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Some of My Core Beliefs and Practices as a Line Cook

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

Hi.  I work as a line cook here: http://www.zeitgeistartscafe.com.  So far, it's one of my favorite jobs that I've had, and I've been in the business for about...9 years or so.  

Anyways, I thought I'd share with you guys my sort of philosophy when it comes to delivering the best work I can deliver as a line cook.  I use the titles of these concepts as mantras that I meditate on before service, and they've helped me tremendously.  Here they are:

 

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#1.  Everything I do is nothing.  There was a chef on Hell’s Kitchen who said “You gotta check your ego at the door when you walk into a kitchen.”  It’s true.  Think about how big this universe is.  Never forget how small we really are.  From completing the perfect dish, to tossing a ticket in the window.  Everything I do means nothing.    Cooking the perfect medium rare burger is your job.  It’s not a significant achievement.  Your job = perfect or nothing.

#2.   I stay one step ahead of everything I do.  Doing this not only allows you to stay completely focused, but it sparks the driving force within that pushes you until the end of the rail.  If you choose to follow only one of these rules – let it be this one.  

#3.  I stay two feet above the entire situation.  A lot of the best chefs I know, the best managers I know, the best leaders I know, are physically tall.  That’s not to say that short people are incapable of leading a team.  But it does make everyone else a slight bit smaller than them, physically.  They are used to looking down and seeing everything from a little higher above.  That – I believe, is one reason why they are so good at being in control.  Because if you see the big picture – you can remain in control.  If you only see one little detail after the other – then you’ll be tossed around by everything that you can’t see.  So this is all about maintaining the perspective of being like a hawk – flying above the situation and seeing the prey easily down below.  From THERE – everything you need to operate with lies before you, individually and as a whole.  Now you can create with efficiency, speed, and remarkable tranquility within the chaos that is a busy kitchen.

#4.  Transparency.  It may not be like any other business – it may be messier, it may be more personal, it may be this or that – but never forget that you are running a professional business.  If there’s a flaw, it must be addressed.  It’s not personal – it is professional.  Remember how much people are paying for their food.  You have to be the customer at the table and the chef.  Transparency.

If you were working as a construction worker and your co-worker kept using the wrong sized boards for the project you’re working on – you’d let them know how serious of a problem this is – not to be a dick and “push you around”, but to ensure the standards of your company.

If you called the fire department because your house was burning down, and they arrived an hour later than they should’ve, there would be some serious hell to pay.

Same thing in the kitchen.  If someone isn’t moving with a sense of urgency, you MUST let them know.  Withdraw from the notion of “offending them” because it doesn’t matter.  Of course, don’t be a dick about it and go over the top – but let them know the standards, let them feel the foreshadowing consequences in your voice.

For some reason, it seems easier to let yourself chillax in a kitchen.  I suppose the environment is more casual than that of an office building, or what have you.  And it’s about enjoying the nightlife, relaxation and entertainment – not important documents and professional sales calls.  But don’t let the casual atmosphere deceive you.  It is a professional business, just of a different trade.

#5.  Flow.  This is the last and most important principle, because when you allow yourself to just flow and move forward with a relaxed momentum – the other 4 principles become possible.   This is what unlocks your ability to get things done in a kitchen – staying out of your head.  It’s a simple job.  And “in order to be a great chef, all you have to do is a lot of little things well” (Marco Pierre White).  If you study those little things, and practice them with a passionate urgency to improve, then just let yourself do it.  Don’t take your mind for granted – it’ll move automatically, like water through a water wheel.  Being able to flow allows you stay relaxed, have fun, and keep a positive attitude.  And that is the guiding force that will get you through a service.  Because with all this shit to do, in a limited amount of time, in a limited space, while dealing with hot pans and knives and people in your way and running out product and all this shit – there’s plenty of little things that are bound to piss you off.  And over time you’ll realize that all these little things are part of the job, it’s natural.  And if you just keep a positive attitude about what you’re doing, you’ll be above all those little things, and it makes life so much easier.

#6.  Perception Determines Attitude.  Life is choice.  You can choose to feel like a slave, or you can choose to feel like a master.  You choose to feel like every ticket that rings in is another knife stabbing into your back, or you can feel like every ticket that rings in is another opportunity to get stronger, and practice.  They say “pain is weakness leaving the body”.  Allow this pain to cleanse your body of weakness.  Allow the pain of every ticket that rings in to permeate your reality.  Just let it be what it is.  Every time you hear a ticket come in, say “thank you”.  This moment is of great, golden, precious value; because through this pain, through this repeated experience, you are carving your mind to be able to reproduce the highest standards that you, as a line cook, must abide by.  This is the fastest, most powerful way to become a rock solid cook, and it’s also the most painful.  But you can choose to either be a sheep, or be a wolf.  Chances are if you're still reading this, you're a wolf.  So own that lifestyle!

post #2 of 26

All very good core values to have. I'm impressed. Too bad the rest of the world doesn't feel as you do.

 

This is a good starting point for a conversation about caring for your job.

Many people do not. 

Many cooks do not have the mental and physical capacities to work at a station for hours on end nor do they have the ability to consistently put out the same quality.

 

I went out for breakfast yesterday morning and ordered chicken fried steak. The cook fried the living hell out of that piece of meat and the french fryer he used was previously used for frying fish, so my steak tasted like fish. 

Or the restaurant that serves Veal Oscar and the Bearnaise is fake but the price isn't.

 

I know a few guys who view the POS ticket machine with disdain and want to drop it in the fryer.

YOU have a good mental attitude...good luck with that.

 

post #3 of 26

PS, Great attitude and a great asset to the company you work with. The problem I see with most cooks is, they may walk in with a great attitude, but it doesn't last long. The other problem I see is, once you have a cook with an attitude like you have, they move them up into a position that their not comfortable with, set them up to fail, then they can your ass a few months later. If they only left you alone, they could have had a great front line cook, now they have nothing. The cook isn't the problem, it's up to the Chef to keep their crew motivated and helping them succeed in their goals. I think a lot of Chefs feel, if they train someone and make them to qualified, they may be training the person that will replace them. The real truth is, if you don't train your employees to move up and succeed, you will never have a first class quality kitchen with contented employees. The other down fall to may line cooks is the repetition of cooking the same menu day after day. It's up to the Chef to take their top cooks and make them part of the kitchen, let them innovate new specials, bonus programs for performance, while still keeping the cooks in their comfort zone. Not everyone is cut out to be a Chef, there is nothing wrong with being a great line cook, as long as your working for people that realize how important you are to the success of the operation. ....................The attitude you have doesn't end when you leave work,  it follows you in life.                   Chefbillyb

post #4 of 26

Can't believe you're quoting Hell's Kitchen, haha.
Got a good laugh out of that, and #3.

post #5 of 26

OK, Old Guard coming at you...

 

Rule 1 Never argue with the lead cook

Rule 2 Read rule 1

 

If you want to survive in this business, Keep your eyes open, your mouth shut and your hands moving

 

If your not moving, your loosing

 

If you have time to lean, you have time to clean

 

You have two eyes, two ears one mouth

 

you need 360 vision and omni hearing

 

You burn, you learn

Any other little sayings? would love to hear them, thanks John Meyer

 

post #6 of 26

I'm a new line cook and this is truly inspiring. Ill take these ideas to work with me and put them to use!

post #7 of 26

Thanks for posting this.  I really enjoyed reading it.  In particular, I like what you posted in "#6".  Well said.

post #8 of 26

Well said.

 

post #9 of 26

" There was a chef on Hell’s Kitchen who said “You gotta check your ego at the door when you walk into a kitchen.”"

 

While I personally agree with the idea, I gotta say... this, coming from Hells Kitchen is laughable. The main character of the show (and I mean that exactly as it sounds) has a hell of an ego, or he wouldn't have a tv show, and anyone who wants to be ON the show also has to have a massive ego, or they wouldn't think they stand a chance, nor would they wish to prove it on television.

 

 

 

 

post #10 of 26

Pretty sure this thread is supposed to be a joke...

post #11 of 26

Tell Ethan "Qwallii" says "Hi" and Congratualtions on his stupid mud run.  

post #12 of 26

@guts: how is this thread a joke?

Not saying that all people on hells kitchen are good cooks, or that Ramsey is a role model chef, but the marketing of that show is based on his personality

every contestant who applies knows they will be called out at some point on national tv. and the good ones stand there and say 'yes chef' because thats how a kitchen works.

everything relies on trust and consistency. the lead cook's word goes, even if he/she is wrong. (i'm talking more minute details, not like serving off meat for example. that would be an appropriate situation to speak up) there is a time for constructive criticism and everyone's voice should be heard, but during service is not the time or place. yes ramsey comes off as a d-bag on tv, and he may not be on the line anymore, but is a great businessman as much as he is a chef (2nd youngest brit to win 3* michelin) but from people who have worked with him he is apparently nothing like that. 

"Make every dish as if you were serving your own mother"
 

 

post #13 of 26

Pathsounds,

 

If you stay true to those beliefs, stay true to you  (there will be bumps in the road) I think you will make a terrifc chef/cook.

 

"The attitude you have doesn't end when you leave work,  it follows you in life.                   Chefbillyb".   So True.

 

Petals.

Petals
Réalisé avec un soupçon d'amour.

Baby Cake
(4 photos)
Victorian cupcakes
(10 photos)
Reply

Petals
Réalisé avec un soupçon d'amour.

Baby Cake
(4 photos)
Victorian cupcakes
(10 photos)
Reply
post #14 of 26

Honestly, reading this gave me a good laugh - but if you really mean all this seriously, here's my critique...
Al, you asked for it.

#1.  "Everything I do is nothing."  First of all, you're quoting the Jerry Springer of food television. A show where they pit redneck cooks against each other to create drama, which is the main focus of the show (not cooking). Every season there are at most one or two contestants who seem to actually be able to cook, and their dishes don't exactly look like they'd be winning any awards. The only good thing about that show is Ramsay, as he used to be a pretty badass Chef. Too bad he plays it up entirely for the American audience (or should I say, the money).

#2.   "I stay one step ahead of everything I do." Doing your job correctly is no significant achievement, but being prepared by staying ahead (part of your job) "sparks the driving force within..."? Come on...

#3.  "I stay two feet above the entire situation."  Seriously? You think physically tall people are better leaders? That is the dumbest shit I've ever heard. Or it was, anyways, until I read that business about having the perspective of a bird. If you're trying to say 'look at the big picture', just say it? It's a pretty cliche term and I think everyone knows what it means.

#4.  "Transparency."  No gripes here.

#5.  "Flow." 
        and
#6.  "Perception Determines Attitude." 

Y'know what? I don't really have a problem with these two either. Just the way that simple ideas are long and drawn out, and conveyed with the most ridiculous language makes it hard to take seriously. "Allow the pain of every ticket that rings in to permeate your reality"... I can't tell if this dude wants to be a cook, or the next big "New Age" author. If you're doing this to try and sound smart, take it down a notch. It's not working.
 

post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Guts View Post

Honestly, reading this gave me a good laugh - but if you really mean all this seriously, here's my critique...
Al, you asked for it.

#1.  "Everything I do is nothing."  First of all, you're quoting the Jerry Springer of food television. A show where they pit redneck cooks against each other to create drama, which is the main focus of the show (not cooking). Every season there are at most one or two contestants who seem to actually be able to cook, and their dishes don't exactly look like they'd be winning any awards. The only good thing about that show is Ramsay, as he used to be a pretty badass Chef. Too bad he plays it up entirely for the American audience (or should I say, the money).

#2.   "I stay one step ahead of everything I do." Doing your job correctly is no significant achievement, but being prepared by staying ahead (part of your job) "sparks the driving force within..."? Come on...

#3.  "I stay two feet above the entire situation."  Seriously? You think physically tall people are better leaders? That is the dumbest shit I've ever heard. Or it was, anyways, until I read that business about having the perspective of a bird. If you're trying to say 'look at the big picture', just say it? It's a pretty cliche term and I think everyone knows what it means.

#4.  "Transparency."  No gripes here.

#5.  "Flow." 
        and
#6.  "Perception Determines Attitude." 

Y'know what? I don't really have a problem with these two either. Just the way that simple ideas are long and drawn out, and conveyed with the most ridiculous language makes it hard to take seriously. "Allow the pain of every ticket that rings in to permeate your reality"... I can't tell if this dude wants to be a cook, or the next big "New Age" author. If you're doing this to try and sound smart, take it down a notch. It's not working.
 



LOL...

 

#3 made me crack up pretty hard too.

 

post #16 of 26

My core beliefs of the kitchen-

 

Integrity.

Working knowledge. -this one not everyone needs to nail. If you possess the other 4, you'll probably be fine.

Work ethic.

Professionalism.

Ability&willingness to ask a question.

 

I know it's short. But so am i.

& i can lead with concise decision making.

post #17 of 26

So, number one - I'm not a kid. I've been in the work force for nearly 30 years, mostly in construction and real estate. I'm a journeyman painter and a fair hand at drywall finish. A few years ago I discovered, quite by accident that my greatest desire in life was to become a chef. I made many sacrifices in pursuit of this goal - spent nearly 2 years getting totally out of debt, got rid of my car and began bicycling as my sole means of transport (year-round in snow country!) so that I could go to school, get a culinary education and take a HUGE cut in pay by starting at the bottom of a very competitive industry. I found my passion, my mission and nothing was going to stop me... 

 

I won't lie - it's been hard. I've gotten about halfway through school and decided to take a few semesters off in order to get some industry experience and - oh, yeah - make a living as well. 

 

My first "industry experience" came a couple months ago, working in a commercial bakery. More recently, I seized a golden opportunity at a little cafe that totally encourages creativity from their cooks. 

 

I just spent my third day on the line.

 

I suck.

 

One minute I thought, "I got this." The next minute I was in the weeds SO bad... horrible service. 

 

But, y'know - it reminded me of my first week as a painter. I was awful. Boss handed me a roll of tape and said, "tape off the top of all those baseboards" 

 

Some time later, he came back into the room and said, "You should be done with this WHOLE FLOOR by now, and you're in the same room you started in - we gotta work on your technique and speed." Fortunately he was a good teacher and a patient one (but demanding, make no mistake - he was the painter equivalent of the most accomplished Chef you know). Eventually, I owned my own business and was training guys and saying stuff like, "we gotta work on your speed and technique."

 

My point to all this is, I got home from the most flustering, frustrating day I've had at work in some time and went straight to google to search "how to become a great line cook."

 

This is the thread I found, and I really like what you had to say. Working in a commercial kitchen is the most challenging and most enjoyable experience of my working life. I WILL get good at this. Any help, tips, advice or slaps upside the head will be appreciated. 

 

Thanks.

post #18 of 26

not that anyone wants to at this point in time, but the best thing you can do dgreen, is to go work for free. Find a place near you, tell them you want to learn, and on the busiest night of the week, find a place out of the way and observe, Watch how the cooks set up their stations, how they call tickets, how they plate, how they have their stations stocked. In the place I work, we have alot of overlap on slower nights. Watch how each cook covers the unmanned station. There are many things school will teach you... and none of them involve working in a restaurant. 

post #19 of 26

A-hhhmmm.....Although I share most of your sentiments, you fall pitifully "short" on your "means nothing" tangent and your notion that only taller chefs dominate their environment?  Really? 

     First, your notion that everything that you do is "nothing"?  I feel that everything you do from your personal conduct, to your personal appearance, to how you hold your knife, to how you maintain your prep area, your work station, to how you mince your parsley, MEANS EVERYTHING!.....All those little things go towards the overall level of professionalism you go  about your job with on a daily basis....Don't let the little things decieve you.   Everything means something.  If not, then why do it in the first place? 

     I feel stupid in even replying to your tall chef comment.. Really?  Having complete control over a line doesn't mean one can literally see everything at any one time. lol......I know where every ounce of product is in my entire kitchen, and I know what level of prep that item is at any hour during the day.  Don't give me that crap.    Step back my friend and let the trade sink in a little better than that.   You seem to want to aquire an overall feel for the kitchen, you have a way to go my friend....

 

Regards..

 

Tony

post #20 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by BeachChef22 View Post

A-hhhmmm.....Although I share most of your sentiments, you fall pitifully "short" on your "means nothing" tangent and your notion that only taller chefs dominate their environment?  Really? 

     First, your notion that everything that you do is "nothing"?  I feel that everything you do from your personal conduct, to your personal appearance, to how you hold your knife, to how you maintain your prep area, your work station, to how you mince your parsley, MEANS EVERYTHING!.....All those little things go towards the overall level of professionalism you go  about your job with on a daily basis....Don't let the little things decieve you.   Everything means something.  If not, then why do it in the first place? 

     I feel stupid in even replying to your tall chef comment.. Really?  Having complete control over a line doesn't mean one can literally see everything at any one time. lol......I know where every ounce of product is in my entire kitchen, and I know what level of prep that item is at any hour during the day.  Don't give me that crap.    Step back my friend and let the trade sink in a little better than that.   You seem to want to aquire an overall feel for the kitchen, you have a way to go my friend....

 

Regards..

 

Tony

 

I think the point of his post went over your head. 

 

All he means by "means nothing" is that you shouldn't expect praise for doing your job well, and that doing it is it's own reward. You are only as good as your last service, only as good as the last dish you sent out of the kitchen. Doing what you do on a daily basis means very little in the grand scheme of things. The idea isn't that your work is worthless, or that you literally don't mean anything, it's just a reminder to not go into a kitchen with an ego thinking that you are "the best" or that the world owes you recognition or reward...because as we all know, very few BoH people ever get it. 

 

His "tall" comment could have been worded better, but the point of the post wasn't that only tall people can succeed in a kitchen. He even takes pains to say that's not what he's saying. He's making a point that in his observation, most of the chefs he has admired and/or worked for have been tall. He attributes this to their ability to see the big picture and maintain order "from above." If you aren't tall, then ACT like you are tall and be a "hawk" and above and on top of everything. Think of "tall" as a metaphor for having the bird's eye view of things. I don't think he means that, in order to succeed in a kitchen, you need to literally be tall. 

post #21 of 26

He says "physically tall" not "metaphorically tall".

post #22 of 26

Well, he does, but he uses them being physically tall as a starting point for a broader discussion about being above everything and able to see. He wonders why a lot of chefs he knows from his experience are tall and wonders how/why that might help them. 

 

I just think he worded it poorly. He's taking in what it is about their being tall that might give them an advantage and trying to absorb that ethos and ability into his own life. 

 

Like taking an innate ability in other people, recognizing what it is, and learning how to use it for yourself. Again, I don't think his main point was that you have to be tall to be successful, and that seems to be where a couple of you stopped reading his post. 

 

Again, I think the OP worded his point poorly but the larger point he was trying to make has little to nothing to do with being physically tall, except as genesis for an idea. 

post #23 of 26

Quote:
I just think he worded it poorly. 


Really, really poorly. 

post #24 of 26

if theres any post ive read on here that will help me in the kitchen and strive to be a better cook this is it by far

post #25 of 26

This article really hits home. Everything you address, the way you addressed it, was perfect! Chefs are a unique breed of people, in my opinion. Us wolves have to stick together!

post #26 of 26
I'm very tall, but I think my remarkable talent and humility are much more key to my success than my commanding presence.
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