KITCHEN ETIQUETTE 101
Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back.
Kitchens are unique work spaces. Most of them are required to run like Swiss watches yet dangers, such as fire and sharp edges lurk everywhere. Time is always of the essence even when the product coming out of the kitchen is going to sit on a retail shelf. With the pressure and the heat, it’s sometimes hard to manage, but a little bit of courtesy goes a long way.
Whether in a shared kitchen, a singular, professional restaurant kitchen or just sharing a kitchen with a roommate, there are a few codes to abide by to minimize danger and risk and extend courtesy to those that share the habitat. The following points may seem very basic. But it is good to have a reference point for an atmosphere that can, at times, be a bit overwhelming. Chef Post is here to help!
Here is a composite of notes taken by the writer and polls of colleagues and clients on how to behave like a professional in the kitchen:
“Behind you.” Should be the first thing one learns before entering any professional kitchen. It is just as important, if not more so, as knowing the difference between a dice and a mince. “Hot” or “Hot coming through” is the next thing one should learn. The Dishwasher is hugely important. It makes for a long night if he or she walks off the job in a huff because they touched a hot pan they weren’t warned about.
Don’t be afraid of being nerdy. Don’t be afraid of having all the cool kids notice you. Be like that dorky uncle who honks his horn when he backs out of the driveway. Be vocal about potentially dangerous things that you are in control of. Announce that you are walking with a knife. Announce that an oven is open near someone’s ankles. Announce that a cart is behind someone and they might turn and do an endo over it. Anything that might end up in disaster should be announced to avoid that disaster. These little warnings will be truly appreciated by those who make their living in that atmosphere and endear the messenger as a person who takes the situation, everyone’s well being and ability to earn a living seriously.
Another amusing list of kitchen terms can be found here.
There are certain red flag incidents in the kitchen that require a little more than just mentioning. Accidents happen. No worries. It is how they are dealt with that is most important. Spills of any kind, especially grease spills, should be attended to immediately and if necessary, proper signage should be placed at the site until it no longer poses a potential hazard.
Just make sure that standard procedures are followed during accidents (spills, flare ups, breakages) and those in the vicinity are made aware.
Do not leave knives in sinks, especially under an opaque layer of soap lather. A professional will really never throw the single most necessary kitchen tool into a sink anyway:
“Japanese chefs believe our soul goes into our knives once we start using them,” explains Masarhu Morimoto, “You wouldn’t put your soul in a dishwasher!”
If one cannot transport a knife in its sheath inside a bag, the knife should be transported so that its potential for destruction is minimized. Announce the transporting of a knife. Announce that a knife is near someone if they are not obviously aware of its presence. Do not describe last night’s game with a knife in your hand (This has been witnessed and much bobbing and weaving was required) Do not do tricks with your knife…please.
Prep sinks are for food. Three bay sinks are for cleaning and never the twain shall meet. Always leave the sink sparkling clean after using it. Whether in a restaurant or a shared kitchen like the Chefs Center of California, the sink will be used by many other people during the day, by different shifts, different businesses. Leaving it better than you found it is the mark of a class act that cares about the next person that uses the sink. To minimize the effort required to clean a three bay sink SCRAPE your dirty pots and pans thoroughly before cleaning. A rubber spatula or dough scraper designated for this purpose is highly recommended. This also minimizes the risk of clogs and other damage to the equipment and pipes.
Cleaning should be counted in the time it takes to cook anything. If one is using a flat top griddle, count in about ten minutes for cleaning it once you are through with it. It’s best to clean it when it is somewhat hot anyway. Not cleaning up after oneself is not only unprofessional; it’s virtually infantile, because it suggests that one expects somebody else, such as their mother, to clean up after them. On the other hand, leaving a spic and span work area for the next person to use is one of the simplest yet pleasant gestures a person can make in a kitchen. Further, a clean work area is required by state and local health departments. Certainly after standing for six hours, eyes may be crossed and one may innocently overlook something. Have a seat, take a breath and make one last sweep of your work area with some fresh eyes before bolting if you can.
In a shared kitchen, the results of cleaning up after oneself are entirely tangible. Time is money and if the next business has to clean up after the person who used, say, the mixer before them, then it’s costing them money as the meter is running while they’re cleaning up their predecessor’s mess. That’s just wrong.
YOU KILL IT, YOU FILL IT
This mostly applies in restaurant kitchens with ingredients, but in a shared kitchen one should still adhere to a policy of replacing a can liner after taking out the trash or finding more soap after the last squirt. It is another courteous gesture that is contagious and helps make everything run smooth and equitably.
OTHER PEOPLE’S STUFF
Always, always, always ask. If they are not around then their hand mixer, the cup of sugar or that stock pot remains where it is. Trust is a delicate, beautiful thing and it is a king sized drag when it is broken. Just look at some of the ridiculous laws, fees, fines and rules out there in society. Some of the sillier ones exist because somebody at some point chose to break a simple, social trust. Many high rates and fees can be attributed to fraud, another form of breaking a trust.
This is related to being vocal. Communicate with others about when you’re going to use the mixer, the oven, etc. You may have a big batch of bread to make in the mixer, but the other guy may need it for some mashed potatoes. Coordinate and communicate. Not only will this make things run smoothly, it can sometimes open up lines of communication that weren’t open before.
The simplest rule of all is to treat other people the way you want to be treated. Be conscious of others and remember that just saying please and thank you covers a myriad of sins.