Please help-I don't know how to follow orders!

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Joined Apr 25, 2017
I apologize for the dramatic title but I am desperate. I have changed careers a year ago when I finally got the courage to go after my dream of becoming a chef. I started culinary school in May last year and got my first job this January. I started as a pantry line cook, there were two of us and after about one month I finally learned all the recipes and started following expo with ease. Now here is the trouble - there has been a staff turnover in a past month or so and I was put in charge of guard. To make matters worse they threw me on saute as well to cover as needed. My issues are following:

1. Please please can someone clarify for me how to follow orders as they come out of the machine? I get overwhelmed and lost. I can do maybe 30 but I am having difficulties to keep concentrated and follow tickets, so I inevitably lose track of where i am, what i sent and whats next. I also have a cook working with me who doesn't know all the recipes yet. They keep screaming "how long for 12" and "i need side salad now" when i have no idea what ticket they are talking about. I need some good advice on how to keep track and arrange tickets since I am calling orders on guard.

2. Saute is covering deep fryer, steamer and range. I still don't know all the recipes but I get thrown on it at least once a week. My issue with this one is I don't know how to coordinate with chef and keep my orders in check. For example - he will scream out three tickets at once and while I am making those he screams out three more. By the time I finish first three hes on 7th and I am behind. I need to stay on track with items that I am responsible for as well as what order chef is plating AND keep arranging upcoming orders. For example, we will get order of fish & Chips, daily feature, and second ticket crab cake, calamari and steak with fries. That is all me plus vegetables for feature and fries for steak. By the time i finish with deep fryer (fish and chips + calamari) I forget whats next and chef creamed out another two or three tickets.

Please note I am still in culinary school and i work 3 days per week. Every single time we have more than 30 resos someone has to jump in and do my work and I am devastated. I feel like a failure, please any advice is appreciated.

Thank you.
 
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4,704
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Joined Aug 21, 2004
Number one..., stop feeling like a failure. It is totally counterproductive and contributes absolutely nothing to the resolution of the challenge being presented to you.

Have you ever watched a baby learning to walk? Inevitably the butt plop will happen at some time, and usually sooner rather than later. Does the baby sit there and go "I am a total failure. I suck at this. I will never amount to anything. My life is over."

No, the baby rolls over to his hands and knees and tries again.

I will be back later, hopefully with some helpful practical advice, but I have to run at the moment. Just wanted to get a little initial jump start on a reply, before I finish up on what I was working on when this came across my screen.

Hint: read the previous sentence.
 
2,188
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Joined Oct 31, 2012
     First, Cheflayne is right on the money. We've all been there. If it was easy everyone could do it. 

Second, try giving yourself some memory clues. 

So when the chef/expeditor yells an order, you do one of the following.

Set aside the item called for, whether you are cooking it or not. So chef calls "halibut", you take out a piece of halibut

 and put it aside where you can see it.

Or pick out an object that represents the halibut. Suppose the halibut order gets parsley as a garnish. So for every halibut, 

you set aside a piece of parsley. 

Do this for every item on your station. Parsley for halibut, red pepper for the steak, a piece of potato for the pork. 

You can also holler "Chef, I need an "all day". This tells the chef you need a concise report on how many of each item he has requested. 

So his reply would be "Six halibut, two pork, four steaks and a salad" 

      If you aren't expediting, table numbers are meaningless to you. All you need to worry about are how many of each item you should be preparing. In some kitchens, an item may be ordering but not fired. Table is eating appetizers. So he orders entrees by saying "Ordering halibut" to let you know you'll be needing to do it, then later when the particular table is ready for the entrees, he yells "firing the halibut". Meaning you should then begin cooking it because chef knows it takes so many minutes per order. Every place has slightly different quirks but that's the general idea.

The first time, you set aside the item or you set aside the memory trigger. But either way, 

you just need to get it to the pass, cooked correctly. 
 
1,832
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Joined Aug 15, 2003
I'm confused as to why you aren't getting proper training on the job when this happens. Unless the kitchen is a complete cluster-f I assume that there is a chef who is supposed to be showing you what to do and how to handle the orders. 

How did you follow along when you were in garde manger? The principle is basically the same, just the timing is different. A good rule of thumb for saute is to build your pans and get them going ASAP, so that when the fire is called you just have to finish. So do as much as you can, without degradation of the food, before the fire. 

So if you have a pasta called "order in," then (I'm just going to use an example I don't know your menu) put some olive oil in a pan, sweat some garlic and shallot, toast some chili, then add brocolli rabe, wilt, then a splash of white wine to stop the cooking. Set the pan aside, and when it is fired add your crab, pasta, lemon and butter to finish (you get the idea). Your pans will also serve as a visual for what you have on order and should help you keep up. That's a basic example. 

Sounds like you got thrown into the fire with little to no training...I don't know how anyone expects you to do the job correctly right away. Don't be so hard on yourself and keep plugging away. The fact that you are on here wanting advice and looking to get better speaks volumes. Everyone struggles at first, line cooking is hard and you don't learn it in a day. 
 
4,704
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Joined Aug 21, 2004
Let's imagine a strictly hypothetical scenario. For the purpose of this exercise, let's say that you are not performing at the level that the chef wants. In my opinion, in this case, then the chef is not performing at the level he should be, because he did not adequately train and prepare you.

However, I do not wish to spend too much energy pursuing this direction because to me it is counterproductive. It is fixing blame. I am all about solutions, not blame. Blame is about the past, a futile way to spend time. Solutions are about the future, a productive way to spend time. Time spent on figuring out who is to blame, is time not spent on solutions.

When I work saute, I keep a stack of pie pans in my station. One pie pan for each protein/main item. When an order gets called out, if I am not able to start working on the protein/main item immediately, I still pull the protein/main item out of the fridge and put it in a pie pan and it goes on the shelf in my station. That way I can track how many of what I have ordered. With an item like fries that would overflow the pan too quickly, pull one fry for each order. That way you can track the number of fry orders that are hanging, and you can pull an order as needed.

If three tickets get called out, start all three. Then three more get called. Don't wait to finish the first three before starting the next three. Get them started as they are ordered. The main thing is to get them started. Finishing up can happen as they are fired, but while finishing make sure to start others as they are called. How far you get started on them depends upon time available, but every little bit helps, even if it is pulling them out of the fridge. While searing this, you can be dropping that in the fryer, and placing something else in the oven, etc. Don't stop moving and food doesn't need to be watched as it cooks, it will cook just fine without me standing there staring at it.

Let's say a pork loin chop with an ala minute pan sauce ( e.g. a beurre blanc) gets ordered. Sear the pork off. After searing, pull the pork out of the saute pan and put it in a clean pie pan. Deglaze the saute pan and start reducing your pan sauce. When the order is fired. Put the pork in the oven to finish and finish your sauce with butter as you start to plate.

Keep you eye and focus on the big picture, the entire ticket line. No tunnel vision. Breathe. This too shall pass. Time accelerates in your mind, what seems like 5 minutes is probably more like 15 seconds. Never panic and say there isn't time, there always is. I have been known to stop people when they tell me 'there isn't time', I tell them "time me doing that", it is usually 15 seconds or less. When the cooking universe brings huge waves your way, learn to surf. Don't quit 5 minutes before the miracle, because if you hang with it, a time will come when you get slammed but damn if you aren't surfing. What a high and sense of accomplishment! Nothing beats it.

It is hard to give real concrete helpful tips without knowing your menu and the way your chef operates and wants things done, but hope this helps.
 
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Joined Apr 25, 2017
Thank you so much for great advice and tips. You are right, I never received training on how to follow orders, I just learn as I go. Its just very frustrating knowing I failed to deliver (again). But I keep trying and I am sure I will get better at it.

Thank you again, I am relieved now and I will definitely pace myself and plan ahead today. Pie pans or a visual reminder is a great idea, I wish I knew this earlier. Cook that works saute keeps everything in his head and just flies around. I am stumping. I'll post later to tell you how it went.

Cheers all!
 
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I guess I still don't understand why you don't seem to be being corrected or trained any further. They just let you know at the end of the night that your performance wasn't up to par and then...what..."see you tomorrow?"

You "fail to deliver" but aren't being taught how to deliver? I mean, why isn't the chef/person in charge showing you how to deliver? 

There is something to be said for letting someone struggle through some adversity (this can be an effective training tool in and of itself...letting the little bird fly, so to speak) but this usually happens after training when someone knows what to do, knows the systems/steps, recipes, plating, etc (in other words, has been TRAINED) and they just need, basically, practice and repetition. 

Is your chef(s) teaching you what to do? Visual cues/pie pans/pulling orders from fridge as soon as the order is called is, like, line cooking 101. I'm not saying that kind of thing is your fault, I'm legit concerned that you haven't been trained better in how to do some of this stuff. All that stuff Chef Layne and ChefWriter said is like, day 1 stuff. 

I'm for sure dumbfounded. It is VITAL early in your career that you work for chefs that are willing to train and TEACH you things on how to be a cook and a chef. If you are working in a place where you are just another "body" on the line and, really, no one gives a shit about you or your training you might want to think about finding a place that is willing to train and teach. Maybe dust off your resume? 

I'd really like to know more about where you work and what kind of restaurant and environment it is. 
 
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Joined Apr 25, 2017
Thank you Someday  for support and advice. The restaurant I work at is fine dining establishment and seats 150 in dining room + 50 at the bar. We are characterized as steakhouse/seafood restaurant but menu also offers burgers, crab cakes, calamari, risotto, fried chicken .... There is also oyster happy hour of buck a shuck.

I am the only female there and everyone is very nice and supportive. "You can do it, don't worry, you'll do better next time, you did great" I get on daily basis, but I am not sure that I am doing great since I almost always have someone step in and do my work. I know job well done when I see one and I am not doing it. I was never told about the pie pans for example. As I understand I should make a conveyor belt of sort and keep updating it while I'm working on existing orders. I have trouble keeping up with tickets as well, I don't know how to organize them. Yes there is a straight fire and second course waiting for pickup but sometimes I cant tell which one is which.

I mentioned earlier that there has been a staff turnover, head chef left just before I first got there (in January) and in my first month three cooks and sous chef left. So now we have three chefs - one senior and two junior, and they are trying to keep the place together, new cooks are being hired but they need time to learn the menu and in all that combustion I don't think anyone wants to bother with a newbie not knowing how to follow orders. 

Yesterday I had a great lunch service thanks to all of you. It was 58 reservations and about 20 walk ins but I followed chef no problem. I kept my head down, ears open and I was always on top of chef asking whats next. I did not bother to do my tickets, he was calling them for me. I made it. I actually made it on my own to the end of service yesterday and for the first time I felt accomplished on the line.
 
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Joined Apr 27, 2017
Man don't even trip homie! Just keep your chin up and keep getting better. Hard to really catch a flow working only three days a week, and most chefs deep down will know in situations like this it's a training problem because if he thought you were incapable you'd likely not be there anymore!

I always say if you do your best I might yell in the moment and be mad but after that I'll be able to evaluate more clearly for what needs to happen next shift over a nice bowl of weed that night. But the. Again. It all chefs are like that and if he's just a dick then you'll just have to work extra hard or find other places to work
 
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