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my kitchen nightmare

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

Hi Everyone

New to the site and the business, looking for some tips on being a better chef/cook and dealing with my nightmare job.


I started working at a local family restaurant as a dishwasher at the beginning of last September, In a small, recently opened Italian restaurant. 

The family consist of the Mum (owner, no previous restaurant experience), her two daughters (waitress and bar) and eldest son (head chef, 15 years experience in restaurants). at the time I started there were two more staff,the youngest daughters boyfriend (a good mate of mine, he helped on bar) and another chef in the kitchen.


That chef left two weeks after I started and my friend joined the head chef and I in the kitchen to learn to cook, with me still on potwash.

Around Christmas (just gone) the head chef started showing both me and my friend how to cook the menu and gradually started letting us do more and more in the kitchen to the point in which he could start leaving us to do it alone.

Around mid February the eldest sister freaks out and leaves the business, and no one is hired to replace her leaving front of house with only two staff. the head chef then decides he doesn't want to cook anymore and leaves my friend and I in the kitchen to cook, clean and wash up everything between us.

By this point we were confident enough to be able to cook the menu well but still had little idea about cooking in general as this was the first kitchen job either of us had worked before.

The Head chef still kept an eye on us but pretty much stopped teaching us anything.

Things went ok for a few months then at the beginning of June the Head chef decided he'd had enough after a big fight with his mum and has also left the business.


We're now the end of July and the head chef hasnt been replaced, infact its likely he wont be.

So we're down to a total of 4 members of staff, My friend and I have been running the kitchen for them for the last two months. stock levels, shopping lists, extensive cleaning rotas, prep, washing up, cooking, occasional serving when busy, food temp standards, we're expected to come up with specials. And its all obviously supposed to be the highest standard.  

I guess what I'm building up to is this. (and this is a lot!)


I'm paid (marginally) less than minimum wage and have no qualifications or previous experience (same for my friend) we both have only the experience we've gained in the last 7 months in the kitchen with maybe 2 months of that actually being shown how to cook the menu.

We haven't had a Head chef or Kp for months.

We start at 4pm and open at 5pm, how is that enough time to prep and get through a cleaning rota?

Most days the shopping hasn't been bought until mid shift so we are forced to prep whilst serving customers. 

Our dishes and cleaning are scrutinized to ridiculous proportions by the owner who knows nothing about running a restaurant.


The worst part for me is the arrogance and hypocrisy of the owner, it seems like she just wanted to open a quiet family restaurant and kick back with a wine at the bar and watch as the place fills with locals and lines her pockets with cash.

Now her family has fallen apart, the restaurant is struggling and she and her daughter spend 80% of the time sat on the chairs outside in the sun whilst my friend and I work our arses off in the kitchen. If we are caught sitting down and having a break at the same time we get moaned at, even after a 6 hour busy service.

It doesn't stop there, with no head chef we have no direction or leader and it makes busy shifts so stress full, I can already see it putting cracks in our friendship as well as his relationship with the daughter of the owner.  




Monday to Thursday we work alternate shifts and then both work Friday through Sunday so these high standards of cleaning are almost impossible to meet when you start at 4, finish at 11 and have a kitchen to run at the same time.

I mean, don't get me wrong, we clean our little hearts out in between services and when quiet. 

There just aren't enough hours in the shift to do it all and inevitably something gets left and we get moaned at. 


I was ecstatic when I got this job, 2 years of unemployment finished. And even more thrilled when I so quickly got a chance to step up the ladder and into chefs whites. I now have a passion, direction and a spark for cooking that im worried this job is going to chip away from me because it seriously is too much pressure at the moment, I mean, technically I'm working 3 peoples jobs on my own during the week for £6 an hour with little to no experience and no guidance.


I can't lose this job in this climate it'll be too long before another comes along, I can't directly approach the owner with my issues because she is very opinionated and doesn't like being told when things are being done wrong. The family fell apart because none of them no when to bite there tongue and air all their issues instantly, usually screeching like banshees and wearing there emotions so obviously the whole world can see them.

Basically I feel like I'm riding in a plane speeding towards the ground, not sure whether its a good idea to jump out early and parachute to the safety of another job or ride it to the end and bleed the experience dry? 


Both of us are just about handling this job. And despite all I've said the place is doing better by the week with more and more return customers all the time,

Our food is fresh and decently sourced and service is fast. Customers very rarely leave displeased so we must be doing alright really, just not sure how long we can keep it up before someone explodes.

Sorry for the ridiculously long message, I have a lot to get off my chest and once i started typing it just kept coming. Any ideas, suggestions that could better my time at work, being that im stuck there...

...for now


post #2 of 19
Thread Starter 

really sorry, posted this in the wrong place, not sure how to delete it.

post #3 of 19
Find another job, and quit. That place is too poisonous, and you'll never learn good habits working there. Nothing good will come of this.
Worried about finding work? Now you have cooking experience! Someone will need a cook. Even a little experience opens a lot of doors.
By the way, in the U.S. it's illegal to pay someone less than minimum wage- minimum, right? Not sureabout the UK
post #4 of 19

This topic was moved to the pro-forums thanks.


Nicko Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
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Nicko Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
(26 photos)
post #5 of 19

Both of you MUST  sit her down and tell her you cannot work under these conditions for this amt. of compensation and are leaving. What can she do? Sometimes you have to play hardball.  Good Luck

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...


Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

post #6 of 19

I would tell the owner that increased responsibilities should be accompanied by an increased rate of pay. I would keep one eye on September which will be here shortly and will be a year at the same establishment and the other eye out for what restaurant might be your next career move. A year with advances in positions will look very promising to potential employers. Start investigating other establishments and networking with chefs and cooks to get a feel for what might be your best move, plus it will help in getting your name out there.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
post #7 of 19

Honestly i would leave...

Not because im a quitter but because i have lived the same situation. 

Worked at an Italian Restaurant where my head chef from a previous place was working and got me in. 

I had experience but i didnt have experience working with incompetent people. 


So 1 month later my chef leaves since she was just doing consultant work and i stay working the line. Well soon sh*t starts to happen. 

19 year old general manager doesnt help with anything and always would mess up our stock listings and never buy what was needed. 

He would always over book the house be it by traditional reservations or by catering events. 

I remember doing a wedding and birthday party on the same day as well as serving regular clients.... This because the place could only seat 115.... 


We were working in 3 cooks and things only got worse. The head chef was lazy, always late and left me and the other cook hanging. The owner of the place had no experience in the business and refused to shut down or to comprimise a bit and his mother also wouldnt stand for comprising on prices. They had a tendency in over buy products, not put anything to use and lot of things would get thrown out in the trash. Working double shifts and on days off became a habit since the house was always overbook. But having to cater weddings and parties isnt a problem, if you have everything you need, many times we would have to work having less then the needed amount of produce or would have last minute menu changes. By last minute i mean literally 30 minutes before the event would start or restaurant would open. 


Well after 3 months of hell i quit, and 2 months later the restaurant closes, because it wasnt making money. 

By the time i was quitting i was already running the kitchen, working salads, saute, dessert and grill while the head chef wouldnt do cr*p. If she peeled and diced garlic it was a miracle. 


I just think everyone needs some standards, and if your being over worked, under paid, the place doesnt have proper working conditions and you see no future, their really is no need to stay. Of course you held it together for 7 months and the experience you earned will be of great use if you find another job so in a way this place did help your career, but i think its time to let it go. 

Start handing out resumes, and keep going to work and as soon as you find a new place, hand in your notice and leave, its just not worth it.


NOW, if you can talk to the people in charge and can agree on some better working conditions and agree on getting in at least another cook and a higher pay, then well maybe you could hang in there for a bit. But you got to play tough, and hang in there if you see some potential. But if not just start getting ready to make your way out the front door. 

Edited by KaiqueKuisine - 8/11/14 at 5:07pm

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 #8 of 19
Look for another job on your days off, it's always easier to get a job when you already have a job. If you're serious about cooking then you need to work in a place that can give you knowledge and direction, there's no way you can become the best just winging it forever.
post #9 of 19

Thank you for your honest post, you have already made some friends on this thread and have earned quite a bit of respect.


Like the others have said, you gotta leave. 


But wait! 

How,  and when you leave is very important.


First things first, dust off your resume and get it up to date, then start looking for places that interest you.  DO NOT QUIT OR THREATEN TO QUIT during this time, don't tell anyone other than your friend. Smile, nod, work, and in your spare time get your resume out there.  When you get an interview, you tell the employer that you are interested in working for "X" because you like the industry, want to learn more, and really feel you need some guidance and mentorship. You are gratefull towards your employer for the opportunities she has given you, have risen to every challenge given to you, but once again, feel you need some guidance and mentorship at this stage in your career.

Like I said, from reading your post, you have earned quite a bit of respect from those who have answered you.


Once you get a job, give the regular two weeks (or whatever it is in your area) notice to your employer.  Thank  her for the opportunities given to you, that you feel you have risen and excelled at every challenge given to you, and that the time has come to further your career under the guidance and mentorship of your new Chef.


None of what I described above is what we call in N. America, "Bullsh*t".   It is all true.  Just a different perspective on things, that's all.


Remember this:
"A true Diplomat can tell you to got to hell in such a way, that you actually look forward to the trip"


Or . another way of looking at things is:

"Don't burn your bridges before you cross them"


And yet, another way of looking at things, and one that every Chef sitting at the interview table thinks, is:

"If this guy is complaining about his/her employer to me, what will s/he say about me to others if I hire them?  



Now about your employer... 


Q: Why do bullies pick on little kids?

A: Because they can. No other reason 


Why does your employer treat you like garbage?
Because she can.

You offer her no resistance, you do not negotiate any salary or benefit increase with your increased responsibilities. You don't tell her that you can't possibly prep, cook, and serve food items you just received 10 minutes ago. You put up with working 6 hrs straight without a pee-break.


I'm not telling you to negotiate with her now, it's too late.  You made up your mind to leave, and that's what you'll do, so for now just milk all you can out this job.  This is experience, and very valuable experience at  that.


Of course, when you do leave, she will be caught with "her pants down".  Helpless, cook-less, no prep cook or salad guy waiting in the wings, no son or daughter to push into place (she burnt those bridges already) She's screwed, and I doubt if she can cook her way out of the mess .


Smile, nod, and go on your way.... 

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #10 of 19
Well put foodpump. I agree wholeheartedly with everything just stated
post #11 of 19
Thread Starter 

Thank you so much everyone for your responses, I appreciate all the advice I can get.


I apologize for leaving it a while before responding but I felt it better to take some advice and attempt to make some decent progress with the situation in hopes of returning with some good news about the whole thing.


A lot has happened, I found the courage just confront my boss with some of my issues (I felt some were more personal than business and best left to another time) but it was surprisingly a calm, professional conversation that ended the way most situations do, with compromise.

Finally being paid above minimum wage, if only by a few pennies but still significantly more than before, not trying to be ungrateful but I think for what I do for them I'm worth a lot more, but she did say "if I could afford to pay you more I really would" cant really say much more to her about it now I'm being paid legally.

I managed to compromise an extra paid hours work for prep with my own catch added as coming in an extra hour on top of that for free which I'm more than happy to do, I now have 3 hours prep which is more than enough time to get the cleaning done as well!.

The owner has allowed us more freedom with the menu and allowed us to find and follow decent recipes rather than the stale old ones left by the previous head chef. My idea behind this was to give my friend and I a chance to teach ourselves, as long as I'm there we won't get another head chef so If no one is going to teach me I'll happily teach myself, and now I'm allowed to. 


Some things haven't changed and I understand will take time. Front of house still love a good chill on the chairs outside whilst we bust our asses in the kitchen, They also have a tendency to dress our plates for us after we deem they're ready, I'm 100% fed up with something I've cooked to my best efforts getting parsley carelessly chucked at it and balsamic reduction squirted all over it. To me it seems like we're hiding bad food under shit tricks, when 6 different dishes of a menu all come to your table dressed with the same random splatters of parsley and squiggles of balsamic what would you say?. I have tried explaining not every dish on the damn menu requires the flavour of balsamic and parsley but they are stuck in a world that thinks because if it "looks better" its going to be better.

Were also still waiting on word that we can get a kp to eleviate some of the stress of the washing up,it can really put you off your stride having to wash up inbetween tickets. But hey, you cant win them all. 1 at a time is the key

Seeing as confronting her sorted some of the issues, I'm sticking with job for now, I think a years experience under my belt sounds a lot better than 7 months and in the mean time I'm hoping to join college in September. If I use my current job as a work placement for the college course I will be done in 8 months and will have about a year and a half's experience running a kitchen and a qualification to go with it. I've applied for 2 chefs apprentice jobs in local small but established restaurants, fingers crossed for a response from them because if I can get out and get some guidance now I will. Only problem is an apprenticeship in the UK can mean an apprentice wage which is nowhere near enough to support my girlfriend and I, so If that's the case I will have to stay in my current restaurant until I've gotten through college and gotten that extra experience. I think having spoken to her and resolved at least a couple of the bigger issues I can manage to do that.


Again thank you all for your responses as you can see I've taken a lot of your advice on things are better already, its lovely to see I can come to somewhere on the Internet and be honest and get honest answers.


The next step is the recipe hunt!

post #12 of 19

Solwinds glad to see you managed to comprise. 

Glad that you had a talk. Obviously one year of experience is a lot better then 7 months and now since your job will be more tolerable i guess it will be easier to stick it out. 


Now about the waiter, that can easily be helped. 

Be assertive and tell them to stop fiddling with the plates you make, and that you are the cook. 

If one of them wants to dress a plate tell them to come work in the kitchen and see how it feels. 

If its doesnt add anything to the plate it shouldnt even be used in my opinion. 


Outside of that, good luck and hang in there. You will be fine!

Edited by KaiqueKuisine - 8/4/14 at 10:15pm

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 #13 of 19
OK. I'm sorry, but I'm gonna sound like a complete freaking idiot (it won't be the first time). For me, and I'm not spouting off, Italian is just probably the easiest cuisine, outside of American bistro, to cook. You can learn and tweak recipes in one(1) day. You can streamline a menu to 12-15 items and be off to the races.

You sound like a kid that can pull this off. Be the head chef. Take control. Talk to the owners as you do this. Act like it's all natural. In a coupla weeks when it's going smoothly, talk about commensurate (LOL, is that the right word?) pay, equivalent to what is fair. Show that you're the goods.

Please ... please don't tell me that you don't know enough to do what I'm saying. We work in kitchens ... this ain'te rocket surgery. Italian food is easy. You can learn an entire menu in less than three(3) days. Trust me on this. I'll even help you if you want. Really.

OK. So I just realized that I posted before reading your last post. Sorry. But still ... I meant what I said.

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.


"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

post #14 of 19

After reading through these threads I am still with FoodPump on this.

Things MAY be okay NOW, but experience, and the human equation have taught me countless times that, although things seem like they are going to be okay....they usually are not.

I am glad that you are going to be looking anyway. You really won't learn or grow as long as you stay there.

post #15 of 19
With regards to FOH messing with your plates, that's a battle I have fought before. If telling them "no" isn't working (and lets be clear, that ought to, and suggests a whole series of other problems) then its time to play mind games.

In the first couple of monthes in of my last ex. job I was butting heads over just this thing, especially with three waiters who had been there forever and kinda felt entitled to do what they wanted. I made it very clear that their "help" was not appreciated. While the owner and FOH manager acted sympathetic they clearly didnt want to do anything with these "tenured" guys.

That was until, over the span of a couple weeks, we got several reviews on Yelp and Trip advisor basicly say that the food was lovely but marred by silly and useless garnish that looked limp and thoughtless. I learned very quickly at this place the owner considered herself very online savy and tracked reviews constantly. She was not so savy as to notice that these reviewers had only every posted one review and were new accounts. Funny about that....
post #16 of 19
Take away their garnishes, do it all in the kitchen. Seriously.
post #17 of 19

For the record, that was my first choice. I have been stuck with kitchens and open passes where there wasnt an option to do so.
post #18 of 19
Hats off to your excellent electronic espionage!
post #19 of 19
Well, I figure for the pains in the butt Yelp has caused, it could work for me for a change...
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