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So.. How long does it take to learn?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

I've just got my first job as a line cook, I started there a month ago.

Now, as this is my first job in the catering trade, I'm having some problems, mostly with my speed both on prep (knife skills etc) and when I'm on the line with my speed of plating/getting dishes on, following the checks that come on. I'm also struggling with my seasonings. I keep tasting, but even when I feel something tastes good enough to go out, the more experienced members of staff season it more.

 

So, I'm just wondering how long I should expect before I can be 'good'? Before I'll be able to go at a pace which people won't be telling me to go faster, and my seasonings won't be off. Before people won't be second guessing me? How long before I'll be able to be on the line and not worry about if there is someone there to help me when we get really busy?


Obviously everyone is different, but more than anything I'm concerned that I aren't developing fast enough. I plan to speak with the chef today and ask him how I'm doing, but he is a very positive guy and I'm not sure how honest he will be with me. 

 

If you guys had employed a new member of staff, who was totally open about not having any experience at all, how long would you expect before you could consider him satisfactory to be left on the line without being mentored?

post #2 of 13
So much depends on what type of line you work on, how many cooks, what station you work, how many items come off your station, is there an expo and many other things. That being said, within 3-4 months you should start to develop some confidence and become proficient at your job. Focus on learning everything both by asking questions and also just by watching. Set up your own station and focus on perfect mise en place, having everything organized helps immensely.

Proper seasoning is hard to learn and harder to perfect. When I started I under seasoned everything and thought my chef was crazy on account of the massive amounts of salt he used. Season, taste, reseason and taste again. Don't forget that adding acid (vinegar, citrus etc.) enhances the effect of salt while fat or cream can reduce it.

Don't forget, have fun and keep learning.
post #3 of 13

  1. [/]
    You are on the right track if your on here asking questions and trying to push forward. Start with the basics, knife skills and seasonings will come in time. Obviously your serious about learning so focus your attention to your specfic station. Go into work with a plan do your prep in order of importance, write things down, get your station organized( prep sheets, diagrams, etc...). Get everything prepped and setup before checks start rolling in and your not running around looking for things and You can just concentrating on checks.

    I would give yourself a three month goal of getting good at your station. Talk to your manage/chef ask his opinion of how you have been doing. Tell him you will get better and setup a time frame from where you will sit down again to see how much progress you have made.

    I always get into a routine of where i walk in the door (on time always helps) and go through the steps.
    Go through your station
    Check all prepped items
    Make a list of all your needs and only make one trip to gather mise en place
    Be thorough check things twice
    Be 100% setup 15 min before a set time of when business comes in, maybe its when the doors open or when dinner guests start arriving
    Watch your ticket times
    If it needs to be put on a grille/fryer/whatever get it on when the check comes in
    Learn how long each item is to make or cook
    Keep your checks organized
    Always keep going dont let things pull you down or slow you down
    This should be a good start or atleast give you a few ideas to work with
post #4 of 13

Which station do you work? Because it really does depend on what station you're on to give an accurate guess

 

I run grill during rush. My prep on Friday and Saturday:

Get in the door, pull out chef and serrated knife

Grab a cup, ice, water, paper from the printer

Talk to chef about reservations, how many to expect, VIP's, ect

Turn on gas, grill, check lowboys

Deal with hostess

Grab 6 pyrex full pants with drain pans, fill with fillets, sirloins, ribeyes, NY's

Fill cheese, garnish, check breads

Deal with servers

 

Check primes, throw in potatoes, sweet potatoes, start boiling potatoes for mash

Grab pans, ladels, and tongs for my station

Check with other 2 line cooks when they get there and let them know what we've got for the night, how much to prep for, give them assignments to get us all ready by first ticket

Make sure shrimp are cleaned and trimmed(last prep cook's last thing before she leaves)

Deal with servers

 

Make sure jus, gravies, and butter/oil, S&P mixture containers are either full or getting ready to be put on hot table

Count chops, chix, burgers, turkey steaks, apps on line and prepped

Deal with owner/server/hostess lol

 

 

 

Nothing overly spectacular or terribly intricate, but when you become efficient enough at doing something, you can do it without thinking. Get in to the habit of doing the same thing at the same point in your routine and eventually you'll get to the point where you're doing it but your mind/voice are totally not in what you're body is doing. You can tell a lot about a cook by how efficient they prep for service/mise

post #5 of 13

No mention of breaking down any of that meat?

post #6 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by SquirrelRJ View Post

No mention of breaking down any of that meat?

That's all just to get my line set for Fri/Sat. Chef leaves after rush at around 8-9pm and I take the pass, send one dishwasher home, whoever is on station swing, and fryer. Two cooks, two dishwashers and me left to close
 

I grind burgers, grind turkey, break down strip loins, ribeyes, fillets, sirloins on Sunday and Tuesday morning, Thursday night, and Saturday morning if necessary. T-bone and porterhouses are based on how many are ordered. They don't move well during the summer so we only keep 5-10 on line depending on the par

 

Today is an exception to the rule though... Being that it's Pioneer day here in Utah(Utah's birthday), we're serving 900 people at the rodeo event tonight so we're closed for lunch. We have enough chicken quarters, potatoes, and pork shoulder ready for tonight. After I get done eating I'm off to make it happen.. Wish me luck lol

post #7 of 13
No mention of breaking down any of that meat?


My first "promotion" from commis (in 1972) was to add "boucher" (under tons of suspicion -- whoops! -- supervision) to my other duties.   That's when and where I learned to sharpen better than the average bear; and a lot of things about food in general. 

 

In terms of chef's knife prep knife skills (not butchering red meat, or breaking down poultry and fish) there are some basics that aren't taught well in school or in most kitchens.  You want a very sharp knife, soft enough so you can use a very soft grip.  You want a soft, pinch grip (it helps with control, prevents fatigue, and keeps your hand healthy).  You want to learn to use a "claw" with your offhand, well enough so that gauging thickness is more tactile than visual; and you want to learn to "cut and retreat" with the claw.

 

Sharpen and practice your knife skills at home where no one's yelling at you.  Murder lots of cucumbers and carrots.  Don't move on to "planks," "sticks" and "dice" until you have enough control to cut "coins" consistently.  A big part of knife skills is learning to use the space on your board so you're not running over work you've already done or being crowded by uncut food on the board.

 

You should be able to do your kitchen's basic cuts -- whether or not they're the "classic French cuts" -- in your sleep. Onions, onions, onions.  If you can't chop half dozen onions without crying your knife is dull.  Sadly, most professional cooks have don't use a sharp knife. 

 

Bring your line knife home every night and sharpen it.  When I say "sharpen" I mean stones, not a steel.  Not a "Sharpmaker" or "Crock-Sticks" either.  I forget what knife you have, but if it's one which benefits from steeling, learn to use a steel the right way -- nearly everyone does it wrong.  If you want to know one of the best ways, read my article "Steeling Away."

 

Buy a 5lb bag of rice and a skillet shaped like those you use at work.  Practice toss turning outside until your arms fall off.

 

Paradoxically, the best way to develop speed is to not push, but to focus on being smooth.  After awhile you'll have thought enough about whatever task that you stop thinking about it.  That's when speed starts to come.  Just like sports and every other physical task, once you get a basic understanding -- your brain is not your friend. 

 

Speaking of over-thinking... You'll be called on your faults and get corrected a lot.  I'm not suggesting that criticism should go in one ear and out the other, but it's important not to dwell on the past, but stay in the present and maybe the next 15 seconds of the immediate future.

 

Get in the habit of touching (nearly) everything.  Most times on the grill or the line, touch beats a thermometer by light years.  Taste everything.  Learn your restaurant's seasoning levels; taste everything and adjust. 

 

Ask questions at work, but don't make suggestions. 

 

Ask questions here.  If you're doing "fine dining," pay extra attention to people with fine dining experience.  If you're doing volume, pay extra attention to people with volume experience.  The two are not always the same.  I imagine there are some specific ins and outs for "chain" as well, but don't know enough about it. I'm maundering, but you get the point.

 

Learn to listen, talk and work at the same time.  Answer all questions immediately and honestly -- even if the answer is something you think chef doesn't want to hear.  Nothing screws up a kitchen worse than lack of communication.  Nothing makes a problem easier to solve than knowing it exists.

 

Mise en place, mise en place, mise en place.  Those three things may well be the biggest keys to speed and quality. 

 

Of nearly equal importance:  Invest your time wisely.  Keep your station neat and clean, always.  A straighten and wipe during or after every ticket is a good idea.  60 seconds to get rid of dirty pans and wipe down -- even during the crush... Hell! Especially during the crush -- will boost your quality immeasurably and save at least 5 minutes over the next 15.  You do the math. 

 

Never send food that's under-seasoned or over-done. 

 

When you start having fun, don't let it show.  They'll make you pay them.

 

BDL

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post #8 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

 

When you start having fun, don't let it show.  They'll make you pay them.

Now that's nice! There's not many feelings better than when a line is on point with every ticket and having fun

 

 

It's very very very different for the opposite end of the spectrum though. Worst feeling in the world

post #9 of 13

Sounds like I am in a similar boat. I started cooking professionally earlier this year. After the first two or three months the menu and prep became automatic. My knife skills and speed were fairly proficient from being a general food geek so I focus my mental energy on constancy rather than speed when preparing mise en place. Even if you are concerned about speed, I wouldn't risk shoddy work just to get your job done quicker.

 

The most important thing for me is cooking clean. I have a specific spot for everything and use any free moment during service to clear away and waste or dishes, clean my area, wipe down my knives and restock my station. During lunch we don't have a dishwasher so I may need to scrub sauté pans during a lull. By keeping the line at a constant state of ready I have been able to knock out tickets a lot quicker and find myself more at ease.

 

As for seasoning, eating the food you cook is important. If you are able to cook yourself a meal before/during/after your shift, prepare different menu items and scrutinize them as though you were paying the menu price. I also use dozens of tasting spoons each day to double check seasoning for sauces and soups. More and more often the seasoning is right the first time and I am getting a better eye and feel for initial seasoning. I have been surprised how much more salt I use than I originally would have thought.

post #10 of 13

I think the seasoning thing kind of goes along with all your other motions in the kitchen.

 

Make sure it's repeatative, everytime. Season some food, eat it, then season from that way forward if it's seasoned correctly, if not, adjust accordingly.

 

If you work on a station by yourself, setup your line/station the exact same way every single day, it will allow your muscle memory to do it's job. Squeeze bottles in the same order, 9 pans in the same slots every night you setup, knives in the same place after/during tickets, it all seems OCD to a lot of people, but it seems to work best that way for the best cooks, atleast from what I witness.

 

Be setup and ready to go before you're open. All the cooks I see rushing through their prep every single day, are the ones who end up in the weeds before everyone else, it never fails.

 

Also, figure out your own system, just because certain things work for other cooks, that doesn't mean that's the best way for yourself.

 

PS, keep your salt and pepper separate.. my biggest pet peeve has to be mixed s&p containers.

post #11 of 13
post #12 of 13
Thread Starter 

Sorry for the late reply, and thanks for all the answers. I'll answer some questions that you guys asked now.


I work on the pasta section, also doing risottos, which is the busiest by far as we don't sell pizza where I work, and its an Italian restaurant. We use an expo. Lunches Mon-Wed, is a single person on (lately this has been me, I can almost handle it now), Dinners has two people on or one CDP. Thurs-Sat has 2 people on all day, Sat has 2 people and a CDP usually. I think its high volume for where I am, doing anywhere from 600-800 covers on a Saturday, around 150 lunches and 200 dinners Mon-Wed. 

 

Whats the best thing for me to be cutting to improve my knife skills? I was thinking carrots because they're cheap and versatile, but they're quite hard so I'm not sure. Also, what can I do with them once I've chopped them? I'm fine using some, but when if I have 5kg or whatever of carrots, it would be a shame just to throw them away 

post #13 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by kingofkings View Post

Sorry for the late reply, and thanks for all the answers. I'll answer some questions that you guys asked now.


I work on the pasta section, also doing risottos, which is the busiest by far as we don't sell pizza where I work, and its an Italian restaurant. We use an expo. Lunches Mon-Wed, is a single person on (lately this has been me, I can almost handle it now), Dinners has two people on or one CDP. Thurs-Sat has 2 people on all day, Sat has 2 people and a CDP usually. I think its high volume for where I am, doing anywhere from 600-800 covers on a Saturday, around 150 lunches and 200 dinners Mon-Wed. 

 

Whats the best thing for me to be cutting to improve my knife skills? I was thinking carrots because they're cheap and versatile, but they're quite hard so I'm not sure. Also, what can I do with them once I've chopped them? I'm fine using some, but when if I have 5kg or whatever of carrots, it would be a shame just to throw them away 


Onions, potatoes, mushrooms.. whatever you would cut the most of where you currently work. When you think you've cut enough and you're getting sick of it, cut some more

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