if you have other tickets and other orders. Keep counting the meat you have cooking or waiting to be fired and make sure you have enough for all the orders. Make sure that meats for the same table will be out at the same time, especially important that they're still quite warm when they go out to the pass (most importantly, don't serve hot meat.... you're going to get juices bleeding on the plate)

Keep an area on the line for seared/ready to be fired meats so you can keep an accurate count. Keep the meats of the same table together and always try to work on a ticket as soon as it comes up.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #13 of 25
Oh I forgot the most important thing. Vote for me in Maninpulated Photos!
post #14 of 25
You need to do what everybody else did roflcopter. Go to Line Cooking School. For me it was a pancake and pie place when I was 19 years old. I started where we all begin- making pancakes or some other menial task that led to another more difficult station that led to another more difficult station. At the pancake house if you were on the egg station, you were at the top! If I would have tried to get a job at anything besides an entry-level job I would have been laughed out of the place. Why? Because I didn't have line cooking experience. But after a year at the pancake place I was cooking the egg station and feeling comfortable and that eventually led to a job at a steakhouse that led to a job at a vegetarian restaurant that led to a job at an upscale fish place etc etc. So think about starting at some place that is set up to train you. Its not where you start that is important on your resume, its how you did when you were there and where your goals lie. Good luck in your endevours.
What a relief! To find out after all these years that I'm not crazy. I'm just culinarily divergent...
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What a relief! To find out after all these years that I'm not crazy. I'm just culinarily divergent...
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post #15 of 25
Thread Starter 
WOW :suprise:

Thanks for all the awesome thorough responses! I'd say this has restored some of my confidence that I can survive in this industry...I was getting pretty discouraged and starting to think that all those tuition payments that creep up every 30 days were going to waste.

This is EXACTLY how it was for me all the time! I had to keep him at bay the best I could..."five minutes chef", "two minutes chef", "30 seconds chef" to collect my thoughts and look at the screen and make sure it was all down, make sure it wasn't burning, plate the stuff that was done...I felt like running off of that line screaming at the top of my lungs.

It seems like I don't mind prep work as much as other people do...I tend to enjoy knife work and take pride in being able to do it well and somewhat efficiently. As it's been pointed out to me, maybe I should start there and work on my speed and being able to focus and multitask.

Thanks again! :thumb:
post #16 of 25
the fun thing is once you get it all together and learn to flow with the orders you'll look back and barely remember how you could have been so inefficient and unorganized. untill you do something else for six months and then get tossed back on a line in a new kitchen and have to learn to flow with that kitchen
"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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post #17 of 25
I agree with everything that's been said here, and it's true.. once you've been doing it for a while it will come naturally to you.
OK ... where am I going?.. and WHY am I in this handbasket??
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OK ... where am I going?.. and WHY am I in this handbasket??
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post #18 of 25
screens? wow. that would be nice. i havent seen a ticket in four years, and havent used a screen since i was 15 years old at dairy queen.

everything is call-outs; you have 20 strips with 4 temps coming with 6 chickens and two hangers and a pork, oh and by the way, one of the mid rares wants no salt and the well wants sauteed mushrooms on the side. oh and pick up a grilled chicken breast for the caesar salad.

repeat it all back and hope you can keep it straight while hes ordering and firing more, and you have to coordinate with 5 other cooks making other things...

yeah that sucks.

just keep workin on it man. youll either pick it up or you wont. and if you dont? servers make good money...
Bork Bork Bork!
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Bork Bork Bork!
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post #19 of 25
All this time I thought I was born a master chef! LOL, it's hard to remember sometimes how difficult it is to get started in this biz!
UNDER PRESSURE AT PEMBROKE
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
http://thepembrokekitchen.blogspot.com/
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UNDER PRESSURE AT PEMBROKE
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
http://thepembrokekitchen.blogspot.com/
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post #20 of 25
ok...your not gonna` want to hear this, but here it goes anyway. My first bet is that you liked the food industry and then wnt right to school thinking you`d get a good start there,but it`s still not too late. nothing will teach you speed like " jumping in the tank and bustin` suds"...they`re is no such thing as a slow dish washer(at least not in my place) you`ll learn multi-tasking there too. washing dishes & pots, sweeping, mopping, then prep and cleaning up after the chefs.
I know this sounds demeaning, but it`s not ment to. I`ve mentored many chefs, soux chefs, and even an exec. chef or two. working the line IS TOUGH....it takes a few years to get it right.
no matter what move you make next, I`d like to hear about it. I would truely like to help. Bill
post #21 of 25
Working the line can definately takes its toll on your spirits. I've learned to never take things too personal but always take things seriously. If ever you do find yourself in the weeds always remember to breathe, this will help you to stay focused and keep things in perspective. Cheers
post #22 of 25
Don't listen to anyone tell you that its not for you I had the exact same problems as you when I was starting out I even questioned whether I was cut out for it I even got fired from my first job. But I was passionate and persistent and I never gave up. Now I am seriously the cook chefs dream about having on staff. Find a mentor a fellow coworker a sous chef some one who will be patient and answer your questions I promise you things will work out.
post #23 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Peachcreek View Post

You need to do what everybody else did roflcopter. Go to Line Cooking School. For me it was a pancake and pie place when I was 19 years old. I started where we all begin- making pancakes or some other menial task that led to another more difficult station that led to another more difficult station. At the pancake house if you were on the egg station, you were at the top! If I would have tried to get a job at anything besides an entry-level job I would have been laughed out of the place. Why? Because I didn't have line cooking experience. But after a year at the pancake place I was cooking the egg station and feeling comfortable and that eventually led to a job at a steakhouse that led to a job at a vegetarian restaurant that led to a job at an upscale fish place etc etc. So think about starting at some place that is set up to train you. Its not where you start that is important on your resume, its how you did when you were there and where your goals lie. Good luck in your endevours.

true dat!!!!!!!

post #24 of 25

I can Echo the statements of Line Cooking school and pantry work or even the dreaded fast food place that does nice volume and hopefully has at least a few in house made items.  Volume line cooking is the only way to get the tools you will need to properly run a kitchen some day, and anyone who skips this step pays for it later on.  Starting at the bottom in the dish room will teach you to work fast enough and the mental discipline/humility that you will need as you advance in the culinary profession.  The old school way means starting in the dish pit and working your way up.  All too often I see people advancing without doing their time and mastering each step along the way.  Ideally getting this early volume experience somewhere while in high school or shortly after before going to culinary school is something aspiring chefs should be told (although the culnary school commercials on TV wont echo this message).

 

A busy Subway can teach the required skill set for learning pantry or fry station. 

 

As a sous chef, executive chef, or really any supervisory or management position in the culinary industry any decent crew will out you if you don't have the experience or skill set that has been developed over time and practicing each stations set of skills for years until you get competent.  There are some people out there who are naturals and it doesn't take them as long.  That does not mean with hard work others can't catch up or even surpass those peoples careers.  Alot of things impact the careers of chefs and cooks.  If you have ever worked with a 40 plus year old broiler cook who masters his station and gets paid proportionally you realize the romantic ideas people have about kitchens are way way off.  We pay our broiler cook who is in his mid 30's 18/HR.  We also surpass 20 million in sales per year and have fish coming off that station that cost 20$/lb, and the broiler station accounts for approximately 38% of the food coming out of the kitchen based on item sales.  When you are doing 600-800 covers per night and that cook has nothing coming back maximum maybe two items per week are returned and those were cooked correctly 9/10 times and the server or guest just misordered.  Cooks like that get paid well for a good reason.  They earn it.  The point I am making is it is way too soon to judge your career.

 

I am a 35 year old sous chef who makes a good salary considering my benefits.  I attended a reputable culinary schol in my mid twenties and graduated with a A- average(which would have been better if not for a commute and full time broiler cook job).  I have over 20 years of professional kitchen experience- and when I go through training at new stations; whether it be for job change, or new restaurant opening, It takes a few shifts to get mediocre at each station.  I work hard at it and study outside of work.  I do mental practice.  It takes effort.  This is just to get decent.  I will most likely never master any station other than middle/expo/inside expo/wheel or whatever you want to call running the line at my current restaurant.  Saute and broiler are the toughest stations in most restaurants.  They require skill and experience.  They should be built up to over the course of years.  Respect these stations and the line as a whole.  But do not fear them.  Fear will only make you want to give up if you don't face it.

 

Find a kitchen that is busy and high volume wherever that may be(better to work in a super busy Mcdonalds than a dying steakhouse downtown doing fifty covers a night).  Start at the bottom.  Work hard and maintain a positive attitude while you do the shittiest most benign and dirty jobs the kitchen has to offer.  Smile while you do them.  You will be fine.  Also realize the team you work with is your one and only real resource to getting better.  Listen carefully to your trainers and take notes your first few days.  Watch what the good people do and compare that to the ones who get behind the fastest.  What are they doing differently?  What are you doing well and what are you missing?  Your first few jobs have been a nice taste of what you can look forward to once you earn it.  For now focus on earning respect by working your way up from the bottom.

post #25 of 25
Chefscott34 nailed it. I started as a dishwasher in a busy seafood steak turn and burn 20 years ago. At that time the broiler cooks were excons not aspiring chefs. They didn't care about anything but being able to handle the load. When I worked my way up to broiler in 4 years I was proud even though I had just finished high school and was heading to college in the fall. I couldn't see myself in them and I didn't think I would wind up a chef, but today I am thankful for what they taught me.

I guess I can sum it up like this, learn the work first then the artistry. I have friends that aren't chefs but they can write one hell of a menu and talk about what the big boys are working on. The thing they can't do is hold down eggs during brunch. That makes you a cook. Spotting talent and giving that talent the tools to hold down eggs so you can run the kitchen makes you a chef.
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