Chef and author Jacob Burton described your average professional kitchen as being among the most intense and stressful workplaces in the world. That’s especially true for recent culinary graduates, whose distinct lack of experience can make a bustling kitchen seem especially hectic and demanding. But, as Burton added, it’s easy to make it in any kitchen if you have the “discipline and nerves of steel not to freak out.” It might also help to have some insight from other chefs who’ve conquered their kitchens and now stand atop the culinary world.
Here, then, are five tips for surviving any kitchen setting you might ever find yourself in:
1. If you don’t know, ask questions
As a young chef, it’s easy to get confused by a task you’ve been given or to be thrown off by some unfamiliar term. If that’s the case, just do as Burton suggested and ask plenty of questions. Even if you think you might be a bother to older, more experienced chefs, it’s better to get the help you need now than for someone to continually babysit you. As an extension of this, don’t ever pretend you know how to do something, be it finding a pot or dicing vegetables. Just admit you don’t know something right away and you’ll have more time to learn.
2. Learn from those above you
The man behind the Gourmet Guy blog has several years of experience in kitchens across the U.K. So, when he says that all young chefs should study at the feet of their more experienced counterparts, you know he’s been there. If a veteran chef is willing to take the time to teach you some new technique or help sharpen your knife skills, then you should be willing to listen. Part of that process is making yourself available when you don’t have to be around. If you show up before your shift or on a day off, you might get more time with an especially sage sous chef.
3. Minds your Ps and Qs
Paul Sorgule is a celebrated chef with over 30 years of kitchen experience. In his tenure, he’s developed a list of 26 basic rules for kitchen survival. The most important items, though, emphasize the everyday behaviors. That includes using only your equipment and respecting that of other chefs. Or, never take an overworked or stressed out chef’s yelling too personally. He’s a big believer in things like saying “behind” as you move through the kitchen or knocking before entering. These are all forms of common courtesy, and applying to them goes a long way to establishing your place in almost any kitchen.
4. Always be cleaning
It may be hard to maintain cleanliness in chaotic professional kitchen, but ChefsUniform.com explained that it’s one of the most basic ways to ensure a successful culinary career. If your station isclean, then all of your necessary ingredients and equipment are in order, which saves time when it comes to cooking. Plus, a clean kitchen space improves efficiency in a kitchen. With fewer messes or obstacles to contend with, people can move through the kitchen space smoothly. If you ever have down time, use it to clean up your surrounding area.
5. Avoid making excuses
As mentioned above, it’s important for all young chefs to ask plenty of questions and to always keep an open mind. Food52, meanwhile, would add another item to that list of behaviors: never make excuses to other chefs. It sends the wrong message and creates the perception that you’re not trying as hard. Instead, just tell someone you’ll do better next time. That shows that you’re aware of your rookie mistakes and are actively trying to fix them. Plus, it’ll help further demonstrate the need for help whenever an issue arises.