Effective communication is the crux of any successful restaurant. And, as a restaurant owner or manager, it’s critical to be multi-lingual to effectively communicate to all of your staff members. This can be literal (knowing English, French, and Spanish), but it can also mean learning key phrases that your employees use on the job day in and day out.
The kitchen itself is an area that some owners and managers worked in directly, and may not been able to engross themselves fully — including knowing how kitchen staff communicate with each other. To that end, we’ve assembled a list of 10 critical terms that the observant owner may hear thrown around as soon as they set foot in the kitchen, where they come from, and what they mean.
When your chef yells out to 86 the prime rib special, it can only mean one thing: stop letting your servers sell it. Most of the time, dishes that are “86’d” were so popular that your kitchen is simply out of the necessary components to make any more. Legend has it, the phrase came into popularity during the Prohibition era, when cops on the payroll of the speakeasy at 86 Bedford Street in New York City would given them the heads up that a raid was on its way.
Dying on the pass
The pass is the long, flat surface where completed plates are handed off from cooks in the back of house to servers in the front. When hot food is rapidly cooling and not being picked up fast enough by servers, it is said to be losing its perfect quality — or “dying on the pass.” Food could end up dying on the pass because servers are too busy or too disorganized to pick it up in short order, or because your kitchen staff is bunching too many orders at once and not releasing in waves. This is when a good expediter comes in handy, balancing the flow of food from the kitchen to the dining room.
A command that an expediter will give to the kitchen chefs to start cooking a particular dish, i.e. “Fire two steak medium, three polenta side, one lamb rare.” The phrase is also used on items that have been specifically held. A chef would wait to fire an entree until an appetizer is out, so your guests don’t receive two courses simultaneously.
A French phrase meaning “keeper of the food,” a garde manger is cool, open, and well-ventilated area where cold dishes are kept refrigerated and prepared in advance of serving. Items such as salads, hors d’oeuvres, pâtés, and charcuterie can be kept cool in this type of pantry, managed by a chef garde manger. At larger hotels or restaurants, this staff can also be responsible for buffet decoration made with perishable material such as cheese, fruit, vegetables, and butter.
Holding time is the amount of time you can hold a dish after being prepared until serving without compromising the safety or quality of the food. Health and safety standards surrounding optimal temperatures play a huge role in determining “holding time” for both raw and cooked items.
What chefs call a “hotel pan” is a standardized, stackable, stainless steel pan measuring 20.75 inches in length, 12.75 inches in width, and 2.5 inches deep. Pans of other sizes are described in relation to this, like 1/3 pan, 1/6 pan, 1/8 pan, and so on. These multipurpose pans are often used to braise and roast meat or carry ingredients, and can go from freezer to oven without bending from the temperature change.
In the weeds
When a chef is really busy in the kitchen, overwhelmed by requests, and has to cook, plate, and plan new orders all at once — under pressure — they’re “in the weeds.” (That’s the family-friendly term they use, anyway!)
Mise en place
Another French phrase meaning “everything in its place,” mise en place is all of the ingredients a prep cook will need for an entire service, prepped appropriately and ready to go at their station. This could mean butchering cuts of meat or whole chickens, cleaning and chopping vegetables, or par-cooking items in advance.
An order for the kitchen is “on deck” the second the ticket shoots out of the printer. The cook or expediter running the pass will shout out the orders so the line cooks know what will be coming up and can mentally prepare for what they’ll need throughout the table’s entire meal.
Simply, a food processor. Robot-Coupe (pronounced “robo-coop”) is a company established in 1960 to develop food processors for the catering industry. Today, chefs use the term broadly to describe a food processor of any brand.
Need to figure out how to make your kitchen work better for you in the coming year? Check out how 2015’s equipment innovations can help you increase your efficiency: