There are a variety of skill sets needed to become a professional chef. You should have a passion for food, and you’ll need to work on developing your palate.
You will also need to master different cooking stations within a working kitchen and know how to handle the pressure to perform during a busy rush in the restaurant. But one skill set that is often overlooked by trainee chefs is the ability to talk like a chef.
Every job or career that you embark on will have its own set of insider language and there’s no difference when it comes to restaurant lingo. As you look towards a future in professional kitchens, be sure to take the time to brush up on some of the most common restaurant terms that will help you along the way.
How to Talk Like a Chef: Essential Kitchen Terminology for Aspiring Chefs
Have you ever asked someone who works in a restaurant how their last shift went? If so, you probably got a response where you could only understand about half of the terms that they used. As people spend more and more time in professional kitchens, it’s impossible not to come up with a more efficient way of speaking to each other when the pressure is on to deliver top-quality meals on time.
Here, we’ve outlined some of the most common kitchen slang terms to help you feel more comfortable in the kitchen:
On the Line
The “line” is the space in the kitchen where all of the cooking takes place. This space is often set up in a simple horizontal line and if someone is “on the line” they are most likely a “line cook.” A helpful way to think of a line cook is to remember that they act as an essential foot soldier in the well-oiled machine that is any successful restaurant.
Running the Pass
The “pass” is the area where all the dishes cooked in the restaurant are plated and picked up by wait staff to be served in the dining room. This area is typically long and flat, with plenty of room to make the finishing touches on each dish before they are presented to the diners. Often, only the head chef or a higher-level cook is allowed to “run the pass” each night. This person oversees the other cooks and lets them know which dishes are needed for each ticket, monitoring the overall speed and rhythm of the preparation process, and making sure that each dish looks perfect before it reaches the diners.
The key to getting each dish and table taken care of at the appropriate time is all about coordination within a busy kitchen. When multiple cooks are responsible for different dishes, garnishes and other components for each plate, they need to keep in contact communication with each other to master the ideal timing for each plate as it leaves the kitchen. When a cook calls, “6 out” or “3 out on the chicken,” they are signaling to the other cooks that they will be ready to plate their component of the dish in the stated amount of time.
No, the chef isn’t trying to alert the other kitchen staff that there is a fire in the building! The term “fire” is used in the kitchen to let the cooks know when it’s time to start cooking a dish. You may hear fire used in combination with a variety of other terms. A chef may say to “fire 3 sirloins, 2 broccolini sides, and 1 fish.” Or you could hear them shout to the others to “order fire,” which means they need to immediately begin working on a dish because of a mix-up on the ticket.
Dying on the Pass
There are few things worse in a professional kitchen than a perfectly prepared meal sitting and wilting under the heat lamps on the pass. If a dish has been sitting for too long waiting to be delivered to its table, it can dry out, get cold, and lose all the beauty and taste that the cooks infused into it.
If the kitchen runs out of a dish or particular item on the menu, they’ll tell the waitstaff to “86” the item so that no one else can order it. It is also common for a chef to 86 a dish because they are unhappy with the overall preparation of the menu item, and they don’t want to serve it for the night. Even further still, "86’d" can also refer to restaurant patrons who are no longer welcome in the establishment and who won’t be allowed in at a later date either.