What to expect working in a kitchen for the first time?

Joined Apr 24, 2015
I've never worked in a kitchen aside from like a total of 3-4 shifts I spent inside a Sushi restaurant's kitchen. You can't really compare a sushi kitchen to a real kitchen because sushi kitchens are almost always heavily sushi focused and serve as an assisting role more than anything. Sushi kitchens do have main entrees of their own but are limited compared to the kitchens with the restaurant's focus set on them.

I have a friend who is a sous chef at a private dining club and have been toying with the idea of asking him for an opportunity to get some hands on experience in a real kitchen.

What are some of the things I should expect working in a full kitchen?

What's expected of someone whose never worked in a full kitchen before?
Joined May 6, 2015
This was going to be the topic of my next blog post. I own a restaurant that seats 75. Our kitchen is small, our staff is small, our budget is small. Occasionally I have culinary school graduates apply with me and the first thing I tell them is to be prepared to feel inadequate. In small kitchens, independently owned and minimally staffed, the work load is huge. All kitchens are different, chefs have different expectations, equipment is different, focuses are different. Bright eyed, motivated, inexperienced would be chefs are usually stunned at the pace of a full service kitchen and I'm told disheartened at the feeling of helplessness when in the midst of a good lunch rush.
My cooks come in between eight and ten In the morning to prepare for our eleven o'clock lunch service. We prep pastas, sauces, tenderize meats, refresh ingredients, make hot rolls, start soups, quiches etc. by the time everything is ready, it's time to send out the first order. Sometimes this is all done in conjunction with preparing for a party or catering. Because there is no way to predict what quantity of what items the masses will gravitate towards, it's common to run out of an ingredient or two. That's when our newest cooks face lightens up! It's there turn to shine, they pull out their own knife, get everything set up, have a little damp paper towel under their cutting board, grab a pot to throw the vegetable trimmings in and begin to neatly and uniformly cut lovely little julienned carrots. Then crash! One of the other cooks has already managed to do all of that and produce five separate piles of vegetables, washed the cutting board and is back on the line.
As soon as lunch service is over, clean up happens, then prep starts for dinner, dinner happens, then clean up. We are out around ten pm. There is very little down time, it's very physical. Our kitchen has one dishwasher, two cooks, a baker and me. I'm always optimistic if our potential hire has fun, didn't take criticism personally and wants to come back. As the chef, I work from about seven am to ten pm when we are open to the public and have a more flexible work schedule on my "days off". I want my cooks to work hard, work fast, do it my way, every time, be reliable and not complain about their eight hour shift. I want them to love it. Hope that helps, again, every kitchen is different.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
Certain things are universal in all kitchens.

Wash your hands frequently. 

The chef is not your friend when you are in the kitchen. He/she has a lot of responsibility. You are there to help. 

Work clean and neat. 

Do what you are asked to do, in the way you are asked to do it.

Don't take it personally when some one else shows you how to do something you think is simple or self explanatory. The general focus of the kitchen and your focus should be to do things a certain way. Don't assume. Ask questions and take direction.

Eyes and ears and mind open. Mouth shut.  Your opinion on anything is not wanted. 

Expect to do lots of mundane, tedious tasks. This is the basis for every good kitchen. It is what every other part of the kitchen relies on. It is the most important thing to learn. When you are peeling and chopping #50 of onions, don't think "I wish the chef would teach me something". 

He is. Pay attention. 

Wash your hands. Keep your area neat and clean. 

The kitchen will most likely be hot. Shut up. It's hot for everyone. Your back, knees, feet and neck will hurt. Shut up. So does everyone else's. 

You will work until the chef tells you to do otherwise. Don't complain. 

When you have finished a job, ask what you can do next. Help others when needed- dishwashers, line cooks, everyone. Do not expect any help from anyone else. 

Be polite and respectful to everyone, from the dishwashers to the waitstaff. Always. 

Thank the chef for the opportunity. 
Joined Apr 24, 2015
Good advices for those that never worked as a chef before.

What I was asking was for kitchen specific things. Like for example, what kind of tasks would a new kitchen guy be assigned? Or do most kitchens just throw people on the stations right away after just a short basic training?

Worked my whole career in the sushi bar with just a few shifts in a sushi kitchen so I'm just curious how different other full kitchens are.
Joined May 5, 2010
Good advices for those that never worked as a chef before.

What I was asking was for kitchen specific things. Like for example, what kind of tasks would a new kitchen guy be assigned? Or do most kitchens just throw people on the stations right away after just a short basic training?

Worked my whole career in the sushi bar with just a few shifts in a sushi kitchen so I'm just curious how different other full kitchens are.
With no experience, the Chef will place you in positions where he/she can check out what you can do.

If this means peeling onions, so be it.

He wants to see how you peel that onion and what waste ensues.

The Chef may place you in the pantry working with cold food, as that seems to be the universal starting place after dishwasher.

Specifically Chef wants to observe your knife skills, how you perceive food.

Is it simply a product that you are required to prepare and serve, or will it be an item you must fabricate?

The Chef needs to know your abilities and to that end he/she will place you where ever they feel you are best suited with your knowledge and experience.
Joined Apr 10, 2015
Dear friend, what to expect working in a kitchen the first time?
Working in a kitchen or shall I rephrase in a professional or commercial kitchen for a first timer is a experience. It is a very hectic place. The start of the day you will see the chefs preparing for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We call it "Mis en place" or translated preparation work, putting things in its right place. That is the most important part of a successful kitchen. You will find that every job In the kitchen has a time limit on it, time is the essence.
Phase two is called "service". The service time is when the guest come in for a meal. Again, time and organisation amongst the chefs is paramount. Speed is a must, don't let the customer wait to long. His or her lunch break may be very limited in time.
Phase three is the cleaning and sanitising the work areas in the kitchen.
Now let's cover the most important parts of your first time in a kitchen.
1) Wear the proper chefs uniform.
2) have a shower before, clean and short fingernails, no rings and jewellery to be worn.
3) Be prepared to learn fast. When the Head Chef gives you a job, say loud and clear "yes chef". Don't be shy to ask questions. Do the job the right way and always be prepared to learn.
4) If you have short hair, wear a chefs hat or cap. If you have long hair, wear a hairnet and a chefs hat or cap. You don't want hair in the food.
5) keep your work area clean and use the right chopping boards for the job.
6) the language in a kitchen can be harsh, so don't be a pussy.
7) If you are a faint hearted person, you may not succeed in a kitchen.
8) You need to have a passion for food, a must. This is not just a job, it is a life style.

I don't want to scare you off. Working as a chef can be great. I done it for 30 years. Have a go, we need great chefs in the future, you may be one one day yourself.

Golden rule: Be a team player, just like in a football match. You will gain respect and make great new friends.

Good luck and enjoy yourself.
Joined Feb 16, 2014
I started late in life in the kitchen. The one thing I would say is don't get disheartened. Just keep working hard do your best and that is all you can do. If anyone says you are no going fast enough just keep working don't let it bother you. In any job when you are inexperienced people will say you are not good enough at times. You are you are just less experienced. I cannot stress it enough how important it is. I really let it get to me now I know my worth in the kitchen.. Also another thing when you have more experience and you go into a new kitchen you will find you can remember the menu easier than when you first started. e.g. if you have one year experience it may take you longer to learn it than some who has five years even though you have gone into the same kitchen at the same time. This isn't because they are smarter than you it's because they have been doing it longer and so they can concentrate on the menu more. e.g when you go into a new kitchen with one year experience you are learning all the new cooking techniques. When you have been doing it for five years you will probably know a lot of them so you can concentrate on the menu more.

It really is very important that you stay confident and believe in yourself. Learn from criticism but DO NOT let it dishearten you.
Joined Apr 7, 2015
Good advices for those that never worked as a chef before.

What I was asking was for kitchen specific things. Like for example, what kind of tasks would a new kitchen guy be assigned? Or do most kitchens just throw people on the stations right away after just a short basic training?

Worked my whole career in the sushi bar with just a few shifts in a sushi kitchen so I'm just curious how different other full kitchens are.
as a sushi chef... you have your basic training. My guess is you would not be put on the line but start as a prep chef.

what to expect... to be exhausted.

Your legs will be dead and your back will be aching.

You will be pushed to your limits... to work faster, smarter and more efficiently.

You will be expected to be clean, to clean your station, and anything and everything else that needs to be cleaned.

You will be expected not to complain or whine...but to do what you are asked/told to do.

You will be expected to do keep to the plan..even if you think the plan is crazy and you have a "better" idea or way to do something.

You will be expected to multitask.

as the new guy... you will get the tasks no one else really enjoys doing. Suck it up.

Joined Jun 24, 2014
Hello and welcome to the world of cooks and the lifestyle it entails! I personally love the lifestyle and I love to cook and am very pleased when I see customers smiling and enjoying our food.

As a first timer, and probably in your first few shifts you will be put into one of several roles. These could be a dishwasher, a pantry or cold line cooking position, or a prep cook position. You will most likely not start on the line cooking food to order. That is where the big dogs are and they have a lot of experience with what they do. This is a position to strive for.

I won't go into dish washing as that is fairly self explanatory. If you are in the pantry, you will probably spend your first shift learning the components and how to make salads and other cold appetizers. Don't think this is below you or that you already know how to make a salad. This is the basis for all of your cooking in the future - you take making a salad seriously and that will translate everywhere else. So this would be the start of your cooking experience if this is the position that you would land in. You may be here for a month or two or longer depending on how well you do and how fast your are while making consistent and clean plates. From here it is possible to get a chance to work on the hot line once the chef has seen your chops and can assess how well they can train you to put together the components of a entre such as grilling a steak to the proper temperature and plating it how the chef wants you to, and do that every time, clean and consistently. Consistency is huge! Your customers expect the same plate as the one they loved last time they were in your restaurant.

If you are placed as a prep cook your experience in the first few days will be a bit different. Here you will have a list of ingredients that need to be prepped and cooked for the coming service (dinner, lunch, breakfast). Someone senior will tell you to start with something simple like peeling and cutting carrots in a specific fashion. Don't be discouraged if you feel you are doing work that a monkey could do. You are starting to learn the building blocks of cooking. You will learn knife skills which are very important and you will begin to understand why the specific ingredients go into a dish and why you are prepping them in a certain fashion. You will be given more complex tasks after you have shown that you have the simple things down and can do them expediently and correctly.

This is the basis for the day in the life of a shift of cooking. The next day will be much the same as the first but there are always little ways that make each day a bit different. I would suggest, if you like this line of work and it's okay if you don't now is the best time to figure that out, that you keep your ears and eyes open and watch what the other cooks around you are doing. Ask questions if you don't understand what you need to do, even if you have to ask ten times. It's better to get it right the first time then waste time and money by not prepping or plating foods as they need to be done.

I would also spend a bit of time learning on your own outside of the kitchen if this line of work is something that you think you would like to do. For example, you might want to go on youtube and find out more about knife skills and the various cuts that you will want to know. Hell, you might not know how to properly hold a chef knife in which case I think youtube is a great place to learn for rudimentary cooking skills.

Always remember - you're not an idiot for not knowing how to do something. Others may make you feel like this but we all have been where you are now. You just haven't had the experience of learning what others already know. Nothing more, nothing less.

I wish you the best and if you have more questions feel free to pm me. I love the site and the people here are great!
Joined May 29, 2015
As a young, novice cook who just recently got his start in a somewhat reputable local place, all I can say is EXPECT to be ignored/glanced over by a lot of people...FOH especially...our chief of operations, the gm, the maitre'd...they all refuse to even glance over in my direction when they hover around before service/during prep simply because im young, inexperienced, and havent been there long enough to establish trust. always be on the move. always be doing something. im still not even a full month in but im already on the line, and the preps hired before me are mocked by my sous chef and others on the line for their inefficiency, timidity and a lack of drive. ALWAYS ask questions but know WHEN and HOW and WHO to direct those questions. If you're kitchen is bilingual then it's time to learn some spanish. Asking repeatedly for something in a cramped dish space to be washed when you dont know the dishwasher's language is freaking rude, disrespectful and just lazy. Befriend the dish pit and your life will be much, much better, that I can assure you.

Good luck hombre, I hope you find what you're looking for.
Joined Jan 17, 2015
I am recruiting at the moment and have to tell you that I had a fair few people not turn up for interviews, turn up late, send me a text about an "emergency" because of which they are not coming...When I employ a commis, assistant or any of those rolls this is a way I am thinking. Knowledge wise you have little to offer me so you have to make up for it by being keen, on time, enthusiastic, willing to learn, to  help others a good all round can do attitude is what I am looking for as a start than I will teach you what I know and give you my time. If I see that you love food, work hard, are on time, EVERY TIME, than you can have a job, mind you some talent helps. It is hard to give specific  advice every kitchen is different.... Forget about the food network, chefing is hard graft, mouth shut, eyes and ears open. Soon enough you will know are you in the right job, Good luck!

P.S. In my firs job they called me the new guy for weeks...it was high chef turnover place I learned a lot there....
Joined Jun 15, 2015
Hey guys im new to the whole cooking thing and was wondering if anyone could give me some advice im working for a local restaurant for free because i really want some experience and need some help on what to expect for my first shift. I cook at home but i know that means next to squat. need some advice.
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