Celebrated chef Gavin Kaysen tells every intern at the world-renowned Café Boulud the same thing: “You can come to this restaurant and you can give us 99% and the cooks will give you nothing in return, or you can give them 100% and they’ll give you 150% in return.”
There’s a sense of camaraderie that develops from being in the trenches of a busy restaurant kitchen. Service is fast-paced and high-pressure, and the reputation of the restaurant and the head chef hangs on every plate. Everyone is expected to give 100% every day, and if you give any less, you risk losing the respect of your fellow chefs.
Because of this intense environment, many unwritten rules of the kitchen have developed over time. If you want to quickly rise through the ranks, consistently work hard and follow these 10 unwritten rules.
1. Don’t touch another chef’s knife.
A chef’s knife is an extension of themselves, and just like you wouldn’t put your hands on someone without their permission, you shouldn’t put your hands on a chef’s knife without permission.
2. “Yes, chef” is the only appropriate response to a chef’s instructions.
Professional kitchens follow a military-like hierarchy. The chef is the general, and their word is law.
3. You live and die by your mise en place.
You should always have yours prepped and organized before service starts. Few things can wreck an entire service faster than messed up mise.
4. Work clean and always have a towel near your station.
No matter what you’re working on, your station should stay organized and wiped down. A messy station will earn you a lot of side eye from fellow chefs and potentially a reprimand from the head chef.
5. Loudly announce your presence and anything potentially dangerous.
“Behind,” “corner,” “knife,” and “hot” are all frequently shouted in the kitchen when cooks are bustling past each other.
6. Always support your kitchen colleagues.
The Three Musketeers code is in full effect: All for one, and one for all. Never let the person beside you die in the weeds.
7. The dishwasher is the unsung hero of the kitchen.
Just like you should help your fellow chefs, always help the dishwasher if they are overtaken by a mountain of dishes. You can’t put food out if there are no clean plates.
8. Call back orders and answer “heard” for instructions.
Don’t silently listen to instructions. Kitchens are loud, and no one will know if you actually heard the order or chef’s instructions.
9. Never give up, no matter how slammed your station gets.
You will lose everyone’s respect and potentially your job. Keep your cool, keep going, and know you’ll have your chef’s respect and likely a free drink at the end of your shift.
10. Don’t get offended if someone yells at you.
Yelling in the kitchen isn’t personal—it’s loud and it’s busy, and no one has time to waste repeating things.