By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
This time of year, most restaurants and bars are ushering in another winter season. They’re cleaning out beer lines, relighting oven pilot lights, and welcoming some fresh faces, as well as old ones. Walk through the Buck’s T-4 kitchen over the holidays, and you might hear something like:
“Walking in, one red deer mid, one mister, two all day; one ribeye, stepped on; one chicken, naked; one trout reg; one trout with walleye prep, two all day; and all this is on the fly so let’s knock it out.”
While the above sentence may read like nonsensical gibberish to most, this is how cooks communicate with each other on a regular basis. Notice the difference in length between the previous paragraph and the following translation:
“There is a new ticket printing right now, and it has two red deer steaks total. One is prepared medium, the other one is prepared medium rare. Next is one rib eye prepared well done. After that, one chicken dish prepared with no sauce. And finally, two trout dishes, one prepared normal, and the other prepared with all the accompaniments that would normally go on the walleye dish. And because the ticket is late coming in, we are already behind so let’s try and get it going as quickly as possible.”
In a fast-paced kitchen, where seconds feel like an eternity, the average cook is trying as hard as he or she can to focus on a multitude of tasks and dishes they already have started. The first sentence is quick industry lingo that is clear and efficient to the well-trained cook’s ear. Also, any server walking by knows exactly what the expeditor just called out.
A typical response from another cook might be “Heard. I can cover the board, then I’m 86’d on chicken.”
Translation: “I have only one chicken left which will now be sold on the ticket that was just called out. I also have every other chicken order currently on my ticket rail, but I have no more after that.”
Like most every occupation or discipline, there is an inherent language that the average outsider would deem thoroughly confusing, or sometimes even humorous. Like a microwave being called “Chef Mike.”
When a cook is running low on an ingredient, for example, and he knows that running out at that moment is not an option, he “puts it on the stretcher.” In other words, he spreads out the remaining supply to last the rest of the evening.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable terms spanning multiple industries is the term “86.” Most people use it regularly but few know its origins.
It was coined in the era between the gold rush days and the overall gentrification of America at the turn of the 20th century, otherwise known as the “Wild West.” In those days, there were typically two proofs of whiskey: 100 and 86 proof. When a patron was deemed too intoxicated or was getting unruly, he was “86’d.” This meant he was no longer permitted to drink the 100 proof whiskey but rather “downgraded” to the mere 86 proof. No wonder we refer to it as the Wild West.
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.