I’ve had a couple of people ask, “How does it work? What is the structure that lets restaurants serve fresh food every day? Where do you get your stuff?” I’ve got answers.
The back of the house is a machine. There are a lot of moving parts, but it is all run by systems. This can get pretty complex, so I’m just going to try to hit the big swings so everyone can get the idea of how it works, and we’ll get more in-depth later.
Let’s start on a regular day in a kitchen. The first person in is the CDC or A.M. Sous Chef and depending on what kind of service they run a couple of prep cooks. The chefs get the prep lists ready for the prep cooks and go over the prep lists made by the cooks the night before. They also go over reservations and do other management stuff. They make sure that everyone else that comes in is set up for success.
As the purveyors begin to arrive, the chefs and prep cooks receive the orders made the night before. They make sure that the quality is up to snuff, that they were not overcharged and that they got everything they wanted.
The product is broken down and placed where it lives. Dairy goes with dairy, dry goods go with other dry goods, frozen stuff with frozen stuff, etc… It’s important that everything is stored properly, Everything is transferred from cardboard or bags and is placed into bins that can be washed. Cardboard is a great place for roaches to hide, and no one wants that in their kitchen, and bags are hard to store so everything goes into plastic containers to protect the food.
Some things begin to be prepped immediately, especially if they are needed for service. After that everyone looks at their list and starts their tasks. this can be anything from breaking down fish to making stocks.
Around this time the dishwashers come in. They can be both prep and dishwasher, especially during the day, they will keep up on dishes and also shuck oysters, or peel potatoes. It’s usually pretty monotonous tasks that they can break away from easily to run a load of dishes.
Later the cooks start to stream in. They begin setting up their stations and do finer prep work for the night. They are making sauces, picking herbs, starting fires, making sure they have enough of everything they need for the night. They are always working a couple of days ahead and keep their prep schedules for themselves.
While they are getting ready for the night someone is making the family meal. This could be a cook or the head prep guy, it changes in a lot of kitchens, and different people take responsibility for it. This meal is usually the only meal that the staff will get all day, and when it’s bad, everyone knows it.
The last hour before service is, usually, a lot of people running around trying to make sure that everything is warm, and stocked, double checking everything. At some restaurants, there is a small meeting to let everyone know what’s coming that night, but at most restaurants, you’ll randomly hear someone say “120 on the books!” and that’s pretty much all you’ve got.
then you’re off the races. the expo printer starts clicking mercilessly and the Chef starts calling tickets into the kitchen. The kitchen is quiet except for the screeching of the printer, the chef calling tickets and the cooks repeating orders. The chef directs where the food goes and knocks off courses as they go out. When a part of the kitchen becomes slower you can see the chefs restocking, sweeping and cleaning. Dishwashers glide onto the line with clean pots and pans, the good ones, like ghosts.
Service ends when the printer stops. everyone focuses on breaking down. disassembling their stations and washing them, putting all of their mise away and throwing away anything that won’t last until the next day (herbs, sauces, etc..). They also re-ice Fish and do anything that needs to be done overnight. This includes stocks, or confit’d items, stuff like that.
The cooks make prep lists for the next day, they put things on the order list so the Chef knows what to order. The Chef orders and goes over the numbers for the day. Everyone grabs a beer and relaxes, sometimes they go out and have a couple of beers, other times they just drag their tired bones home.