I had aspirations of becoming an executive chef and owning my own restaurant.
To achieve this dream, I needed to first gain knowledge and experience in the restaurant industry.
However, being a line cook can be a fantastic job, but only if you have good work habits, such as working fast, habitually cleaning, and consistently putting out good product.
So what are bad habits that every line cook must avoid?
Here are 5 unforgivable sins of a terrible line cook:
5. You have no cooking skills.
This is a no-brainer. If you can’t cook, then you shouldn’t be working in a restaurant kitchen.
As a line cook, you will be sauteing, frying, baking, and doing a ton of prep, such as chopping vegetables or butchering meat. Luckily, these are all skills you can acquire on your own in the comfort of your own kitchen.
I’m a firm believer that everyone should know basic cooking fundamentals and how to use standard cooking equipment to prepare simple meals.
The Internet is a fantastic resource for learning how to cook.
You can also enroll in cooking classes at your local college, culinary school, or adult education center.
I have previously worked as a short order cook, sandwich artist, and pizza maker. These are basic, entry-level type of cooking jobs that gave me a solid foundation of skills to prepare me for working as a line cook at my former restaurant.
4. You don’t have a good memory.
As a line cook during a busy meal service, you will be expected to remember the incoming customer orders that your station is responsible for cooking.
You’ll also need to remember the steps needed to cook your dishes.
At any one time, you may be cooking multiple orders of multiple dishes. You’ll need to maintain standards of consistency in taste, presentation, and food safety.
If you can’t remember your orders, then they will stack up and you will fall behind on what you have to make. In kitchen lingo, this is known as being “in the weeds”.
You’ll want to avoid this from happening, and the best way to avoid getting weeded is to stay on top of your orders and always anticipating the next dish you have to prepare.
3. You don’t have stamina.
Line cooks are expected to be on their feet for stretches of 10 to 12+ hours. They work in hot, cramped, and uncomfortable conditions surrounded by fire, boiling liquids, and sharp knives.
As a line cook, you will also be lugging heavy stacks of dishes and dirty pots to the dish pit (the dishwasher area). You’ll be stacking large boxes of vegetables, meat, and other products in the walk-in freezer.
If you exercise regularly and keep yourself in good physical condition, then you’ll be at a physical advantage to perform your best on a daily basis.
2. You don’t learn from your mistakes.
There is no such thing as a line cook who does not make mistakes.
In your first few days on the job, you are not expected to know the exact recipes or where stuff is in the kitchen. You will need to ask a lot of questions from the chef, sous chef, and other cooks. You will need to retain this information and share it with others regularly.
There will be times where you cook a dish that is not up to restaurant standards. You will be forced to re-make it, even if you have a ton of other orders to cook.
That is simply life in the kitchen. You will mess up. It’s not “if” but “when”.
However, it’s how you recover and learn from your mistakes that will truly define you.
If you are the type who does not take criticism well, don’t learn from your mistakes and are generally useless, then you should definitely NOT work in a restaurant kitchen as a line cook.
1. You are not passionate.
Without passion for food, cooking, and simply making people happy, you will not last long in a restaurant kitchen. You will simply go through the motions and not give a rip.
And that’s just a terrible way to go through life, son.
A line cook without passion will make a lot of mistakes that could be easily avoided.
Make enough mistakes in a restaurant kitchen, and the customers will stop coming. And without customers, the restaurant fails and dreams are shattered.
Do you want that?
Then you better have passion for what you’re doing. Or else, step aside and let somebody else with passion take your place.
You are not cut out for cooking if you don’t care about everything you plate.
Was I a perfect line cook?
I messed up quite a bit in the kitchen due to my lack of experience, unfamiliarity with ingredients, or inability to master certain cooking techniques.
However, I also tried to learn from every mistake.
I always wanted to do things better the next time.
The only terrible line cook is one who refuses to learn new things or improve their skills.
Or who can’t properly clean a fryer.
Do you have what it takes to be a line cook?
What experience do you have working in a restaurant kitchen?
Let’s talk about it in the Comments below and help others interested in pursuing a career in the restaurant industry.
James K. Kim
James "Jim" Kim is a commercial real estate agent with Cushman & Wakefield / Pyramid Brokerage Company in the Capital Region of New York, specializing in retail, office, and industrial tenant and landlord representation.