Part of a recurring series on 27gen: Chef Stories. Stories from the past, present, and future in my personal experience in various parts of the culinary world. This particular story is from a few years ago, when my son was entering his senior year at Johnson & Wales University in pursuit of a degree in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management.
Recently my wife, youngest son, and I were treated to absolute poetry in motion. A group of trained professionals were executing their craft, each one knowing his specific responsibilities as well as supporting the rest of his team. Years of practice were evident in their graceful moves, focused intensity, and clarity of purpose. We had front row seats, and the show was excellent.
No, we weren’t watching a ballet or dance company, or an athletic event – we were eating dinner, celebrating a special occasion.
This was not just any restaurant, but Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen, where the “open kitchen” concept reigns.
The kitchen is right in the center of the restaurant, and we had reservations in the prime observation spot – the Chef’s Counter – where all the action was just a few feet away.
The food was excellent: fresh ingredients, prepared in such a way to bring out the natural flavors, served by a warm and friendly wait staff. But this isn’t about the food, as good as it was. It’s about two fundamentals of the restaurant business that can be applied to your organization: efficiency and mise en place. Today let’s look at efficiency; next time, mise en place.
Rooster’s doesn’t have a large kitchen, but it is designed to function with efficiency. The sauté station anchors one half of the center; this is where constant motion is an understatement. Sauté is where the chef is juggling eight or ten pans at a time, making flames, making things jump.
Around the corner at the rear of the kitchen is the namesake of the restaurant: a wood fired grill and oven. The chef here grills all the meat dishes called out, sending them to the front to be paired with side dishes – some from the saute’ station, others from the other half of the kitchen center – the salad, soup, and fry station. To call these dishes “sides” is an injustice – any one of them (we had five among the three of us) could stand alone as a signature dish.
The front area is grand central station: here the expediter calls out the orders as they come in, checks on orders in progress, and makes the final touches as they head to the guest. The final touch is important – it may be the finishing touch of sauce, or a garnish, or a quick wipe of an errant splatter on the plate.
The corners of the kitchen: pastry chef, preparing delicacies to finish out a wonder dinner; meat chef, taking larger cuts prepared on the grill and finishing them to order; and the support staff, taking out dirty pans and bringing in clean ones and bowls, plates, cups and saucers for the chefs to cook and plate food.
A picture doesn’t do this justice – you would have to have a video camera to catch all the movement involved above. But I want to drive home the point:
It’s all about efficiency: no wasted movement.
Everyone in the kitchen knew what was going on, what their job was, and how they can support the rest of the team as needed. The pastry chef would slip around the sauté station, helping the chef plate items as they came off the stove. Once, she literally held out a plate to her back, out of sight, and the chef plated the dish, while she was moving another one with her other hand.
The sauté chef helped out on the grill; the expediter helped out on saute’; the pastry chef started an item on the grill when that chef had to step away for a moment.
That is more than efficiency – it’s the solid work of a team that knows individual and team roles, to the point that they are one.
Can you say the same about the teams in your organization?
Coming Next Week: Part 2, A Successful End Starts with the Beginning