The Professional Kitchen: It’s Really Not About Your Pretty Face

It’s always fascinating to see how many people hunger for the experience of ‘having their own restaurant’. Their imaginations are filled with pretty visions of merrily cooking up a storm in a little place to call their own, where the things they cook will be delivered to the tables of admiring diners who naturally, will ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over everything and anything placed before them cooked by their hands!

Not to say that this isn’t possible. But to get to the point where that vision can become a reality, there are many things which must be in place first in the professional kitchen . . . these things really aren’t ‘fun’ – they have nothing at all to do with the delights of hands-on cooking. And these things, if ignored or deprecated, can get the ‘I want to have a restaurant and cook’ dreamer into an enormous mess – and messes, in any business (and have no doubt, dear reader – feeding people for money is definitely a business, and one of the more challenging ones . . . for a number of reasons!) will equal loss of income, loss of reputation (if one has managed to build one) and even loss of the business itself – an occurrence commonplace enough, in this field of enterprise.

In the charming postcard above (which to me, exudes yet again that sense of weltschmerz which sometimes hovers over ephemera) the chef has apparently poisoned a number of people. Bad scene. Seriously bad scene.

The question is, how does the chef in the professional kitchen go about managing to not poison people? It apparently does happen more often than one might guess. Take a google at the statistics if you are curious.

So here we are, in the professional kitchen. What to do.

1. The kitchen must be designed (or retrofitted if an older kitchen) to fit all health code regulations. These regulations can be detailed, seemingly nonsensical, and very very expensive to meet. It is best to have a professional kitchen designer create a plan – the jargon and the fine print in the criteria are so easily overlooked (or misunderstood) by anyone who is not a professional, experienced, kitchen designer – that ultimately the specifications may be misconstrued. And having a construction crew come out to re-do and replace things because of even the slightest mis-reading of code is an act of being hit with a big financial brick right in the head.

2. Make sure each member of your staff understands their job, and that they are willing and able to perform them. Telling them verbally what to do, is not enough. Unless you believe, and know, and can be sure, that the human condition is perfect and that everyone always does things right, hears things right, and does things exactly as you want them to. The basic things required are good clearly-written job descriptions with all tasks within each job detailed and signed off on by both manager and employee; an inventory paperwork system which will be used on an ongoing basis to prevent theft, control costs, and clarify menu development; and a production schedule to define who does what, with what, when and how, in the kitchen which will show where every little bit of food travels in its path to the diner’s slavering mouth.

3. Sanitation policies and procedures, which also require paperwork. This is time and temperature stuff, and it is important, and it requires documentation and also being sure that the documentation is not being fudged by the employee in charge of it. It may be okay in the home kitchen to let accepted sanitation rules ‘go’ for yourself or for your own family or friends. It absolutely is not okay to allow any accepted sanitation rule go by the wayside if you are serving paying guests. Not unless you are willing to risk your business and your reputation for it.

There are more things that need doing, in order to even just maintain consistency – before one can begin to start to think of hitting a level of ‘excellence’. And each one seems to have an underpinning of paperwork, of documentation, of constant followup, of detailed use of the eyes and the brain in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with the so-loved task of actual cooking.

So, it’s not really about the pretty face of the chef, in the professional kitchen. Rather the opposite, as a matter of fact. It’s down and dirty brainwork.


2 thoughts on “The Professional Kitchen: It’s Really Not About Your Pretty Face

  1. In week two of restaurant school I decided I was silly to think I wanted my own restaurant. After working for tyrant chefs for too many years it was time to get out. Recently I saw the most highly offiensive tyrant chef I worked for in a mangazine. His hair was now long and wiry, no longer parted to perfection. Before I read the article I knew he must now have been ‘reformed’ and claims to run a sensible environment where people like to work and are not abused and harassed. Lo and behold, as usual, I was correct!

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