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Amuse-bouche: Unwritten but understood kitchen rules



By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Most industries have certain, specific ways of doing things, even the sports world. But these often come with a list of unwritten rules. Take baseball, for example: After hitting a homerun, a batter should never flip his bat while standing and admiring his work, or saunter around the bases. The rulebook doesn’t actually state this law, but you can be sure the opposing pitcher knows it.

A restaurant’s kitchen is no different. Here are some of the many unwritten, implied, expected and enforced stipulations of the professional kitchen:

Do not touch my knives. Respect your teammates’ tools. Anthony Bourdain once said there are two things of his you never touch. And his knife is one of them.

Utilize your own sense of urgency. Your three biggest opponents are always the clock, the calendar and yourself.

Respect the equipment. Few kitchens have the money to purchase expensive restaurant equipment and tools the day they break. The prep doesn’t stop, so make sure you always have well-respected, working equipment.

It’s never personal. The chef or other co-workers may get tense or even yell in the heat of battle. Never take it personally, because it never is.

Neatness counts. To work neat is to work organized. To work organized is to work smart. To work smart is to work fast.

Show up to work ready to work. Don’t start telling your partying or powder story the minute you walk in the door. We’ve all been there. We all have stories, and even though it’s probably a good one, nobody cares about yours until your prep is done and your station is set up.

Mise en place. A cook’s food and prep station is called his mise en place, or “put in place.” Never touch or take from another cook’s mise en place because you ran out of something. You’ll lose respect faster than you can say, “Want to hear about my sick powder turns today?”

Only water is water. In a hot kitchen with long hours, stay hydrated. There is no substitute for water, especially here in the mountains. Not soda. Not Gatorade. Certainly not Red Bull.

Kitchen towels: tools not toys. Along with tall white paper hats, long gone are the days of towel snapping to horse around. Grow up and keep your towel tucked in your apron for when you need it.

Be a fixer, not a leaver. When you use the roll of plastic wrap and it peels away from the edge and starts to unroll in half, stop. Fix it for the next person. It sends a message that you respect them. The same goes for the paper towel and hand soap dispensers.

“Guys, I’m going down!” Never let your pride get in the way of thinking you can pull yourself out of the weeds when you know you can’t. It takes humility and self-awareness to recognize you need help for the betterment of the kitchen’s overall flow.

You are not sick. A hangover is not sick. Pros play hurt.

Taste, taste, taste. Never ask another cook to taste something you haven’t first tasted.

Respect your work and your craft. I can tolerate the mistake of screwing up a dish. I cannot accept the sin of serving it.

Like baseball, there are countless other unwritten rules of the kitchen, but these are the ones that, if followed, will gain you respect in any kitchen you call home.

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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