just starting as "sous chef"

Joined Oct 31, 2012
Here's two more cents. 

 Western or eastern mass? I'd love a short road trip if it isn't too far. 

Otherwise, Panini has mentioned job descriptions. i'll second that. Then hold the staff to the descriptions. 

You're on the right track so far. Implementing new systems, labeling everything, most of all developing standards for the restaurant and then upholding them. 

Keep it clean and organized at all times. Show by example. 

As has been said, this process will take quite some time. Your biggest priority is to maintain close communication with the owner. Not the chef or the cooks and not yourself. Keep checking with the owner to make sure you are both on the same page. 

Because…. at some point, someone is going to have to get fired. Maybe several people. Once you have established standards and shown your willingness to help the cooks develop, they need to fall in line or get out. Employees need tools, materials and training. If they have been given all three and are not holding up their end, they need to go. Period. They are not your friends. 

You set up the kitchen the best you can with what you know. You learn every day and improve every day. Through your actions you show you are serious. Through keeping the owner informed at all times, you should always have her support. No employee should be able to complain about you by telling the owner something she doesn't already know. 

     By your description of the employees, I'm sure one or more may quit on their own, thereby saving you the trouble. But whether they do or not, you and the owner should have a united front in upholding the standards. That goes for the chef as well. In the situation you have described, there can be no bad examples. Either everyone is on board or they leave. Period. 

And that should handle your dish pit/culinary graduate issue because you will soon have other openings available.

     The kitchen should be spotless. Everywhere. Clean the floor from wall to wall, under and behind all equipment. Clean the ceiling, the walk-in, every cooler. Everyone helps, all the time. If necessary, pick a day the restaurant is closed and everyone comes in on the clock and CLEANS for four hours. The equipment should be maintained in good working order. All knobs should be on the stove. If they aren't, get new ones. If equipment is broken or damaged, fix it or replace it. 

 As for prep, lowering costs and working the line. 

     First, mise-en-place is key no matter what you are doing. A french term for having all items ready and in their place at the start of service or the beginning of a recipe. Each station should have all ingredients, tools and equipment ready. Don't expect the prep cooks to do ALL the prep. I've never had a line job that didn't require me to get my act together before service. Each cook should be going through the necessary items needed for the station and making sure it is all there. While the major bulk items should be done ahead like coleslaw or cutting fresh french fries, other items can be done by the line cooks. Figuring out what can be done ahead and what the individual cooks can do may take some time (partly by separating out the whiners from the doers) but the overall goal is to achieve some balance. Some food items don't take long and are best done last minute by the cook.  Maintaining quality should be your guide. 

     Your initial description of your kitchen leads me to this description. During service, someone expedites, which is to say reads and controls the all order tickets as they come in. There should be calm but clear communication between the stations and the expeditor regarding what has been ordered for each ticket. Expeditor calls out "Two salmon" Fish cook replies "Two salmon" or "Yes, chef" to indicate the order has been heard.  As the ticket nears delivery time, expeditor calls "Serving Table 24", I need the steak and fish and chips"  There should be immediate confirmation from the appropriate cook that the food is on it's way. ONE person and one person only is ordering the food and controlling the tickets while directing the assembly and delivery of the plates. Everyone else does their part. If need be, get the owner to come in and expedite if you are busy working with the line cooks. IF you do not have this system in place already, ( and from your initial post it doesn't sound like you do), then get it in place. What they did before is irrelevant. Set the new standard. 

       I'm sure you have a point of sale system. If you don't, the owner should get one. But assuming you do, run a sales report every week. Figure out what you currently make that isn't selling. Cut it from the menu. The sales reports can tell you how much of anything you sold in a given time period, a week, a month, six months. You can then anticipate how much to order and prepare within a certain range so you aren't making twenty pounds when you only need twelve. Or cutting thirty steaks when you only need 23. 

     Food cost. If you don't have a food costing computer program, get one. Figure out the food cost for every item. Written Recipes for every item that every cook follows every time. 

     Look around for other vendors to see what prices you are being charged and whether or not you are getting the quality you need for the price you want. Vendors will charge too much if they can get away with it. Don't make it a secret that you are looking and comparing prices. Knowing they have some competition will help keep the vendors on their toes. Keep insisting on good quality products. When the order comes in, physically check to make sure every item ordered actually got delivered and is of the quality you need. The driver can wait till hell freezes over. 

     For this next part, I will respectfully disagree with my experienced  colleagues. Hire a culinary graduate. Hire a Master Chef. Hire anyone you please. You are the standard bearer. What you don't know you will learn. If you haven't already, learn the five mother sauces. Make them. Learn how to cook a steak to correct temp. Taste the food you make as you make it. Read cookbooks. Learn. There are numerous threads on this website to help you pick out some good ones. The French Laundry and Peterson's "Sauces" are two of my favorites. But there are many more. Read a book on management. There is a good one on Kitchen Management by a Texas chef I believe. Perhaps someone here can remember the name of it. 

     On your day off, find a restaurant whose food you are impressed by and go do a stage for a day to soak up what ever you can. If someone anywhere knows something you don't, ask them to show you. Visit the vendors, purveyors, farms and orchards when ever you can. Meet the players.

     The biggest tool in your arsenal is based on the relationship you have with the owner. She/he needs to know what you are doing, what your limitations are, what your plans are and what direction you want to go in. Others may want the job but You have the job. If the owner has your back, no one can take the job away. If you keep learning and improving yourself and the kitchen, no one needs to. The owner has already stated what she is looking for. You are currently attempting to provide it. Be humble and open to learning from anyone but don't be intimidated by anyone. I have found the better the chef, the more they are willing to teach. They are this way because they continue to learn.  They are better chefs because they have higher standards. 

     As for Michelin places and the general workforce, I'll add this. As someone has already pointed out, Michelin places make up a very small percentage of restaurants. Very small. The rest are just like yours. The standards you find in most places are appalling. The standards of most "cooks" are appalling. For too many, it is just a job.

Having high standards means you will attract those with high standards. Those who don't feel your standards are necessary will find some where else to go. Let them go. 

     It may be true that you don't know how to make a proper vichyssoise or a remoulade or a demi-glace. Those you can learn and you will.  What no one can teach you is to have high standards for yourself and the kitchen you are in.  Label, Organize, Taste, Learn, Cook, Clean, Understand, Take notes. Most of all, expect and quietly demand the same of everyone in your kitchen.  Or they leave. 
Joined Oct 11, 2014
Okay....so I have been reading this post from the beginning and following along as it goes. My one main question is this: WHY are you at this kitchen? Meaning, what prompted you to apply? Then learning the issues of the owner and chef, what prompted you to stay?

The reason for the questions is to clarify your mindset because as of now, all your posts sound like you are a "fixer" type person. Not that there is anything wrong with this per se however, in a kitchen, regardless of it being a 5-star or a mom and pop shop, technical culinary training along with experience is what is needed to be someone with the capacity to "fix" a kitchen. Along with an owner who actually KNOWS BUSINESS. It sounds to me through your posts that the owner of this place does not know business. 

I want you to take a step back at this moment and look at the big picture. You have an owner who struggles to run her business and attract proper staff. You have a chef who has "checked out" and is now just in it for a paycheque. You have an uneducated, possibly under-appriciated staff on the line. To top it all off you do not even have a solid heart in the kitchen doing the dishes and keeping the kitchen going. 

All of this tells me that your RED FLAGS should have been flapping in your face by day one let alone day three at this place and you should be looking for a job elsewhere. Here is why: The chef being "checked out" means that he is not getting proper support from his boss, the owner. The crew that is in the kitchen has been trying to get by with lack of proper leadership and guidance so they just do what they think is "good enough". The unorganized aspect and improper food handling by the kitchen is a result of the former two issues. All in all, it is the owner's bloody fault. Her whining to you to "fix" it with a damsel in distress type wording is ridiculous. Especially when we take into consideration your sous chef position and lack of technical skills and management knowhow. That kinda made me have a WTF moment. (not being rude there, it is truth). 

I like your gumption and genuine want to learn and challenge yourself however, this is NOT the place to do it in any capacity and will not add to your experience in a good way. It will only subtract from your career. So my advice to you would be to look for a position in a kitchen that has a solid reputation with great reviews as this is the atmosphere that will garner you with the most challenges and skill that will add to your career. Even if you have to start from the ground up in a highly respected kitchen, you will fly through the positions because of your attitude and experience. Education is not needed in these kitchens so much as a good attitude and open mind for learning. 

If you wish to stay then remember: shyte rolls downhill and the two biggest hurdles will be the owner and the chef. Get these two on board with your vision to help set the rest of the team. The chef might be a problem, if he is, then leave him out and just work with the owner. If you try to work hard changing people on the line first then you are not guaranteed the support from the person you need it the most (owner) and all your hard work will have been in vain if they are not on board. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/wink.gif  
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Joined Aug 21, 2004
What meals does the restaurant serve, lunch and dinner, just dinner? How many covers per meal period? What is the brigade setup per meal period? What is the food costs? What is the labor cost? How much authority do you have?
Joined Jul 3, 2008
You understand it's not a professional, high quality kitchen.  You're just going to have to figure out for yourself whether the ownership group really wants it to be one (or can afford it). If they say the do and the money is not a problem, then the obvious question is why is it in such sad shape then?

There's no reason for almost any kitchen not to be set up on the model of a fine restaurant.  If you have more than one employee then that implies some sort of segregation of duties, right?  Why reinvent the damn wheel?  Put in an abbreviated brigade system and make it work.  What other choice do you have?  Are you a better chef than Escoffier?  He is credited with the concept.  All of this has been blueprinted for you.
Joined Jun 9, 2015
feed them some good food, even better get them to make it . when someone is excited by the work, you don't need to babysit.

also , chill the freak out. boil a frog so slowly it doesn't even notice.
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