Starting out as a line cook can be confusing and intimidating to many. It’s a faced paced, on-your-toes environment, and you have to be able to adapt quickly. We’ve gathered tips from many experienced cooks that will help make your transition to this new position easier.
Whether you’re just starting as a cook at your local sports bar, or you’re beginning as a sous chef at a Michelin star restaurant, here are some line cook tips from experienced cooks that you should always keep in your back pocket.
Line Cook Tip #1: Get yourself a pair of comfortable, non-slip shoes
A good restaurant keeps their kitchen as clean as possible, but as we all know, it’s incredibly hard to keep a kitchen spotless during a dinner rush. Things get spilled, plates get dropped, coolers leak, cooking oils drip – you name it.
Your restaurant will more than likely have a damp (if not wet) floor most of the time.
Because of this, it is incredibly important to have a rugged pair of shoes that can help prevent you from slipping. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 alone, falls, slips, and trips contributed 7,850 nonfatal injuries to restaurant workers, second only to contact injuries (cuts and burns, 9,040).
Working back-of-house (otherwise known as the kitchen), you’re going to be on your feet for long periods of time. A typical shift would be 8 hours with a break at the 4-hour mark, however, this isn’t always the case. If your restaurant is short-staffed, management may ask you to work 8, 10, or even 12-plus hours without a break. Now obviously this is under extreme circumstances, but we have seen this happen before.
That’s why it’s crucial to pick a pair of shoes that offers proper support as well as comfort. Improper foot support can contribute to a plethora of health issues, especially if you’re on your feet for long periods of time. Pick a pair of shoes that have good arch support as well as slip resistance and comfort.
Line Cook Tip #2: Get familiar with kitchen lingo
If you’re new to the food service world, you may quickly notice some of your coworkers using unusual terms or phrases in the kitchen. These callouts are typically shorthand phrases that help safely indicate a message. Here’s a list we’ve gathered from some experienced line cooks.
Behind – It can get noisy in the kitchen. Say this to someone to indicate that you are passing behind them.
Corner – Most kitchens do not have parabolic mirrors around corners. Use this callout to indicate that you are coming around a corner.
Sharp – Use this in conjunction with behind or corner. It indicates that you are holding a sharp object. For example, when passing behind someone while holding a knife, you would call out “behind sharp!”
Hot – Similar to sharp, but when you’re holding something hot that could risk burning someone.
86 – This means that a food, drink, or menu item is out of stock or no longer available. (e.g., We’re 86 on tomatoes)
Dead plate – Food that can’t be served. Possible reasons include cooked incorrectly, cold, overcooked, or forgotten by a server.
Walk-in – This one isn’t a callout, just a nickname for a walk-in fridge/freezer.
Expo – Again, not a callout, just another nickname. The expo is the person who reads out orders as they come in and puts the finishing touches on the food before it goes out (e.g., garnishes, sauce, etc.) If the kitchen were a train, the expo would be the conductor.
Tip #3: Prep, Prep, Prep
Proper preparation is key to a smooth success in the kitchen, especially when you’re just starting out. You’re going to struggle while you’re still getting your feet wet, everyone does. The best way to make this adjustment period easy is to prepare. Here are some of the best ways to take preventative action on the line:
Have your station ready to go before service starts – Having all your clean dishes lined up and ingredients topped off will ensure a smooth shift for you.
Also, always have backup ingredients ready to go near your station. When things get hectic and the ticket orders come rolling in all at once, the last thing you’ll want to do is leave your station and refill a cooking item or ingredient. That’s why it’s always best to have backup or reserve ingredients nearby. Staying locked and loaded is a surefire way to alleviate some stress throughout the shift.
Tip #4: Clean as you go
A messy station will ultimately slow you down. Keep one wet and one dry towel near your station to wipe things down as you go, and make sure your station is clean before service begins.
Tip #5: Mise en place
“Everything in its place.”
This means everything in your station should have a dedicated spot that you are able to reach to the point of without having to look at it. This will take some time, but master it and you’ll be the fastest cook on the line.
Tip #6: Double up on gloves
When you’re touching different foods all at once, you have to be cognizant of food allergies. This causes line cooks to constantly switch out their gloves. To save time on reaching or finding a new pair of gloves, simply throw two or three pairs of gloves on all at once before a rush. When you have to change gloves, simply rip off the contaminated pair and start fresh right away. However, it’s important to be aware of latex allergies as well. Make sure to fully read the ticket for any possible allergies.
The most important advice to take away from this is to be a successful line cook, you need to be persistent, practice, and organized. Follow the line cook tips in this post and you will succeed.