At the age of 15 I stumbled upon cooking at my first job at a small Hawaii restaurant. Being my first job, I was terrible at it. I started off as a prep cook preparing foods for the days and, for some items, weeks ahead (they froze some of their food).
Knowing nothing about the restaurant industry, not even knowing how to hold a knife, the senior and more experienced cooks heckled me in their frustration. The cooks were asian and spoke their native language to each other so I know that they were talking their shit about me.
“Oh no, not another shitty worker. He doesn’t even know how to wash dishes.”, I could imagine them saying in their native tongue.
I was slow, clueless around the kitchen, and stood around when I didn’t know what to do while the cooks tended to the lunch and dinner rushes. I watched as they frantically cooked the foods to order once they were called out by the front staff. Moving with speed and grace, it was literally like watching a kung fu master practice his tai chi. Initially, I hadn’t caught on to the clues of how that’s how I supposed to be working – with speed and production.
“In the restaurant, everything is about production…”, one of the cooks was kind enough to tell me. But I didn’t get it yet. Over time they taught me how to use a knife properly by holding the blade with my index finger and thumb to stabilize the knife better and having better control.
I had to debone cases of chicken thighs that took me almost half the day. They heckled in their native language and made sarcastic remarks towards me because they had to pick up my slack. They criticized my chicken bones as chunks of meat was left on the bone. At the time, I didn’t know about yields, food costs, or even waste being a big factor. I just want to get done with deboning those damn cases of thighs.
I was put down, pissed on, heckled, and at times I felt they were messing with my meals. I just wanted to quit.
It’s ruthless sometimes in the restaurant industry for a beginner cook, especially if they’re totally green. It’s unfortunately the nature of the the industry. With high levels of stress, some cooks just don’t have the patience and/or time to deal with amateur cooks. They know that they have to pick the the slack in the end. Sometimes they deliberately pick on the newcomer so that they do quit hoping for management to hire someone more competent and up to their standards.
It’s a battlefield and only the strong survive. That’s why I say that you have to be passionate about cooking to make it in this industry as a cook or chef.
If you are a beginning restaurant cook, there are several things that you need to know before you begin your journey in the restaurant industry so that you don’t become a cockroach and stepped on.
As the saying goes, “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the FN kitchen!”.
Come back for more kitchen lessons my little padawan.