My first restaurant job was in high school at a local steak house. I was the lowly dishwasher and on good nights I got to replenish the salad bar. One night the line cook called out and the mgr through me on the line. I was hooked.
The year was 1987 and I was suddenly introduced to terms that made no sense to me. The first of which was "86". When we ran out of menu items we told the waitstaff, "86 it". I wasn't sure how those two things correlated but my thought process was: It's 1987, so 86 must mean "old or gone" so when we were out of baked potatoes, the pasta special or chocolate cake we would yell out the previous year.
Well, now it's 1988 and the first time i yelled out "87 it", i was tormented the entire shift.
So when you ask a restaurant cook how his shift went last night don't get confused when his response is something like this:
Oh man, we had over 90 covers, two 12-tops, a bunch of deuces and tons of VIPs. By nine, we were cruising, totally slammed and had already 86’d the striper. I was running the pass when this huge pick-up was happening, we were doing that really soigne risotto with chanterelles—a la minute you know? The pick-up time is like 20 minutes. I got this really green cook on sauté, fired her a 4 by 4 by 3, half a dozen more on order, but when we go to plate she’s short two f***** orders, so had to order fire two more on the fly, she was totally in the shit! We were in the weeds. Food’s dying on the pass. The rail is jammed up with dupes. The salamander stopped working. My porter no-showed and I really thought we might go down.
If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, this paragraph might as well be written in Greek. Like all occupations, the professional kitchen has developed its own vernacular.
ON THE LINE
The “line” is the kitchen space where the cooking is done, often set up in a horizontal line. Being “on the line” means you are a “line cook”—an essential foot soldier in any functioning restaurant.
RUNNING THE PASS
The “pass” is the long, flat surface where dishes are plated and picked up by wait staff. The chef or high-level cook who “runs the pass” each night is in charge of letting the cooks know what they will be cooking as orders come in. They are in control of the watching the order tickets, monitoring the speed and rhythm of the coursing, and making sure each dish looks good before it goes out to the customer.
Mostly used by wannabe fine-dining douchebags, soigne (pronounced “SWAN-YAY”) means “elegant” in French. It’s used to describe an exceptionally sexy dish, or when you really nailed a plating presentation.
A LA MINUTE
A la minute is French for “in the minute,” and it refers to making a dish right then, from scratch. Instead of making a big batch of risotto during prep time and reheating portions of it hours later, a dish made “a la minute” is cooked from start to finish only when an order for it comes in.
A “12 Top” refers to a table with 12 diners. A “4 top” has four diners. A “duece” just two.
A “no-show” is a kitchen employee who doesn’t show up to work.
When a chef calls out “fire” or “pick-up,” a cook will start cooking that particular dish (e.g., “FIRE! 6 broco, 3 polenta side, 1 lamb”) “Order fire” means to immediately start cooking a certain dish because there is only one course on the ticket, much to the annoyance of the kitchen (because it forces them to restructure the entire pick-up).
DYING ON THE PASS
Hot food that is ready to be run that has been sitting on the pass for an inordinate amount of time getting cold and losing its soigne character because waitstaff are either too slammed or too lazy to pick it up.
When the kitchen runs out of a dish, it’s “86’d.” Dishes can also be 86’d if the chef is unhappy with the preparation and temporarily wants it off the menu.
WEEDED/IN THE SHIT/ IN THE WEEDS
Used when a cook is really busy, overwhelmed by tickets, and frantically trying to cook and plate his dishes.
THE RAIL/THE BOARD
This refers to the metal contraption that holds all of the tickets the kitchen is working on. Once a ticket is printed, it’s stuck to “the rail” or “the board.” “Clearing the board” means the kitchen has just worked through a large set of tickets.
If a piece of protein is slightly undercooked, a cook with “flash it” in the oven for a minute or two to raise the temperature
Short for “duplicate.” When tickets are printed in the kitchen, they are usually printed on two- or three-ply color-coded paper which signify courses. This allows the person running the pass to keep track of and discard layers as courses leave the kitchen, as in, “Gimme that dupe, I gotta cross off the apps.”
Does your dish have a swipe of yogurt, a squiggle of cream, or a splash of creme fraiche on it? That’s “bukkake.”
Sauce on the side.
This refers to the total amount of dishes a cook is cooking in one specific pick-up. It works as a clarification system between the chef and cook. The cook might say, “Chef, how many linguine am I working?!” or “Can you give me an all-day, Chef.” The chef would reply, “You’ve got 4 linguine, 3 spaghetti, 2 cappelletti, and 2 kids pastas, all day”
BURN THE ICE
Disposing of the ice in the ice machine, under your mise, or at the bar by pouring hot water over it.
Short for mise en place (French for “everything in its place”), this term refers to all of the prepped items and ingredients a cook will need for his specific station, for one night of service.
LEFT-HANDED SPATULA/BACON STRETCHER/LONG STAND/GRILL EXTENDER
These items do not exist. But tell a green cook to grab a “left-handed spatula” for you and watch the frantic search begin. Hilarious!