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Your First Year in the Kitchen and How to Deal with a Rookie Kitchen Employee?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

I don't want to hijack the "Technique or Speed?" thread but it got me thinking about my "rookie" year in the kitchen. Mostly it was cold line (I hated it!) and sorta all around guy (clean out the walk-ins, put away sysco, wash dishes when the dishwasher didn't show up, grab the line's mise en place during service etc.etc.). Although 3 years into my "career" I am now a sous, I'm not too far removed to forget these memories.


I remember my first 6-12 months in the kitchen as being the most disheartening, scary and unsure. For my first month I literally washed dishes for free, 40 hours a week, completely uncompensated for a month just to get the chance to work on cold-line. I was so afraid of screwing up, I felt so unimportant to others in the kitchen, I felt borderline brain-dead and such a burden. I wanted to give up so many times thinking I would never be not stupid enough to get off of cold-line.


As I compare myself now as a sous at a different place to a current "rookie" who is having a hard time I can't help but feel bad. She is not "with-it" yet, she can't get anything done without checking with me, is terribly slow and needs constant attention. She has it so much easier than I did, I can not even explain it to her because she has no other kitchen experience to base it on. She keeps blaming her short-comings on me ("You're so mean!" When in actuality I'm perhaps the most understanding individual) the owner, her station and the restaurant. I fully understand her gripes but can't help but want to yell at the top of my lungs how easy she has it. Lately I'm finding it so hard not to want to tell her to find somewhere else to work. I knew hiring her would be a long-term investment and she wouldn't perform right away but 3 months into it she has progressed so little if any. Her only bright spot was her stage when she was confident, on the ball and seemingly a tough-cookie. 3 months later and I don't know what to do with her. In my heart I want to nurture someone who wants to learn like one sous did for me but on the other hand I really question her dedication.


So what to do with her? I have such a meaningful story to tell her about my struggles starting out and how I dug myself out (with the help of one sous chef) but at the same time she doesn't want to hear it. Anything but "me, me, me" is difficult for her to understand. I want it to work out for her but my patience is wearing quite thin. Also, how was your first year or so in the kitchen? Anyone else have a similar experience to mine?

post #2 of 9

Coming from a person who started his career from a slightly more "mature" stage of life and perhaps got far more praise during my career than I probably deserve (never really given warnings or a "straight talk" regarding whether a job or the career path was ever right for me), I've faced intimidating or seemingly overwhelming tasks (in the beginning), but they've all generally been resolved with practice, some hard work and some luck.  However, I've worked with and heard enough stories from fellow cooks and chefs to come to this conclusion:


Kindness and understanding is part of the key to being a good boss, but ultimately there comes a time when the tough love has to be dealt (and I'll be honest in saying that I have yet to master this aspect of being a manager in a way I find to my liking).  Three months is more than enough time to see a person as they are in their current state as a cook/employee.  If they are not responding to your support then perhaps they are simply not currently/will never be ready for the job.  When you express this idea to them and the fact that you have serious doubts regarding her dedication she will most likely feel one of three ways:  a)  Personally affronted:  she will continue the cycle of blaming others for her personal shortcomings and ultimately quit.  If this happens it will most likely reaffirm your suspicions and life will go on.  b)  Realize that she has been doing poorly so far and will kick up her game:  I honestly think this is unlikely but possible.  Some people simply do not yet have the maturity to self-analyze and understand their flaws... when one realizes that consequences result from their own actions it's easier to move forward from there.  c)  Acknowledge on a superficial level then revert to old behaviour:  Ultimately you will have to face the reality that no matter how many coaching sessions or support you give her she is simply not going to change.  In this case she'll have to be "persuaded" to move on.


In any case the right thing to do is to have a heart-to-heart discussion with her about her (lack of) progress since being hired.  If she is mature enough and understands then there is the hope that she will improve and become a valuable member of the team.  If she is not then at least you know immediately it won't work out and can devise a way to move forward with as little pain as possible.  Holding things in and keeping quiet about the reservations helps nobody, not her (because she seems oblivious), not you (what with the continual stress and irritation you face trying to teach her), and not the kitchen (for obvious reasons).  Ultimately the professional kitchen is a work environment and is not a culinary school, a halfway house, or a kindergarten and it's not your job to rehabilitate everyone you hire.  In fact, accepting the fact that a poor hiring decision was made will teach both you and the chef valuable lessons for the future too.


There are lots of great chefs/people in life who've been faced with setbacks early on in their career in much the same way, facing rejection probably gave them the future strength to start to reevaluate their goals and performance and to strive to become better.

"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
"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
post #3 of 9

From another point of view.............


Everybody learns at a different rate. you said, you remember how it was for yourself.

You remember those feelings of inferiority and lack of speed, getting it right, and being afraid. you are watching someone else go through those same feelings.


Blueicus, I admire the idea of sitting down and having "the talk" and you are spot on with the 3 scenarios.

however; and this is what my experiences tell me. If by these many months in, the employee has not grasped the ideas, and theme

it will only drag the kitchen down. A low performer, after given multiple chances to get it right, and who still does not "get it." should be let go.


In any job...legally, the employer is not obligated to continue to offer a job to any person and can terminate employment for any reason, at any time.

post #4 of 9


*shakes hands*  yes  I TOTALLY understand what you mean, as this for me, is  my first year (see technique/ speed thread ;) ) aside from having earlier experience at a volunteer kitchen job.

we have to put up with crap, persevere and believe in ourselves, our talents and our ideals, and FIGHT and WORK for it to get there.


if you say, she doesn't have it (yet), then BY ALL MEANS take her on the side and have a good talk.

DO SHARE your experiences......she can learn from them and maybe will become more motivated even, to work for/ with you.

I know I would have loved to hear more of my chefs experiences in kitchens when he just started.....he doesn't give a shit.

its important that she feels that you do know and understand.... ( I know where I am heading so have given how to handle workers mucho thought already....)

and I am a woman, to boot.

being a woman in a male world as the kitchens are, is really tough!!!! ask her why she wants to work there and where she is heading.

might remind her of her motivation why she started this, anyways.

post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the input everyone.


I would love to tell her of my experiences but I don't think it would sink in. I will have a talk with her regardless about her progress and as pointed out above one of the 3 scenarios will happen. It needs to be a sit down conversation as I attempted it the other day on the fly but tickets, dishwashers and servers didn't really make it possible.

post #6 of 9

Me and my First Chef have had many chats in a local cafe in the past and still do this to this day, and ill tell you she opened my eyes. 

To be honest , i admire what you are doing for her , but many people just dont have IT , to stay in the kitchen. 


I remember my chef really never questioned my career path ( she to this day , tells me that i was born to be in the kitchen) , when i did things correctly she would tell me , when i f*cked up she would give me a talk , a tip , or just kick my a** . All in all i dont blame her for giving me some tough love. Me and her in the kitchen acted like professionals meaning during the first 10 hours of the day , we were simply co-workers and professionals , while after service we were best friends and would go out for coffee like regular people. 


I started in the restaurant much like you , i worked as the expiditor for 1 week until the person in the cold line , was sent home. After 1 week i was running the cold line , cleaning stuff , prepping for others etc.. After a month and a half of doing this , my chef decided she would introduce me to the hot line ( granted i was always a fast learner and the cold line was easy enough that she thought i could take the hot line in 1 months time ) . I would do the simplest entrees about 4 or so a day ( out fo the 11 ) , soon after doing this and being trained for awhile , the line cook and my chefs right hand cook put up her notice. After that and up until now i been running the hot line with 11 entrees. I struggeled doing the cold line and worked free hours during my apprenticeship but i feel that it was worth it because of all the experience i got.


I think , you really need to have a talk with this young girl and ask her what her plans are for the future. If you cant inspire her to do her best , maybe she just wasnt cut out for the cooking career. You should have a little chat  in or out of the restaurant and just talk to her about her lack of progress and ask her if if she really wants to learn ( show her you are also willing to teach ). If she has no culinary background this may make it even harder for her to learn. I would share some of you stories with her , tell her of your struggles , maybe this way she wont spit on the plate she is eating from. Give her a chance maybe she can still surprise you , but lets say after an X amount of time and her progress has showed no improvement , then i guess you will just have to be strong , and let her go. 


Regardless of what happens , keep us posted , and you are just doing you job. The fact you are trying to inspire this girl , and want to teach her as well as trying to put yourself i her shoes ( granted you were once in her shoes ) means you truly care , but dont soften up just because you may feel some pity . Remember you are being quite easy on her , if it was at my place or probably any others she would probably A) have been sent home , or B) Had a firm talk of how she needs to improve and isnt cutting it . Many other places wouldnt be so nice and would probably be tough on her. For now you are doing the right thing , but try to get her to improve , and if she does show some interest in cooking and starts showing some progress , slowly start teaching her some techniques , simple things she can even do at home, if maybe she learns more she may just show some even bigger progress ( even tho this isnt a sure guarantee ) . 

Edited by KaiqueKuisine - 7/30/13 at 10:07am

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.



Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.


post #7 of 9
Put her on dish for a shift. Don't schedule a dishwasher abd see how she does. If she balks you have your answer about dedication. Worked for a chef that did that to every new employee and anyone who needed a refresher. I am I charge and I dish when needed, anyone who won't can find other employment.
post #8 of 9
Personally three months is a long enough time in my eyes to be able to get speed and proper plating down. If they can't cut it after that get rid of them. I know it seems a little harsh. But, everyone should be improving everyday. Even just a little bit. At least learning something and applying it next shift. You know.
post #9 of 9

I worked for a corp that would do this for new mgt. A new asst mgr would show up for his first day of work in a $500 suit then be shown the dish pit. Some did not make it.

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