Kitchen: A Singular Entity
This was an old blog post from a blog I made years ago. At the time I was a line cook, primarily saute station, and reading this post reminded me of those days. Enjoy!
*ticket machine clatters*
"Ringing in: two house salmons, one special filet med-rare, porkchop, two caesars, one ranch, one gorgonzola!"
In most kitchens this is the norm - one person on the line calls out the order to the rest of this kitchen, and each person responds in a way to let that person know they 'heard' the call out, thus resulting in the orders being prepared in a timely manner that works in sync with the rest of the line. Some kind of system is in place in all kitchens to help ensure a streamlined process that makes the orders go out smoothly and quickly. It's a must; and if there is a poor system in place or if there are any weak links in the chain of command, the kitchen gets behind and it'll start to remind you of a Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares episode. People will start yelling, throwing pans around, someone will drop something that will back up the kitchen even more, in general, sometimes the quality drops to try to increase the quantity. It is essential that the correct people are in place in the right positions/stations to make sure their link in the chain is strong, and that communication is constant and clear. What happens though when the line of communication is not clear and in sync when it's during the hours of prep before the rush?
When I come into work (I tend to work evenings), I generally have two hours to have my station in good working order to ensure a smooth night. The rush usually hits an hour after my time frame, but forcing myself to have a smaller prep window requires me to hustle to get everything done, and then have that final hour to make sure everything is clean, and the small details are ready. Any cook worth their salt has a similar system for themselves, it's almost like an operation manual for one's station. While we run around the kitchen gathering product to prep our station, our eyes usually glance at the prep of other stations or how much product they have. For me, I usually keep tabs on who is doing what in the kitchen so then I can adjust make my prep accordingly. Dessert station is out of creme brulee, so they'll need heavy cream to make creme anglaise but we're low on heavy cream. Rather than using cream to make a fondu/cheese sauce, I'll use a product that is not in high demand and have more of, like milk or half and half, and adjust my to-do list by making a mornay sauce by using milk, roux and cheese rather than just heating cream and whisking in the cheese. I might see that saute is low on marinara and the saute guy just walked into the building, not knowing what their prep list is looking like for the day. Right away I'll let them know they need marinara because it's a workhorse sauce, and takes time to make. Communication while prepping is just as important as communication during the rush. If you saw that grill had one osso buco left but they were roped in with helping the chef with a catering and didn't tell the guy about it when he was done OR you didn't go ahead and start it, the final result would be that service would start and lo and behold the osso buco is 86'd because you didn't do or say anything about it.
It may not have been your station, may not have been your responsibility to make sure that prep is there, but it is everyone's responsibility to communicate with each other about what is going on with who or with what. The chef can't be everywhere to make sure everything is in order: he needs everyone on the same page and to be his eyes and ears. A kitchen with a poor command chain and terrible communication will falter while the opposite will function as one voice, one entity, a singular understanding of each person's situation and what is happening at any moment. That is why communication in such a hectic and loud environment is so crucial for success