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The rules (unwritten or otherwise) of a restaurant kitchen

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By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST

Some institutions, like baseball for example, have unwritten rules. But unlike baseball, kitchen rules typically make sense. And I generally agree with almost all of them. The complete list is long, but here are a few key rules.

Don’t touch my knives. Every tradesman has a set of tools that are an integral part of his profession. For a cook or chef, it’s his or her knives. Protect them, take care of them, treat them with respect, and ask before you use someone else’s.

No dull knives. A doctor or dentist doesn’t have dull instruments, or at least I sure hope not! Your knives are tools of precision and refinement. Treat them as such.

A hangover is no excuse. Bringing the cold or flu into a warm, heavily populated work environment is just foolish. But if your ailment is self-inflicted, sorry, but pros play hurt.

Never take anyone else’s mise en place. Mise en place, French for “put in place”, is all your ingredients, equipment, and items required for service.  Take someone else’s and you are telling that person your time is more valuable than theirs.

Put it back. When you use something, put it back. It should only ever be in three places: in use, dirty waiting to be washed or where it belongs on a shelf.

Always help the dishwashers. They are the cornerstone of any kitchen, without exception. When there is no more clean sauté pans or silverware, the whole system comes to a painful halt.

No towel snapping. The days of cooks playing the towel snapping game (and there are actual rules) are long over. It is a game of unprofessionalism, immaturity and time wasting.

Never leave another cook behind. You may not be busy right this moment, but your teammate is. Help them. Don’t stand there thinking how happy you are not being busy, an unaided busy cook is like an inexperienced swimmer trying to help a drowning person, the one drowning will eventually drag you down with them.

Work clean, work fast. A clean workplace is a happy and efficient workplace. When you use something, put it back where it goes, every time, no matter what. A step taken now will save three down the road.

You taste it first. If you ask me to taste a dish or sauce that you have prepared and you haven’t tasted it first, in my mind, you haven’t completed the dish.

Stay hydrated. Only water is water. I was raised in a house that was pretty strict when it came to junk food. Once ensconced in my first kitchen at the age of 15, and having unlimited access to soda, it wasn’t a full day unless I drank about a gallon of Mountain Dew. It was my general manager and first mentor who woke me up to the peril of so much soda. Soda creates thirst, it doesn’t quench it. I now try to drink half my body weight in ounces of water every day I work.

If you turn off the timer, you own it. Few things deflate a cook more than remembering you had something in the oven, only to find it burnt or overcooked and the oven timer turned off. Asking which one of your co-workers turned it off is like asking which kid left the lights on. Good luck. We have a rule: if you turned the timer off, you are responsible for the contents of that oven. No excuses.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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