The 5 unforgivable sins of a terrible line cook

Chiang Mai - cooking

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.

That’s why I changed careers and worked full-time as a line cook in a restaurant up until the beginning of 2014, when I decided I wanted to be a social media strategist  salesman instead of a chef.

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.

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

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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.

Conclusion

Was I a perfect line cook?

Absolutely not.

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.

 

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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 About James K. Kim
James K. Kim (Jim) is a commercial real estate advisor with Pyramid Brokerage Company of Albany, Inc. in the Capital Region of New York, specializing in helping business owners expand into new locations or sell/lease a commercial retail, office, industrial, or investment property.

17 thoughts on “The 5 unforgivable sins of a terrible line cook

  1. Thank you so much for posting this! It really helped me process mentally about applying for a line cook position. Luckily I think I have all 5 positive traits they are looking for. Very well written article and this helped me a lot, thank you!

    1. Happy to help, Chanel and I’m glad to hear you have what it takes to be successful as a culinary professional. I learned the hard way that there’s no faking it in the kitchen. You either learn fast or you’re 86’d! Now you’re ready to combine your traits with maximum, sustained effort and a relentless desire to learn and constantly improve your skills and expertise. This is how the best line cooks move up to become chefs, business owners, and massively successful people who live their dream everyday. Thanks for reading my article and writing such a thoughtful comment, Chanel!

  2. I work at Perkin’s and Marie Calendars. I read what you said above. I have a question for you. How do I deal with 15 checks (roughly 30-45 meals) with a standard set by corporate for 9 minute checks and stay calm at severs who keep sand bagging more food on me… While I’m trying to make everything look perfect for the customer?

    1. Hey Charles,

      I know exactly how you feel because I have been in your clogs as well. Back when I was a line cook at a vegan restaurant in Cambridge, I recall having to make a dish that comprised of skinning and cutting single apples into rings, batter dipping, and deep frying them all to order. Yes, they were delicious but they also were very time and labor intensive and I worked the dinner shift. We could’ve cut corners and had the apples pre-cut and pre-dipped but that would’ve sacrificed the quality.

      I share this story with you, Charles, because I don’t have the right answer other than my own similar tale of dough.

      Have you talked to the sous or head chef and described to them the situation? Maybe they can lean on the servers to know how not to flood the kitchen with tickets all at once? Perhaps it’s a training issue?

      If all else fails, just put your head down and do what you do best…make people happy with your art, even if they have to wait a few extra minutes and have to talk to their dinner companions while waiting for their food.

      Hope this helps, man!

  3. Stupid article with stupid advice from a stupid pretentious person. Line cook is an entry level job that any idiot can do. No reason to make it seem harder than it actually is.

  4. currently want out of this world but it’s the only thing thing will hire. I can do the job just fine but have no passion for it at all. How do I get out?

  5. Hi, I’m no culinary student but have worked in kitchens for 11 years. I moved around the country a lot and there’s always restaurants. I’m not amazing but I know I am a really good line cook…employers ..servers love me,I’m fast and recognize problems and solve them quickly etc… anyways I’m training this guy, he’s new to working as a line cook and for some reason he just is really into it lol he’s a good kid, listens, one of the only new people lately that doesn’t talk over you when you explain something or throw out culinary terms…. that’s great and all, culinary education, but we’re not making anything really creative or French.. communication and speed… staying on top of things is most important where we are… I’m really struggling with this guy. No culinary or kitchen knowledge which is OK, we all start somewhere but I am actually reaching out to an online forum for line cooks for help. He does not have another speed other than casual… guess I’ll go wander over there and put gloves on… But he really wants to do this. He’s learning the menu, taking advice, actually recognized when we are out of something and will …sometimes..go get it.. but at this restaurant he’s not gonna get canned unless he does something super drastic like murder or just never comes back. I tell him advice and show him how to speed up.. grab two of those plates at once.. look at your all day… you have three of these do them all at once, this here takes longer get that started etc but he just casually makes one thing at a time and makes several trips around our area (damn pantry.. don’t start. ) like puts a salad on the pass the walks over …grabs the ticket… walks back… reads the next… walks back over to where he was… I’ve asked him what his learning style is even, does explaining work or experience, or watching, I’m committed to teaching this kid cus he really wants to learn and when he finally can get it solid, then I can move up lol or take a day off. Does anyone have any training tips? I’ve trained so many different people in my experience, different types of kitchens, done everything, I like learning and picking up knowledge and tips from other people too. Right now I need to teach this kid speed. Even offered to buy him a red bull but he’s super against that. Eh. I think eventually getting thrown into a few shifts on his own maybe…just gaining experience..? I told him the goal is to not let the servers linger… put their food out… ticket… they take it and go. Otherwise they linger..and chat.. get confusing… don’t read tickets.. eat our food haha.. goal is to get them gone quick. Any advice…? I’m not mean or bitchy. Actually pretty patient but do tell him seriously the time it takes him to put on gloves he could knock out several tickets…get on it. Move your ass. He’s also tall so his reach is ..minimal..I guess. Weekends are frustrating please help

    1. Hey Cindi,

      Sounds like you are a good resource and keeping watchful eye over this person’s work. Make sure you don’t become their crutch and that they are not relying on you day in and day out to do both their work and yours. Maybe help them realize they play an important role, and show how that role will ultimately lead to the business success. Perhaps show how presenting a dish with value leads to upsells and repeat visits. Make it more about teamwork and putting out a high quality product. Perhaps seeing the forest for the trees will put some pep in their step and help them put it all together in the kitchen under your guidance.

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