How to work like a chef
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Last week I announced a new chapter of my newsletter I’m calling the Notebooks of a Line Cook. In these posts, I plan to write about how I cook and what I learned in restaurant kitchens that made me the cook I am today.
I really hope these “Notebook” entries of mine can be of some help to you as well.
So, where to start with such a massive project…?
Well, today I’m sharing my updated (though by no means exhaustive) list of what seem to me the most important working habits and beliefs of the restaurant chef.
So let’s go…
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Think about the seconds
When I was a 29-year-old stagiaire working weekends while at culinary school Monday-Friday, I’d drive myself crazy watching other chefs.
How did they get their prep finished so quickly?
And why did it take me almost the entire morning just to unpack that day’s potato delivery?
It felt as though a powerful secret was being kept from me. As though the others all had an extra pair of hands or a hidden house-elf or something.
It turned out to be a bit simpler than that.
I was slowly prepping cooked jerusalem artichokes when my first lesson in the mind of the chef was given to me. It came from a very friendly and talented sous chef I was working with at the time called Eddie (now multi-Michelin starred in his own right).
This artichoke job I was struggling with required:
unwrapping each artichoke from the foil it had been cooked in
slicing said artichoke
scooping out the flesh without ripping the delicate skin
Eddie told me to stop, to really think about what I was doing, how I was working, and, here’s the key thing, what I could do to make the job go quicker.
At this point he set me up with the proper number of empty containers (one for trash, one for the flesh, one for skins etc) so I wasn’t stopping to go to the corner bin every 10 seconds. He told me to take each step through to completion as well (unwrapping all the artichokes for example) before slicing/scooping any. He even made me think about my posture (grounded feet, wide stance) for better comfort.
The benefit was moments saved on each j-choke. Minimal gains. But whether you’re faced with an entire shed load of artichokes in a restaurant kitchen, or a big dinner with lots of dishes to fix in your home kitchen, really thinking of those seconds can save a huge amount of time by the end of the day.
Speed wasn’t the secret. The secret was just thinking each process through and making it as smart as I could manage.
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