What Are Some Universal Restaurant Kitchen Rules?

A chef prepares a dish in the kitchen of a restaurant in Lewes, England, in 2014.

Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

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Answer by Jonas Mikka Luster, former cook, jml.is/en:

Don’t screw with my mise. Ninety percent of a kitchen’s efficiency and quality of food can be attributed to the hours before the doors open, when everything is readied for the actual cooking hours. That’s called mise en place—everything in its place—and is part religion and part true art and craft. Most any bozo can heat a bunch of things and arrange them on a plate. Touching, taking, or rearranging my mise is a beating and firing offense in my place, worse in many others.

Keep your mouth shut and eyes open. Kitchens are loud and dangerous places. People get cut, burned, crushed, and worse. Most days have hectic phases where a keen eye on the food and your surroundings will make the difference between success and failure or injury.

My tools are mine. My knife is mine. Almost worse than touching my mise is touching my knife. It’s mine. It’s what separates me from savages, foodies, and the diners outside. It’s a precision tool, it’s my precision tool, and it defines me as a cook or chef. Don’t touch it. Ever.

We work when we work, and we party when we party. A good differentiator between bad and good kitchens is when the party starts. While we all hold somewhat romantic notions of the late ’80s and early ’90s when lines of coke and bottles of whiskey were consumed directly from the prep table during rush, that’s not really how it happened in most places and definitely not how it happens today. Sober cooks make good food; healthy cooks keep making it. Drinks and drugs (and sex, much sex) happens after the kitchen goes cold. All else is dangerous, problematic, and unhygienic.

The chef is the chef. It doesn’t matter that you know it better, and it doesn’t matter that you know more. Kitchens are military-style organizations (and that’s a good thing—not everyone wants to work in granola-munching kale-and-cubicle land), and what chef says is the law. If you’re a cook, what sous or your chef de partie says is the law too. Even if you’re 45 and came from a high-flying investment-broker job, that 19-year-old woman is still your freaking boss, and if she tells you to cut one way, you cut one way.

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