- You are not a chef until you have earned the employment title
In spite of the multitude of television shows, competitions and that little piece of paper you received after graduating, you are not a chef. You aren’t a chef until you’ve earned it – and that comes from experience. Becoming a chef is a long and arduous process, requires years of on-the-job training, long hours and sacrifice. If you haven’t completed that portion of your career, you aren’t a chef yet.
When you are truly a chef, you’ll be offered a head chef position, appropriate salary and jacket. Calling yourself a chef before then is not only inappropriate, it’s also insulting.
- Work hard
This is a given in the culinary industry. This is not a nine-to-five desk job. Working in a restaurant is a twelve hour shift on your feet, in a kitchen that averages 120 degrees or more, with people busting in and around you to get their portion of the job done on time and safely.
If you want to work in a kitchen, you are expected to pull your weight, and then some. As a new hire, you’ll probably work as a dishwasher or prep cook. These are monotonous positions, but they are necessary. If you don’t do your job quickly and effectively, it puts everyone else behind. Everyone in the kitchen has a function and is part of a larger team, sometimes called a brigade.
Chefs are busy managing the kitchen and sometimes the entire restaurant. If you want to get noticed, be noticed for your hard work and dedication to learning everything you can. Be dependable, reliable and consistent – these are the qualities chefs need and respect.
- Don’t call out sick
Having a job is a responsibility. If you go out partying and you have a hangover, you are still expected to come into work on time and ready to work. That means no whining, complaining or asking to leave early. Illness is relative, and in most cases staff are expected to be to work on time, in spite of not feeling well.
In addition, cuts, bruises and burns will happen with regularity. If you can’t handle the site of blood, kitchen work is definitely not for you. You will be expected to clean up quickly, add a bandage if necessary, glove up and keep moving without missing a beat.
- Act with humility
As stated before, you are not a chef yet which means you have a lot to learn. Listen, watch and keep your ego in check. If you were a rock star chef on The Food Network, you wouldn’t be working prep, washing dishes and cleaning floors. This means you have a great opportunity to learn from some quality cooks and chefs if you take advantage of it. No one is too good to scrub floors and toilets, and if you act like you are then your employment will be short lived.
- Learn to speak up when you move around the kitchen
This is a huge safety issue. Because kitchens are small and quantity of employees moving around them is high, you need to vocalize where you are and what you are doing on a regular basis. If you’re moving behind someone, you shout ‘behind”. If you are moving to the left of someone with a hot pan, you shout “on your left, hot pan”. If you are shy and have a quiet voice, you’ll need to get over it. This is a safety ensure everyone utilizes and a courtesy to your team members. Learn the jargon and use it – your coworkers will thank you.
- Be nice to the dish washers
Anyone who has ever worked in a kitchen will tell you that the folks who wash dishes are the backbone of the kitchen. This makes them the most valuable employees. Learn their preferences and help when you are able.
- No crying, pouting or whining
If you’ve burned yourself, keep moving. If you wanted the day off but didn’t get it, pouting is not allowed. And whining in a professional kitchen is liable to get you a lot of nasty jobs you hadn’t anticipated.
- Wash your hands and your station frequently
Sanitation is everyone’s concern, and a reflection of your skills and person. No one wants to eat a meal handled by the guy who doesn’t wash his hands. Not to mention the potential for cross contamination and allergens.
- Be honest
If you have a skill, say so when asked. If you don’t know how to do something, don’t lie about it. It will cause delays and problems, and could be a safety issue. That being said, pay attention and learn the first time so the next time your chef asks you can say with certainty you are capable of completing the task.
- Pay attention
Working in a kitchen is about time management. Your chef and cooks will show you how to do something once – and you will be expected to learn and perfect it on your own. Chefs and cooks have jobs of their own to do and don’t have the time to keep repeating themselves over and over. Your best bet is to watch someone else being shown or performing a duty and learn it by watching and listening. Then when your chef asks, you can assure him you already know.