What’s It Like to Work in a Restaurant Kitchen?

Chef Antoine Westermann, right, prepares lunch along with an unidentified chef at a Bangkok restaurant in 2006.

Photo by Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

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Answer by Rich Canino, I prepare and consume food regularly:

It’s been a long time, but I will always remember it.

I worked the line on a brigade, usually expediting. My job was to take the tickets coming in from the wait staff, call out the orders to the line, cook pasta, keep the hot plate stocked, melt cheese in the salamander, run the brigade to get all components needed together, and assemble orders by table for the serving staff to pick up.

Some things I remember from that time that I found unique:

We were fairly low-paid employees, but everyone who worked the line took it seriously. There was a lot of professionalism from everyone, and it was great to work with people who were motivated and competent. I genuinely miss working as part of a cohesive unit like that.

Most people seemed amazed I was good at keeping orders straight running the window. I had no idea it was supposed to be one of the hardest jobs in the kitchen. I liked it because it was like a juggling act: keeping them all straight, making sure the whole table was done at once, keeping the orders flowing. When it got really busy and I had 3 feet long of tickets on my window and we just kept knocking them down, when we finished the last order of the rush—man, was that a great feeling.

There’s no such thing as break time. If it’s slow, you chop parsley or do other prep. When orders come in, you work on them instantly. You’re on your feet the whole shift. Servers took breaks where they got to sit down. Not so for us. The only respite you got is if you had to run to the bathroom, but had better make it quick. (And don’t forget to wash up! Professionalism!)

The serving staff seemed to think we were the enemy for reasons I never understood. The tension was there, on their end, but I never let it bother me and just put stuff out as fast as I could and gave them my best guess on times when something was behind.

Dishwashers are a whole separate brigade. We barely ever interacted with them; they kept to themselves and did their jobs. If we had to pass back some plates that weren’t cleaned enough, they took them back without reaction or comment and went about cleaning them again.

You don’t get sick days. If you’re sick, take some cold medicine and suck it up. They need you manning the line. The brigade is a unit, everyone is important, everyone is needed, so pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get your butt in the kitchen.

It’s hot in the kitchen. No, seriously, seriously hot. You keep your water bottle on hand and full all the time, and you drink water constantly. Dehydration is a constant risk given how hot it is.

Overall, it was a great time and I enjoyed it. In another life, I may have stuck with it and done that professionally. I am glad I had that opportunity to work in a professional kitchen. If it’s something you’re interested in doing, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s hard work, not easy, but it was very rewarding and an excellent experience.

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