Your scrambled eggs have been compared to light fluffy clouds with cheese. You know the difference between a paring knife and a steak knife. But these facts don’t mean you have what it takes to work in a restaurant kitchen. Fast paced, stressful, and demanding, those are just some of the words used to describe working in a commercial kitchen. Here at Workman’s Friend, many of us have a genuine love of preparing food, but we understand (at least some of us) that working in a restaurant is something completely different. So, before you consider enrolling in culinary school there are a few things you need to know about successfully working in a restaurant.
Clean as you go (C.Y.A.G.) is one of the first rules of working in a restaurant regardless if it is in the front of the house (restaurant) or back (kitchen). Unlike working in your kitchen at home, in a restaurant there many more people with multiple hot pans, sharp knives. The only way to create order of the chaos is to have one basic rule: clean as you go. That means every chef must wipe down their food station when it becomes messy. They must have a sharpie tucked into their pocket for quick labeling their station ingredients if they’re stored. A dry towel should be hung around a chef’s waist to wipe plate rims clean; and always start with new pots and pans with each recipe. Unlike what we’d do at home by reusing dishes and cutting boards, in a commercial restaurant this is considered a waste of time and against health codes laws. Instead, once you’re done making a dish, reach for a new set of pots and pans to make the next order. It will be a cleaner and more efficient way to work.
Keep an Open Mind
Always have a notebook on hand when working in a restaurant kitchen. No, you won’t be teased or called a nerd, just the opposite. Most seasoned professional chefs carry around a pen and paper to record any new trick they might discover. Perhaps another chef has shared with you their secret for not cutting yourself while peeling potatoes. These aren’t tips you’re easily going to remember during the dinner rush. Instead refer to the notes you made in your book.
Carrying a notebook also allows you to write questions down as they arise. The likelihood of you remembering your question when it’s time to ask is slim. That’s why having a notebook to refer to is not only helpful but it also shows the more senior chef you’re interested enough in your job to ask.
Take care of your tools
Similar to any other profession that requires tools in the restaurant world a chef’s tools are his knives, pots and pans. You will find the most dedicated chefs can go on for a long time talking about their knives and how to take care of them. It’s really true that a chef is only as good as his tools. That translates to making sure your knives are sharpened on a regular basis, that your pots and pans are clean and in good shape. From tongs to micro-planes, the condition of a chef’s tools reflect how they feel about their work and how competent they are in the kitchen.
Perhaps the hardest lesson that any professional chef must learn is to remain humble. When you are critiqued for whatever reason you must accept the criticism and move forward. There is no such thing as excuses in the restaurant industry. Shifting the blame or pointing the finger at someone else is unproductive and not proper chef behavior. In a restaurant kitchen there is never time for excuses. If you don’t finish a task or complete something incorrectly, apologize and move on. The focus in a restaurant is getting the job done well and quickly.
Now that you have some of the basic tips of how to successfully work in a restaurant kitchen the decision is up to you. Does a fast-paced and demanding career in a restaurant interest you? Or are you more comfortable working in your own kitchen and keeping your restaurant experiences to sitting at a table and being served?
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