Chefs speak in a tongue that’s all their own. It is specific, detailed, and descriptive. You won’t learn it from anyone’s Twitter feed, Facebook, or the Food Network. Its something picked up only in the BOH (back of house).
“So, how was it last night?” “Oh man, we had over 200 covers, two 12-tops, a bunch of 4-tops, tons of VIPs. By 9:00, we were really jamming, totally slammed, had already 86’d sea bass and Cheesecake. I was running the window when this huge pick-up was happening, we were doing that really foo foo risotto with shaved truffles—a la minute you know? The pick-up time is like 20 minutes. I had this really green cook on sauté, fired her a 4 by 4 by 3, half a dozen more on order, but when we go to plate she’s short two orders, so they had to order fire two more on the fly, she was totally in the shit! We were so weeded! Food was dying under the lamps. The rail is jammed up with dupes. The salamander stopped working. My steward no-showed. I really thought we might go under.”
If you’ve never worked in a kitchen, that previous paragraph probably sounded like it was written in Greek. Every kitchen has its own twist on the originals, but most of the terms you will hear are common in the industry. So here is a guide to some of the more popular jargon of the food world.
ON THE LINE:
The “line” is the kitchen space where the cooking is done, often set up in a horizontal line. Being “on the line” means you are a “line cook or chef”—an important person in any functioning restaurant.
RUNNING THE PASS or WINDOW:
The “pass” or the “window” is the long, flat surface where dishes are plated and picked up by wait staff. The chef or high-level cook who “runs the pass” each night is in charge of letting the cooks know what they will be cooking as orders come in. They are in control of the watching the order of the tickets, monitoring the speed and rhythm of the courses, and making sure each dish looks perfect before it goes out to the customer.
Mostly used by wannabe fine-dining douchebags, Foo Foo means elegant. It’s used to describe an exceptionally sexy dish, or when you really nailed a plating presentation.
A LA MINUTE:
A la minute is French for “in the minute,” and it refers to making a dish right then, from scratch. Instead of making a big batch of risotto during prep time and reheating portions of it hours later, a dish made “a la minute” is cooked from start to finish only when an order for it comes in.
Short for mise en place (French for “everything in its place”), pronounced “meece”, this term refers to all of the prepped items and ingredients a cook will need for his specific station, for one night of service.
A “12 Top” refers to a table with 12 diners. A “4 top” has four diners. A “deuce” has two.
A “no-show” is a kitchen employee who doesn’t show up to work. No-shows are unmitigated assholes.
When a chef calls out “fire”, a cook will start cooking that particular dish (FIRE 6 chicken, 3 sea bass, 1 lobster, 1 risotto)
DYING ON THE PASS/WINDOW:
Hot food that is ready to be run that has been sitting on the pass/window for too long, getting cold and losing quality because wait staff are either too slammed or too lazy to pick it up.
When the kitchen runs out of a dish, it’s “86’d.” Dishes can also be 86’d if the chef is unhappy with the preparation and temporarily wants it off the menu.
WEEDED/IN THE SHIT/ IN THE WEEDS:
Used when a kitchen or cook is really really busy, loaded with tickets, and desperately trying to cook and plate their dishes.
THE WHEEL/THE BOARD/THE RAIL:
This is the metal contraption that holds all of the tickets the kitchen is working on. Once a ticket is printed, it’s stuck on “the wheel” or “the board.” “Clearing the board” means the kitchen has just cooked a crap ton of tickets.
Kitchen equipment names often get abbreviated or nick-named. A “salamander” is a high-temperature broiler; a “robocoop” is a food processor; a “sizzler” is a flat, metal broiler plate; “combi” is an oven with a combination of heating functions; “fish spat” is a flat-angled metal spatula good for cooking fish; “china cap” is a cone-shaped colander.There’s a million of them…I could go on and on.
If a piece of meat or fish is slightly undercooked, a chef will “flash it” in the oven or broiler for a minute or two to raise the temperature.
ON THE FLY:
Make it very fast, ASAP. “I forgot to turn this order in so I need it on the fly.”
To cook something well done. Blecch!
Cooking foods very efficiently and orderly, keeping up with a very fast pace.
A total number of all the dishes that a cook or chef is needing. I have 4 chickens, 2 filets, 3 Caesar salads, and 1 burger “all day”.
There you have it. Enough Kulinary terms to launch you into Culinary Infamy!
Cook. Eat. Repeat!