According to the old adage, “Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth.” When you are working in a restaurant, however, everyone has his or her own part to play in making each meal service a success. It is important for aspiring chefs enrolled in culinary arts programs to understand how every role in the kitchen contributes to the greater team. One of the most essential of these roles is that of the line cook.
While chefs take the bulk of the credit for the meals served in a restaurant, line cooks perform most of the actual preparation. Likely the first cooking job you will land after culinary school, working on the line is an opportunity to learn the ropes of working in the restaurant industry . Read below to learn about the skills and qualities it takes to be successful in this challenging line of work.
Knowing the fundamentals and following directions
It is the line cook’s responsibility to take the menu set by executive chef or chef de cuisine and make it a reality. They must precisely fulfill the requirements of each dish so it meets the expectations of their superiors on the line and customers alike. This requires a thorough mastery of basic cooking skills, like portioning out meat, preparing an emulsification or simmering grains.
Line cooks generally set up and work at a particular station on a given night, such as mixing sauces or running a grill. However, they must adapt as necessary. Depending on the night and the restaurant, line cooks may jump between readying many different types of dishes or find themselves locked into working on a single element for hours.
North Carolina-based lead line cook John Gullickson told Bon Appetit how he maintains focus and precision while performing repetitive cooking tasks.
“It’s fun getting into a rhythm, especially if you make it a game, like ‘How fast can I do this?’,” he said. “I get in a very fluid sort of motion, in a zone.”
With customers expecting food in a timely fashion and an abundance of pressure from management, there is simply never enough time in the kitchen. Therefore, line cooks must become exceptionally efficient workers. If a cook hopes to advance to a higher on the line, he or she needs to learn to handle many demands on his or her attention while remaining in near constant motion.
Being efficient as a line cook means moving quickly and with purpose while communicating well with others. The other kitchen workers need to know how the preparation is progressing and also be aware of your location to avoid spilled food or injury. The job also calls for having the right tools and ingredients in front of you at the station, sensibly organized and with no space wasted.
Line cooks report that these habits become part of their daily lives when they are off work. Writing for Vice, Ivy Knight discussed setting up her makeup kit and home kitchen in accordance with the principles she learned on the line.
Ambition and dedication
In general, line cook jobs demand long shifts and start at a low level of pay. Entry-level restaurant jobs rarely include benefits or vacation time. New employees must face many challenges in learning the work, incorporating into a tightly knit professional culture and gradually reaching higher levels of prestige and income.
Nonetheless, if you hope to reach a position as a sous chef, executive chef or restaurant manager, taking a job as a line cook may be the right place to start. The restaurant industry is extremely demanding, but it rewards continued effort and developing expertise. According to the National Restaurant Association, 9 out of 10 restaurant managers and 8 out of 10 owners started working in the industry at entry-level jobs.