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Amuse Bouche: [My] unwritten rules of the kitchen

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Everywhere from articles on LinkedIn to Facebook, to conversations with chefs to episodes of Netflix’s’ “Chefs Table,” to clubs and diners, kitchens have rules. 

Every workspace has its own character—its own vibe that makes it what it is. I’m not talking about rules found in a handbook or a human resource coaching form. I’m talking about rules that govern the work habits and culture of a given kitchen. 

Any given chef or kitchen manager will no doubt have his or her distinctive set of rules to live by. But there are certain rules of the kitchen that are (and should be) fairly universal.

Here are mine.

  1. Always show up on time. Of all the stressful moments in a chef’s day, there is no more stressful moment than 10 minutes after a cook’s shift was supposed to begin and you don’t see them yet. Then you begin to wonder.
  2. My knives are my knives. Watch a carpenter or electrician take another person’s hammer or screwdriver from their tool belt and see what happens. The same goes for chefs and their knives.
  3. Working neat means working fast. Think of your cutting board as your desk top. How are you supposed to write or type if you have papers or files all over it?
  4. A task is not completed until it is cleaned up. In my first French kitchen, I was so anxious to please the chef that I would ask for the next task and he would remind me I was not finished with the previous one because my work station had not been cleaned.
  5. Never take another cook’s “mise en place,” or, ingredient setup. I’ve seen near fights ensue when one cook takes another’s chopped shallots. That was laborious time spent, and not for others.
  6. No towel snapping. I’ll admit, I enjoyed a good towel snapping fight. However, it was at my first job, in the 1980’s, when I was 15.
  7. Put things back where they go. How can you possibly expect to be productive when you are always looking for something?
  8. Never take it personal. There is always literal and figurative heat in a kitchen. If your co-worker is short with you, they probably have several things they are trying to keep straight in their head. 
  9. Servers and bartenders are not your adversaries. You both have very different aspects of work that make each of your jobs either easier or more challenging. Respect that.
  10. Always take care of your dishwashers. They are the keystone to the flow of everything and without them, everything else crumbles.
  11. Never sacrifice quality for speed. I always coach young cooks to get it precise first, and the speed will inevitably follow. If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, how are you possibly going to find the time to repair it?
  12. Never leave an empty container or box on a shelf. This may be my greatest pet peeve. Inevitably, that same person who left the empty box on the shelf will then tell the person placing orders that they are out of something they didn’t order because they saw the box on the shelf.
  13. Never look when someone drops or breaks something. We’ve all done it. No one intends to do it. By looking you have now distracted yourself with something that never required your attention in the first place.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the multi-concept culinary director for a Bozeman based restaurant group.

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