I have a somewhat unique experience falling into the food industry. I have always cooked, my grandmother taught me and it's just always something that came natural since before i could read. That is my only training per se, but the longer i work with various chefs the more i learn that i know the techniques i just have no idea they have names.(im sure everyone says that) That said, When a natural disaster hit my home state I showed up to volunteer with a grassroots relief group and ended up co-coordinating the whole shebang (as part of a core team of roughly 8-12 folks taking it upon themselves to be responsible for specific areas of function and meeting together daily to discuss and coordinate) by a few weeks in. It was specifically an off-grid kitchen cooking hundreds of meals from scratch (sometimes thousands.. and not BS food, food like grandma would have made, say comparable at least to good pub food... ) a day to serve affected residents and emergency personnel. OK so i put in what was at points clocked as 92 hours a week for 6 months no days off coordinating AND physically cooking this food usually as a 2 person 'chef' team (we called ourselves 'bottom-liners' ... 'i'm bottomlinging the kitchen today' basically translated to executive chef/chef de cuisine responsibilities and then some) with one other major team member, sometimes by ourselves or with some help from our other team members who had time to prep between their actual tasks some days any where from 2 to 2 dozen random day volunteers to direct. I directed volunteers, planned menus,prepped, did inventory, dishes, physically cooked around 1/3rd to half of the actual food for each serving and sometimes the went out in the back of a box truck with all the food in cambros and physically delivered it plate by plate.... sometimes i cooked food for 200-300 catering style completely by myself and then delivered and served it etc etc etc ... unpaid for 90 something hours a week for a few months....
then after that effort ended i started working in restaurants... first as a dishwasher
then dish/prep/ then garde manger for a high end multi-star french/american. Then I went off grid for a few years and found myself cooking for entire farms full of people regularly... so i've also had the experience of literally choosing, planting and tending crops, harvesting them and preparing them for months/years on end AND the experience of coordinating off-grid volunteer kitchens we'll call it 'recreationally' for festivals and various volunteer efforts..also the practiced ability to recognize wild edibles and harvest/prepare them etc etc etc...traveled the country learning casually about different styles of cuisine (ie. newmexican green chili VS nyc red sauce) learned how to build mud and stone ovens in the national forest and cook amazing food in them then break the whole site down and make it as if humans had never been there.....for what is basically 5 or so years now. so all included plus previous experience in front of house and as a bartender totals to nearly 8 years experience in the restaurant/food/farm to table industry.
I currently work for a teeny tiny little 'mom and pop' high-endish dinner service restaurant specializing in 'eclectic fine Italian' whatever the that is.
they hired me to be a 'prep cook' but my actual job responsibilities are:
work the same hours as the chef, sometimes an hour or so more.
constantly be vigilant over the entire inventory even what is not on my station and write down everything getting low counts on certain meats/shellfish sometimes both before and after service daily.
ensure that there is virtually zero food waste and keep track of exactly what ratio of what to what is being stashed away in that cambro labled 'scraps for veg stock' and how long it's been in there and other such tasks when they exist
make sure enough of everything is out for service and if there isnt enough of something magically make it exist somehow, which in an easy scenario means taking cash from FOH and literally running down a completely dark unlit alley through a dangerous construction site over a trash pile and through and now recently through a shoddily constructed makeshift fence and across street to the little market to hope they have something that works.
prep many major menu items that are not on my station (there are 3 stations, chef's station, my station and a pasta machine that really only i ever use, there are no other cooks. just the chef and myself... every single plate chef makes has multiple items i made on it... actually i make almost everything except the sauces and physical butchering and temp cooking of most meat)I also plate many of her dishes especially for large tables.
I prep more of the deserts than chef does, and am responsible for plating most of them (chef will make and plate any specials except sometimes i do that too,( or sometimes if i'm totally weeded and doing 10 things at once with negative surface space and not enough arms she'll plate a desert) or of the chef's daughter is working FOH she'll just do it because that's what makes sense like every other restaurant. the servers should be competent enough to take a slice of pie from the fridge and put it on a plate with a panel of whipped cream and some drizzle. it's not rocket science. they can scoop the home made gelato just as well as i can and are closer to both the fridge and hot water. there are three of them and one of me. there are only 42 fucking seats in the house.
my station includes garde manger/cold app, hot apps, saute, all hand cut pastas, fry and items that go along with a few entrees chef makes. I also am responsible for getting all meats and shellfish from the fridge and setting up the portion and putting it on the chef's station often 'ala minute' ... even though that fridge is right next to chef's station and i have to leave mine nad go around the whole kitchen sliding between stacks of dishes and the slippery dish station just to get to and from the fridge nad give them to her... she would have to take two steps to the side of the line...
I am also responsible for the majority of the cleaning even when we have a dishwasher. Including the chef's entire station, my station the fridges and freezers, pasta machine... putting everything away, labeling everything, checking all the fridges and changing out all the cambros for the shellfish and meats sometimes twice daily.
if anything needs to be made or portioned ala minute during service i do it most of the time. even though there is only one plug and i need it for the damn fryer so i have to unplug it to use the mixer or processor, even though it's the SALAD STATION and tiny and now you want me to cut raw fish there and then make sure it's all sterilized while we're seating every seat in the house twice over and short handed. even though the food runner or dish washer could totally be doing this over on that empty shelf across the kitchen with the 2 miraculously free outlets right now but it might just take a little longer maybe and then maybe you wouldn't have to be so snarky and up my ass about how long these apps are taking, chef. right away , chef.
oh, and i regularly make little things that chef uses as special garnishes etc.... i sprout sprouts, fan strawberries, go through fresh herbs and pick off the best little flowering parts etc and crisp/frizzle fry onions and limes and random fun little things that i'm not really asked to do but it's just a nice little touch when i have a few seconds to spare
oh, and when we need that emergency extra person because someone's a no-show... I DO THAT TOO and call up friends and sometimes even am responsible for giving that extra help rides to and from whether i know them or not...
oh and i brainstorm and problem solve with the chef. they needed a way to ensure a supply of fresh zuccini blossoms? i both designed and proposed a wall mounted planter to grow them (something i have built before) in house behind the restaurant AND introduced her to a good friend who is a reputable local organic grower who has supplied other area restaurants and offered her a price cheaper than what she gets from Baldor.... no money in the budget for a dehydrator to make cool tuille and fun garnish? no problem, i explained to her how to make a solar dehydrator including how to source the materials for next to free AND where she ould optimally build one behind the restaurant (and yes i have made and cooked in one before successfully more than once) etc etc etc... i make recipe suggestions and alterations at times, help her come up with new shit....goes on and on
WHAT AM I? (other than totally being taken advantage of someone to profit their business while garnering zero respect for it)
and yes, i totally agree that 12 bucks an hour off the books for doing the job of prep cook is totally fair.
the way i see it, if someone thinks they can pay me 12 bucks an hour under the table with the title of 'prep cook' for what i am currently doing they are clearly delusional and narcissistic. OH and did i mention no breaks most days? OH and did i mention not feed me but feed themselves because, you know, they literally own the place and i'm just the 'help'. the help who cannot call out because the restaurant cannot function without them. the help who has quit twice, much more politely than she maybe should have and been convinced to stay until they can find a replacement but no detectable effort has been made to replace for nearly a month...