Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Professional Line Cook


Shit! It's 9:30 a.m. and I have just about half an hour to make it to work. Mustering up the little energy I have left after last night's rush, I convince myself to get out of bed. However, the task of waking up is only half complete; my mind is still predominantly asleep. A hot cup of coffee can do wonders for a sleepy soul and I quickly brew myself one. Off into the loo I go, grabbing the morning paper on the way.

This has become something of a ritual over the years as it must be for millions of people all over the world, I presume. Any deviation to this plan--say, if I run out of milk or the newspaper isn't delivered on time--and my day suddenly feels like it's been turned upside down.

It's winter in New York City and painfully cold at that. I slip into my only piece of warm clothing, a thick black leather jacket, and step outside. The restaurant is only six blocks away, a brisk ten minute walk, but I have only 12 minutes to get my butt inside the kitchen in full uniform. So I haul a cab and go the expensive route, which has lately become something of a habit that I'm not very proud of.

As the cab pulls in at my destination, I keep my debit card ready to swipe into the PIM (Passenger Information Monitor). The whole transaction takes me not more than 15 seconds from punching in choice of payment method, tip amount, and debit pin to finally getting out of the cab and on to the sidewalk.

Having been in a similar hasty situation almost every morning for the past six months, I've perfected these motions down to an art. We professional cooks tend to do that. Time is so crucial to every aspect of our work life that we take that philosophy and unknowingly apply it to our life outside the kitchen as well.

I swipe into the building, run down the stairs to the basement, and get to the locker. Within moments, I'm in the kitchen in full uniform--whites, checked pants, kitchen shoes, hat et al--with just three minutes to spare. I made it!

This, I realize, is not the best way to begin every day at work but somehow the subconscious me would rather sleep in an extra 15 minutes than have a pleasant, unhurried start.

Nevertheless, I'm finally here. Ready to start my 14 hour day afresh. That cup of coffee did me good!

Uh Oh! There's a party of 50 people coming in for lunch at 1 pm  and a special menu has been designed for them. That means I need to prep all the ingredients for that from scratch. Oh wait, the low boy refrigerator konked off at some point last night and all the left over prep is now spoilt and unusable. So now I also need to do the mise en place required for lunch a la carte service.

Sous Chef Wing Wee walks in at this exact moment when I find out about all this work I need to get done. He tells me that there is going to be a photo shoot in the kitchen today at 12 pm and that the kitchen needs to be spotless. I can only have one ingredient out on my work station at a time. This sounds simple enough but I know that it will slow me down drastically.

And I almost forgot. It's part of my duty to cook family meal lunch for the entire staff of 50 every day and it's Meatloaf on the menu today. Yippee!

I've only been in the kitchen for ten minutes and I'm already in the weeds. Push Thomas, push! For you know not what culinary surprises await you next.

...To be Continued.


  1. Nicely handled, focused narration.. Makes me wonder how the rest of the day will go.
    [Re-proof that third from the last paragraph, though.]
    Professor W

  2. Yea i know the feeling

  3. Professor W: It's been taken care of. Thanks for looking out. The next part of 'A Day...' will be posted soon. Stay glued.

    Karan: We all do, da.