Everybody Should do a Stint as a Line Cook

It will teach you about yourself, and give you the opportunity to become a better person. That’s right.

So you have two and half hours to set up your station; do it right and you can have a smooth ride during service. You have some years to learn the tools to handle life. Put your head down, focus, make the best of it, learn, and you can have a smooth ride in life. But no! Everybody is ordering the same thing! But no! life has thrown you a curveball! How do you react? Do you:

1. Focus on solutions to your dwindling mise en place, don’t succumb to the pressure and see your way out of the weeds?
2. Start cursing and burning everything up in frenzy?
3. Crumble into a puddle of goo and start drinking?

If you sink into option 2 or 3 on a regular basis, instead of learning from your experience to improve yourself, you’re possibly a loser and it is likely you will be fired. But maybe you’re just not good at line cooking, maybe you’re good at something else, like prep or dishwashing, lawn mowing or brain surgery. Maybe, while the servers are screaming at you for their food, this is your opportunity to figure this out.

This is what I learned about myself getting a job in a kitchen at 14 years old, first prepping and making pancakes and sandwiches, then running circles around the guys as a sauté cook in my later teens in the 1970’s testosterone-filled kitchen land:

1. I fear failure and so push myself to perfection
2. I am uber organized and can carry a lot of stuff in my brain (thank God)
3. I curse
4. I drink

When I look back on my line cooking and then my chef days teaching others how to improve their organizational skills, I am thankful for those early opportunities to get to know myself. And it helped my thin ego to be such a badass at the stove. God, I must have been a boastful bitch. Well, no matter.

When I began working in an OFFICE, in SALES, I used my line cooking skills (and still do, 23 years later) to keep all the stuff I was doing organized. I have places for files, contacts, to do lists, drawings, and I put everything back in place at the end of the day. I never want to waste time trying to find something, because time is money, and you can’t keep the customer waiting. Each morning, I array in front of me the files and whatnot in front of me—my office mise en place—of what I need to accomplish that day. My workmates marvel at how much I can accomplish, how I remember so many details, like the spices in a complicated pasta dish, and how I can multi task without burning everything up in a frenzy.

I try to teach these skills to my younger sales team and often I think, if I could just throw them onto the cookline at a one hundred fifty seat restaurant on a Saturday night, maybe they’d learn a thing or two about themselves.


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