Culture on the Line

Lets warm up with a few snippets, then we’ll get into the crux of the matter.

I’m having surgery for a double hernia tomorrow morning. I cannot have anything to eat or drink after midnight, so I’m keeping a good beer-drinking pace as I write due to the early quitting time.

I had my pre-op interview today. The nurse I spoke to kept me on the phone for 25 minutes. Towards the end she asked if I experience bouts of sadness. I said “I’m about to.”

She also asked if I was ever tired during the day. “I already told you I’m a chef, right?”

Hospitality: Either you get it or you don’t. It cannot be taught, it cannot be mandated.

Go get ’em Sylvia Meder Lilly, owner of Lark + Lilly Wine Bar and Kitchen.

I’m picking the Royals in 6 games.

I’m rooting for the Mets.

I don’t like the new Colonel Sanders. I know he’s not real, the old one died.


Walk into just about any good restaurant kitchen and onto the line during a busy dinner service and you won’t see male, female white, black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, young, old, fat, thin, conservative, or liberal people working.  We don’t see those distinctions in the kitchen.   You’ll see a chef, a sous chef, line cooks, and dishwashers working as a cohesive unit. They’ll all be speaking the same language which is typically a mix of English, Spanish, sometimes French, and kitchen lingo which includes tons of sexual innuendo.

Kitchen workers will communicate every move to their coworkers with a bevy of slang terms and flirtatious come-ons that would turn a nun beet red.  For example, “Coming on your backside” means that you’re approaching from behind to move down the line and you don’t want your coworker to move back.  It seems impossible to be working with sausage and not make some sordid reference to your own manhood, or offer a portion to a fellow cook’s mother. For those with no experience in a professional kitchen, this could seem juvenile and at times offensive. The fact is, that it’s part of the common culture that exists, I believe to break the tension that’s there as a result of the pressure to perform at a high level every night under constant time constraints.

Each day has time limits. “We open for dinner service in 40 minutes, get your shit together, make sure you’re stocked” calls out the chef. “Rush coming in 30 minutes.”  It’s constant, we in the kitchen have deadlines all day,  and we watch the clock like Hermie watched Dorothy. Yes, that’s a Summer of ’42 reference.

There are other reasons for this crude culture in the kitchen.  Up until recently, a large percentage of line cooks and dishwashers were made up of those who had to choose between the kitchen or jail.  I’ve had the police come in one door while dishwashers have run out the other door.  I’ve bailed line cooks out of jail. I’ve driven co-workers to rehab. Restaurant kitchens have traditionally been a haven for punks, thugs, drunks and addicts.  While this is not as much the case anymore, the remnants of the rough days of kitchen life still exist.  I do believe that the kitchen is being inhabited by more professionals today as the job of chef and cook are not seen as fringe jobs for the otherwise unemployable.

Another aspect of kitchen culture is the lack of the call in sick. It very rarely happens, unlike the front of the house. For example, I worked all Summer with a double hernia because it’s my job to be there getting the the food out to the diners. It’s not just me, most cooks I know do the same thing.  I have a cook who’s been with me for over two years and the only day he’s missed is when he was rear-ended by another driver on his way to work and had his car totaled.  My sous chef of a year and a half hasn’t missed a day. We cooks go to work, and we don’t let the others down. That’s the culture.



6 thoughts on “Culture on the Line

  1. Good luck with your surgery today….behave and be a good patient!!! Looking forward to some good responses to my sandwich flip question on FB…and hopefully will see some more blog posts from you while you recuperate!!


  2. Well now that you are playing that surgery card again, I guess it is finally time that I write, say hello, tell you I love reading your blog and don’t like it when you don’t write it, and best of luck with surgery. Oh, and I still wish you were living in my little house in Saratoga – although your new one sounds impressive!! And congrats on another little one! Happy to say I am heading back to my little house next year. Will say hello next time I am rambling down B’way. Sent some registrants your way from my mtg at the Gideon last week – they raved, but of course! GOOD LUCK, Dominic, on the hernia thing.


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