Updated: Jan 23
Disclaimer: The opinions of this post don't necessarily reflect mine, those of The Wooden Spoon Chefs, or its affiliates. The experiences and information forward are from my experiences and observations in commercial kitchens, not bakeries, and do not necessarily represent every restaurant or service industry professional.
Restaurants are a wonderful and exciting places to work. The whole food service industry is exhilarating and rarely comes with a dull moment. But with all its exciting moments comes its secrets. Just as the back of house has its secrets, so does the front of house which you can read about here.
There are two distinctions in the restaurant industry—the front of the house (FOH) and the back of the house (BOH). The front of the house consists of the bar, servers, bussers, and food runners, while the back of the house consists of the various chefs and dishwashers.
Each kitchen has its secrets. So it's time to break the stereotypes and let you peek inside the kitchen doors. In this post, we will focus on the drivers of a restaurant, the blood, sweat, and tears of the chefs who work 60+ hours a week with little to no break, constantly on their feet to ensure the dish in front of you is mouthwatering heaven.
If you have ever watched a movie with a cooking scene, chances are they were wearing chef whites and tall hats and had a larger-than-life chef at the helm. Everyone probably seemed to idealize him and would always shout back, yes chef! This is perhaps the case in finer restaurants, but for 80% of other kitchens, this couldn't be further from the truth. In most kitchens, chefs more than likely have food upon their clothes; all idealize no larger-than-life chef. And instead of saying yes, chef, you'll find a profound amount of banter between chefs. A kitchen can often be an HR's nightmare; there are no boundaries in the kitchen talking, everything is on the table, and frequently the banter isn't family-friendly. I have yet to work in a kitchen without banter between chefs and servers.
With all this being said, you can bet that each chef is closer to one another after service than before. None of the banter is personal; the banter makes a kitchen exciting; it helps the time fly by as you stand for the 12th hour of the day.
Being a chef does not mean an eight-hour day. An eight-hour day seems extremely short and may not even be worth the stress. Try 12-14 hour days; depending on the type of chef, a chef's working day would consist of waking up early, going to work, then starting their second shift in the same restaurant or another. On numerous occasions, I would begin my shift at 8:00 am, work until three, then head off and work a 6:00 pm to midnight shift. That three-hour break and eight hours of sleep were a privilege; many chefs don't even get that. Working in a kitchen is not for the faint of heart. Work hard, and it's rewarding, but you must love the craft.
Health inspections ensure the food customers eat is safe, right? True… but there is a little more to that than you think. Each restaurant tends to see the health inspector on an undisclosed, unannounced day once every 12-18 months. This may sound like a short time, but a lot can change in that period: new equipment, new people, new menu. So, when a kitchen is inspected just once a year, chances are it's not in the same tip-top shape a few months following an inspection. Because inspectors come so rarely, we can anticipate the time of the year they will arrive, so you bet some extra cleaning is done around that time… the rest of the year? The kitchen probably isn't as clean. That's not to say the kitchen is unclean or unsafe to eat food from; it just doesn't look like a fabricated kitchen in the movies. With that being said, I've seen some very disgusting kitchens in my time, and I will refuse to eat in such a restaurant again. A good rule of thumb is that if the front of the house isn't taken care of, you can probably assume the kitchens are a little messy.
The great Wagyu scam
If you see Wagyu or Kobe beef on a restaurant's menu, don't walk… RUN! Do not by any means spend the outrageous sums of money restaurants charge for this cut of beef. Chances are it is fake. Because it is so expensive to produce, restaurants rarely have actual Wagyu or Kobe beef. So, in reality, you're paying a large sum of money for a cut of meat that isn't the real thing, and the restaurant produced it very cheaply. I could go on and on regarding the subject, but long story short, restaurants have had lawsuits against them for is marketing this beef, but that hasn't stopped other restaurants from continuing this practice.
Do restaurants cook from scratch?
A slight stereotype is that kitchens cook all their food from scratch; every chef is working hard, hammering out every detail of a dish. I will tell you right now this is often not the case. Sure, you'll find this in higher-end restaurants, but again, this isn't the case in 80% of restaurants. The chances are that dessert you've had is frozen. That steak or hamburger that you had, frozen. How about those vegetables? Probably canned or frozen. This isn't to say every element, sauce, and soup is frozen or made by a food distributor, but there is a certain amount, and it's probably more than you think. I've left restaurants because of this reason. On their menu, they said they believed in from-scratch cooking; in the interview, they discussed that 90% of what they made from scratch. I entered the kitchen and began cooking and found this completely misleading.
Salt, Salt, Salt
You've probably noticed that restaurant food tends to be saltier. Besides the fact that salt seasons food, brings out the flavor, and is a preservative, there is a slightly more sinister reason behind the effective use of salt in food. It's well established that the saltier a food is, the more its customers will want to order drinks. Since liquor has a significant profit margin, more salt= more liquor sales= more profit. Salt is a big moneymaker in restaurants.
How much food is made to order?
How much food is produced for each dish right when you order? Very little. Restaurants make significant batches of food each day, all to ensure that very little work has to be done when your waiter puts the order in. Food is prepped bright and early in the morning in significant portions. Going from chopping hundreds of peppers and onions daily to coming home to chop one frequently feels silly. But back to your order… Chances are it only took the chef 6-8 minutes of active time on your order, and even then, that's on the high end. Because everything was prepped and portioned beforehand, the food needs to be lightly prepared, cooked or heated, plated, and cleaned. If everything were truly made to order, you'd wait a significant amount of time for all your food.
So how can you make your kitchen chefs mad?
Last-minute tickets. We are just minutes away from closing, and someone walks in the door or calls for takeout. You bet that numerous people in that kitchen will be moaning and not very happy. Everything is clean, and all they have to do is walk out the door, but nope, now it's time to do the order and clean again.
I could go on and on about kitchen secrets and make a book out of it, but I hope this list gave a glimpse into restaurants behind the scenes. Even with a kitchens banter, sinister methods to get you to order drinks, and long hours, it is truly an exhilarating and exciting place to work. The chefs are fun to work with, the food chefs turn out is truly a craft and the best part of all? Each plate we make creates happiness for those we are serving it to. Though not for the faint of heart, a kitchen, whether it be a fast-paced commercial kitchen, bakery, or the kitchen in my house, the kitchen will always be home to me.
“The Flying Chef”