Asked & Answered: 10 Survival Habits for The Kitchen Rookie

Words of wisdom from André Natera, exec chef of Omni Barton Creek in Austin.

February 4, 2016 ● 2 min read

In the streets, there is a saying: “game recognize game, real recognize real.” In the world of cooking, the same rules apply. 

A new cook enters a kitchen, and all eyes are on them. Maybe they worked for some big name chef at some big name restaurant, maybe they're as green as it gets—it doesn't matter. In this world, "it ain't where you from, it's where you at," and habits reveal the truth. Bad kitchen habits typically betray sloppiness, and no amount of trumping up a one-day stage or fluffing a resume skill set can hide that. 

These are some of the biggest, most common pet peeves for chefs across kitchens. Know them, make them a part of your movements and your mindset, and you won't be run out of the kitchen like all the other shoemakers who came before you.   

Fold your towels.

You probably only get three a day so treat them like gold. Keep them folded like crisp 100 dollar bills and treat them like money because they are. Your ability to keep you towels folded means you have mastered working clean.

Cut your tape straight.

Use tape cutters or scissors. If you don’t have that, use a paring knife. Thomas Keller has detailed this out for everyone many times: CUT THE TAPE STRAIGHT! It’s all in the details.

Remove tape from the deli containers before going to dish. 

Seriously, this one just screams lazy. You need to respect the people who are in the back cleaning as much as the people that are cooking and serving the food. Take one second out of your precious time and remove the tape.

Gopher holes. Just no.  

You know, the guy that was too lazy to take an extra second to remove the plastic from a container. So, like a Neanderthal, he rips a hole in the plastic wrap to stick his filthy fingers inside and remove delicately prepared foodstuffs. Don’t be that guy…everyone hates that guy the most.  

Don't use your apron as a transport sack.

You know the guy coming out of the cooler holding the corners of his now filthy apron with the clever smirk on his face? It's not a new #kitchenlifehack to carry 50lbs of potatoes in your apron instead of in a clean container.

Use a tasting spoon.

Don’t stick your fingers in the food and then in your mouth. Oh, but you saw Marco Pierre White do it on TV? He is Marco and you are not, your fingers don’t have half the flavor his do.

Don't work over a garbage bin.

Only bad things can happen if you make the conscious decision to work over a garbage bin. If the food falls in and you take it out you’re  disgusting, and if you leave it in you’re wasteful and don’t care about food costs. Which one are you?

Avoid disgusting utensil bains. 

You know, because you haven’t changed the water in your soigné bain with all your Kunz spoons and tweezers. Now you're four hours into service and you have bits of cream, meat and herbs floating around in the bain like salmonella soup. Go on, take a big gulp of that disgusting utensil bain water, and never do that again.

Wipe down the pass before plating.

Food particles everywhere stick to the bottom of your plates. Get the sanitation towel out of the red bucket and wipe down the pass.

Use a plate wipe, not a side towel.

You remember those three towels that you got at the beginning of your shift? Well, one of them got really dirty, and now you are using your dirty side towel to clean the plates? Always set your station with plate wipes. Don't use the dirty towel covered in gravy to remove the gravy. Just don't.

By André Natera | Image by ChefsFeed