As is the case with most occupations, kitchen professionals have their very own vernacular, ranging from esoteric to downright nasty. This strange chef-speak is hardly recognizable to those who have never worked in the restaurant industry. First of all, there’s a lot of heated rhetoric in the kitchen. (Gordon Ramsay-like tirades, as seen on television, are not uncommon amid the flaming pans and sharp knives.) This kind of gross misbehavior is tolerated in the kitchen, as long as the food is impeccable and the operation runs smoothly. Other than garden-variety swear words, used in many variations, chefs use a universal lingo on a daily basis. Here are a few sayings that will have you sounding like a real chef.
1) “Set It and Forget It”
The phrase “set it and forget it” gets used a lot in the kitchen, especially in the sauté station where cooks have to juggle many pans at one time. It simply means that once an order comes in that you can set the pan and push it to the back burner, until the meals on that particular ticket are ready to be fired. This method allows line cooks to get a grasp on the food items that they are responsible for cooking in an organizational manner. Of course, the term gets used throughout kitchen, from the broiler station to the pantry. And many kitchen professionals actually use the phrase in their personal lives, as long as it doesn’t pertain to unpaid bills.
The term “all-day” is one of the most commonly used phrases in a kitchen. It simply means that you are counting particular items on the ticket rail, as in “Yes, chef, there are six chicken saltimbocca all-day, three beef tenderloin all-day,” and so on. This counting method is a safeguard against forgetting to fire the requisitioned amount of food, especially when the dining room is full and the rail is lined with greasy slips of white paper. Things do get hectic during the dinner rush, and a basic “all-day” count can save your ass when you are plating food. There’s nothing worse than hearing, “I’m missing a chicken on Table 8.” This kind of avoidable snafu can really throw a wrench into an otherwise finely oiled machine.
3) “Low Board”
Like the “all-day” count, the use of a low board is imperative for keeping your sanity in the kitchen. The low board is simply a dry-erase board that indicates if the kitchen is low on certain items. For example, if the kitchen only has three orders of halibut and four orders of lobster risotto left, then someone from the kitchen staff writes that information on the board so the servers are made aware of the situation. It’s up to the waitstaff to keep tally of the count, since they are the ones selling the dishes. Nothing gets a server yelled at (often by an irate chef) quicker than when they order four halibut when there are only three available.
Speaking of low boards, one of the most important things to be noted is when a particular dish has been “86’d,” meaning the kitchen has run out of that item. Servers are responsible for writing “86” next to the item on the low board to indicate that it’s history. “86” is probably the most recognizable restaurant term–even non-restaurant types know the meaning of this number, which often gets used in a verb tense. If you really want to see that vein on the chef’s forehead jump around like a worm on a hook, go ahead and order something that has been “86’d.” The term has made its way into the general American lexicon in recent times, where it gets used for everything from “I 86’d my boyfriend” to “I 86d that crappy car of mine.”
5) “Coming Up On”
Just like bus drivers, chefs use the term “coming up on,” but it doesn’t mean that Division Street is the next stop. This saying in the kitchen relates to when an order (or ticket, if you will) is ready to be plated. When a chef barks “coming up on table three,” you better have the food ready to go onto the plates. Timing is everything in a kitchen, especially when you have several cooks producing food for one ticket. Slow and unorganized cooks really piss off a chef. So, in other words, you had better have your shit together if you plan on keeping your job.
6) “Get the Fuck Out of My Kitchen”
Chefs are notorious potty-mouths. There’s a lot of bleep-bleepin’ on Hell’s Kitchen, and this is not a stretch of reality. (Okay. Chef Ramsay does embellish his expletives for dramatic effect.) Chefs can be rather articulate, until they get mad and start stringing together the fuck word, like “You fuckin’ fuck, I told you to fuckin’ plate table one, you fuck!” The word shit doesn’t get used as much in the kitchen, except for the phrase “shit sandwich,” as in “this whole night has been a shit sandwich. Take a bite, you fuck.” But you really know you are in trouble if a chef says, “Get the fuck out of my kitchen,” which is usually directed at servers who have fucked up.
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