Your first day alone on a new kitchen section as a young cook: everything’s ready, you’re totally prepped (or so you think) and then slam! Service quickly takes a nosedive and it’s your fault: you’re running out of things and holding up the whole brigade. Perhaps you weren’t as prepared as you thought.
That’s what happened to a 19–year–old student cook placed on garnish alone for the first time in a high–end kitchen in Copenhagen. He later turned to the chefs on the ChefTalk forum to ask how he could ensure this never happened again.
This is what he had to say: “Yesterday I was alone on this section ... prepping and doing service. Second day on garnish and alone. I went down pretty hard. I ran out of things lots of times, guy beside keeps calling me and I just get late all the time with the garnish. Now I'm working on Friday and Saturday night and I want to "comeback" and really do a good job over at this section.”
You can read the chefs’ responses below. The station in question is garnish of course, but there’s some valuable advice here that can be applied throughout the kitchen.
What advice would you give this young cook? Do you have any tips for totally bossing a new station? Let us know over on our Facebook page.
7 Chefs on How to Totally Own a New Kitchen Station
Ask your immediate supervisor how much of each item you will need for each night's service and write it down. The par may vary (busier services like weekends and special parties) so until you are settled in go ahead and ask every time you work a shift. Better to ask than be caught out short IMO.
It doesn't matter if you have the best schooling in the world, its experience that counts, and the learning curve is going to be extremely steep. Accept that you will make mistakes, Accept that without those mistakes you won't progress, and you will be just fine.
Study the menu; get a system down of the most used items or the staples that are key that the garnish is built around and build from there ... you can never over prep ... push through it and do not stress about small mistakes. They happen. Remember to have fun: you are doing what you love.
Try not to make the same mistake twice. You will make mistakes, it is just part of learning, but if you constantly make the same mistakes over and over there is a problem.
Keep a notebook ... dishes you do, plating, recipes, etc. Write notes to yourself on how to work better.
Don't let mistakes sink you. Fix the problem ASAP and move on. I've seen lots of cooks have a bad start to a night, get flustered, and spiral out of control for the whole service. You have to mentally be able to move on, not take it personally, and come back with more fire to do it right.
Usually the difficulties I have seen with people having a hard time keeping up once the tickets start to fly is because of inability to see enough of the big picture.
Working the line, a cook has to be able to work more than one ticket at a time. It is a highly involved dance though because it involves timing and sequencing to come off properly. You can't get too far ahead; you can't get too far behind. You have to stay in step by seeing the big picture.
Prioritising. What needs to be done now? What can be done next? What can be put on the shelf a bit; but you have to be able to do for all the tickets at the same time, not just a ticket at a time. For most people this doesn't happen instantaneously, instead it comes with time, experience, and perseverance.
Sweat and work as hard as possible during prep. Once the rush comes just try to stay as methodical as possible. No wasted movements. Shutting down will not accomplish anything. Most likely the cook beside you is struggling too. He's just used to it.
This little trick has helped me in years past. When you go to bed reflect on service. Replay it and visualise your movements. Think of your mistakes and then visualise how you would fix them. This all helps me commit the actions to long–term memory.