Where to Learn Professional Menu Item Pickups

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by hotsawce, May 4, 2017.

  1. hotsawce


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    Line Cook
    I work in a restaurant that produces a very specific type of food and would like to expand my knowledge. However, I don't necessarily have the time or money to stage at other places.

    I'm sure we're all aware, how you would cook a chicken, or clams on the half shell, or other items for your personal dinner is not how it's done in most restaurants. I am looking for a resource (website, cookbooks, culinary school books) that might detail how more reputable restaurants prep, chill or hold,  and pickup menu items for service.

    For example, not all clams casino are fresh shucked for every order. And that famous roast chicken or suckling pig at the Nomad probably isn't made in one shot. Even the famous pasta at Del Posto has a lot of items pre prepped for different stages before the final pasta assembly. However, not being exposed to the pickup for the item I don't know the best way to learn that skill of prep hold and pickup.

    Any resources would be greatly appreciated! Ideally, a good restaurant cookbook with the pickups as they would occur in the restaurant would be nice, but I'm finding most of them (like the French Laundry Cookbook) are geared towards fine dining and sous vide.
    Last edited: May 4, 2017
  2. chefwriter


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    Professional Cook
    I'll give this a shot and hopefully my internet access will last long enough. I've spent my entire career trying to answer your question. 

          I'm afraid I don't know of any books that will substitute for visiting other kitchens. But that is a great idea for a book. 

    In any case,  I will offer that much of it is, for lack of a better phrase, common sense.  As you noted, not every order of clams casino is shucked to order. Nor is anyone butchering an entire side of beef for every rib eye steak order. So much of every restaurants' work is in preparation. Think of any food product you might want to serve and think about how to get it as close to ready as possible so it can be cooked in the shortest amount of time while still maintaining the best flavor and quality.  So you can lightly steam those clams, cool, then cover with a topping and throw them in the oven to reheat as needed. But you already knew that, right?  Every other item is exactly the same. 

         What you can learn from books are things like the five mother sauces, which provide a base from which you can then create thousands of sauces as you cook whatever item the sauce will be served with. You might make a large batch of a sauce and keep it warm during service, saucing each plate as the item is ready for the pass.  Or you can use the sauce as a base to finish a pan sauce made with the fond left over from sautéing something.  

    Some vegetables can be blanched ahead, then heated quickly as needed.

    Most proteins, like chicken, veal, beef, fish, etc. are cut ahead of time into individual portions, then cooked as needed.  You can't cook an entire three or four pound chicken to order, which is why restaurants don't do that. They cut it in to sections and cook those in various ways because they cook so much faster in smaller pieces. 

         Books, like the French Laundry and others like it, can teach you things like straining your sauces to remove impurities and make a more pleasing effect when eaten. Many of the ideas Keller shares are useful to anyone in the cooking field at any level.

           From cook books, You learn how to do things like cure salmon into gravlax, create sauces from other things like vegetable and fruit purees, herbs and oil, vinaigrettes, and many more. You can learn many food preparation techniques. You can gather many ideas of all kinds and adapt them to your operation.

    After 30 years in cooking, I still turn to the Joy of Cooking to learn or re learn many things.  I have over 200 cookbooks of all kinds and find them all useful for various reasons. 

         Remember too that kitchen work is generally broken down in to different stations. So any restaurant with a sizable menu has more than one or two cooks in the kitchen and responsibility for the different menu items is divided among them. Which is to say the more complicated and involved the food, the more cooks you need to get the work done. Or you buy pre made products. 

        So let's start with a hypothetical scenario. You want to cook a certain product for your restaurant. How far can you prepare it so it retains it's quality but will cook in a very short period of time? Will it have a sauce? Can you prepare that ahead without ruining it or will you need to make it at the last minute? What about sides like vegetables and starches?

    Every chef considers all these factors when planning a menu. "How do I prepare and present all these menu items in such a way that the food tastes great, is presented well, and can all be done quickly to order?"

    The question you are asking is the single question at the heart of what all chefs do and is also  why there are so many different pieces of equipment out there, trying to meet the needs of the chef's trying to answer your question. 

    All of which is to say, keep reading your cookbooks. Buy others. Learn how to prepare many things. Practice at home. Then when the time comes, you will be better prepared to adapt what you have learned when you have an opportunity in a professional kitchen. But by all means, find the time to at least visit other kitchens now and again. 
    jvkolich likes this.
  3. jvkolich


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    Professional Chef
    This is a solid bit of knowledge!

    Like @chefwriter stated, "I'm afraid I don't know of any books that will substitute for visiting other kitchens. But that is a great idea for a book."

    This hits the nail on the head, however the best book to offer an insight into a very versatile way of bringing these concepts together, is the chef's bible itself - Basically a thesaurus/dictionary filled with chef terms, recipes and preparation steps and procedures to achieve the best quality, timing, costing and operations in the kitchen environment.

    "Larousse Gastronomique"

    It's so hard to build skills like you ask for through books, it mostly comes down to personal experience and chasing a new kitchen to learn from.

    I try to keep my employment lengths within a kitchen to 1-2years and then move on. This promotes as steady amount of time to learn, achieve and contribute to a workplace.
  4. someday


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    Professional Chef
    Larousse? Joy of Cooking? Mother sauces?!?!? That is all great advice...if it were 1976. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/lol.gif  ( I kid, I kid)

    Really, I don't think there is a book on how to be a line cook. That is really what you are asking...how to be a line cook. There are some passages in books like, say, Kitchen Confidential where he talks about his time on the line (the chapter "A Day in the Life" comes to mind), or even "Heat" by Bill Buford where he spends time in Mario Batali's Babbo restaurant and in Italy. There's some nuggets in there. 

    There are some great TV shows out there too...Things like "Mind of a Chef," "Chef's Table," "Kitchen Nightmare" (the UK version, NOT the US version), and many others. These aren't about line cooking, per se, but still have some valuable insights and thoughts on cooking and chef-ing in general. 

    But really, in terms of "pick up's" and stuff like that, you'll just have to learn on the job. The reason there isn't a standard book for this is most likely because there is no such thing as a standard for most of this stuff. Every chef, every kitchen is different and there are many divergent roads that all lead to the same place. 

    I suggest you work in the best kitchens you can get jobs in and learn as you go. You take the best parts from each place and at the end of the day when you are ready to move up to chef/sous chef you will have a more defined "style" that you can then teach to your employees. 

    Generally speaking, the more you can do a la minute (that is, cook from start to finish in one step) the better. We all know that making potato puree for each order is impractical, so generally places make a big batch right before service and hold hot. Part of being a chef and a line cook is learning what and how much and how far ahead you can prep certain things without adversely affecting the final plate. Some things 100% NEED to be made ahead of time (braises, stews, etc). I'm sure there are some kitchens out there that mince shallots and chiff herbs TO ORDER for each plate, but those are probably few and far between, and most of us know that is impractical for most kitchens.

    One last piece of advice...keep a notebook/journal. Write down recipes, pick ups, garnishes (what goes with what), plating diagrams, notes, thoughts. You think you'll remember everything as you get older, but trust me, you won't. I've looked back at a lot of my old notebooks and been like "Oh yeah, I forgot about that." You want a book on line cooking and how to do pick ups? Hell, don't buy one, WRITE one. 
    jvkolich likes this.