Kitchen Slang 101: How to Talk Like a Real-Life Line Cook

In addition to swearing like a sailor, these are the essential back-of-house terms you need to know if you want to survive in a restaurant.

Photo: Liz Barclay

Photo: Liz Barclay

So, how was last night’s service?

Oh man, we had over 90 covers, two 12-tops, a bunch of four-tops, tons of VIPs. By nine, we were really cruising, totally slammed, had already 86’d striper and tatin. I was running the pass when this huge pick-up was happening, we were doing that really soigne risotto with chanterelles—a la minute you know? The pick-up time is like 20 minutes. I got this really green cook on sauté, fired her a 4 by 4 by 3, half a dozen more on order, but when we go to plate she’s short two fucking orders, so had to order fire two more on the fly, she was totally in the shit! We were so weeded! Food’s dying on the pass. The rail is jammed up with dupes. The salamander stopped working. My porter no-showed. I really thought we might go down.

If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, this paragraph might as well be written in Sanskrit. Like all occupations, the professional kitchen has developed its own vernacular—one that is at once clever, efficient, and sometimes a little crude. Kitchen slang strengthens workplace solidarity, confuses the uninitiated, and is often peppered with a shocking amount of expletives. Each kitchen will have its own unique patois, but many terms are widespread in the industry. Here’s a guide to common kitchen jargon.

ON THE LINE

The “line” is the kitchen space where the cooking is done, often set up in a horizontal line. Being “on the line” means you are a “line cook”—an essential foot soldier in any functioning restaurant.

RUNNING THE PASS

The “pass” is the long, flat surface where dishes are plated and picked up by wait staff. The chef or high-level cook who “runs the pass” each night is in charge of letting the cooks know what they will be cooking as orders come in. They are in control of the watching the order tickets, monitoring the speed and rhythm of the coursing, and making sure each dish looks good before it goes out to the customer.

5 OUT

Coordination is essential for any busy kitchen where there are multiple cooks in charge of different dishes, components, and garnishes for every plate. When a cook yells “5 out” or “3 out on sirloin,” it signals to the other cooks that they will be ready to plate in said amount of time.

SOIGNE

Mostly used by wannabe fine-dining douchebags, soigne (pronounced “SWAN-YAY”) means “elegant” in French. It’s used to describe an exceptionally sexy dish, or when you really nailed a plating presentation.

A LA MINUTE

A la minute is French for “in the minute,” and it refers to making a dish right then, from scratch. Instead of making a big batch of risotto during prep time and reheating portions of it hours later, a dish made “a la minute” is cooked from start to finish only when an order for it comes in.

MISE

Short for mise en place (French for “everything in its place”), this term refers to all of the prepped items and ingredients a cook will need for his specific station, for one night of service. E.g., Chef: “Did you get all of your mise done?” Cook: “I just need to slice shallots for the vin(aigrette), chef, then I’m ready.”
kitchenlingo atala Kitchen Slang 101: How to Talk Like a Real Life Line Cook

12-TOP/4-TOP/DEUCE

A “12 Top” refers to a table with 12 diners. A “4 top” has four diners. A “duece” just two.

NO SHOW

A “no-show” is a kitchen employee who doesn’t show up to work. No-shows are undeniable assholes.

ON DECK/ON ORDER

As tickets shoot out from the kitchen printer, the cook running the pass will let the cooks know what they have “on deck”—for example, “4 steak, 2 quail, 1 blue, on order”—so the cooks can mentally prepare and start setting up what they will be cooking throughout a diner’s meal.

FIRE

When a chef calls out “fire” or “pick-up,” a cook will start cooking that particular dish (e.g., “FIRE! 6 broco, 3 polenta side, 1 lamb”) “Order fire” means to immediately start cooking a certain dish because there is only one course on the ticket, much to the annoyance of the kitchen (because it forces them to restructure the entire pick-up). “Pick-up” can also be used as a noun, as in “I had to re-do my entire pick-up because some jabroni order-fired a porterhouse.”

RUN THE DISH

When a dish of plated food that is ready to go out to the dining room, cooks will “run the dish.” Servers ask, “Can you run?”, when they are waiting to ferry the food out of the kitchen.

DYING ON THE PASS

Hot food that is ready to be run that has been sitting on the pass for an inordinate amount of time getting cold and losing its soigne character because waitstaff are either too slammed or too lazy to pick it up.

86’D

When the kitchen runs out of a dish, it’s “86’d.” Dishes can also be 86’d if the chef is unhappy with the preparation and temporarily wants it off the menu. Patrons can be 86’d, too. One of the earliest documented usages of this term was at the bar Chumley’s in downtown Manhattan during Prohibition. The bar had an entrance on Pamela Court and an exit at 86 Bedford Street. Police would call ahead to warn the bartenders of a possible raid, telling them to “86” their customers out of the 86 exit door.

WEEDED/IN THE SHIT/ IN THE WEEDS

Used when a cook is really fucking busy, overwhelmed by tickets, and frantically trying to cook and plate his dishes.

THE RAIL/THE BOARD

This refers to the metal contraption that holds all of the tickets the kitchen is working on. Once a ticket is printed, it’s stuck to “the rail” or “the board.” “Clearing the board” means the kitchen has just worked through a large set of tickets.

CHECK YOUR PLATES!

Every open kitchen where the cooks can actually see patrons will have a term that signals that an attractive man or woman is in the dining room. It might also be “Ace!” or “Yellowtail!” or whatever the kitchen comes up with.

THE SALAMANDER/ROBOCOP/SIZZLE/COMBI

Kitchen equipment names often get abbreviated or nick-named. A “salamander” is a high-temperature broiler; a “robocop” is a food processor; a “sizzle” is a flat, metal broiler plate; “combi” is an oven with a combination of heating functions; “fishspat” is a flat-angled metal spatula good for cooking fish; a “spider” is a wire skimmer; “chinacap” is a cone-shaped colander; “low-boy” is a waist-high refrigerator. There’s a million of them…

VIPS/PPX/NPR

“Very Important Person,” “Persone Txtrodinaire,” and “Nice People Get Rewarded” written on a ticket signals to all staff that their work should be top-notch for these diners. It can be industry, celebrities, friends, or family—they all get hooked up.

kitchenslang vip Kitchen Slang 101: How to Talk Like a Real Life Line Cook

Photo: Twitter/@dannybowien

CUPCAKING

Mostly for bartenders, “cupcaking” is used when a barkeep is spending noticeably too much time and attention on an attractive patron sitting at the bar.

FLASH

If a piece of protein is slightly undercooked, a cook with “flash it” in the oven for a minute or two to raise the temperature.

SANCHO

When a cook sneezes, a co-worker will announce “SANCHO.” This is in the Mexican tradition of pointing out that someone named “SANCHO” or “SANCHA” is in your house banging your wife or boyfriend while you are at work. It’s a funny dig. The proper response is, “No mames guey! I’m not worried about Sancho.”

SHORT

To be missing a component of a dish or an ingredient, as in, “Dammit, I’m one meatball short!”, or, “Landcaster fucking shorted us again on cream.”

DUPE

Short for “duplicate.” When tickets are printed in the kitchen, they are usually printed on two- or three-ply color-coded paper which signify courses. This allows the person running the pass to keep track of and discard layers as courses leave the kitchen, as in, “Gimme that dupe, I gotta cross off the apps.”

BUKKAKE

Does your dish have a swipe of yogurt, a squiggle of cream, or a splash of creme fraiche on it? That’s “bukkake.”

 

⅛ PAN, PAN, ⅓ PAN, HOTEL

The standardized, stackable metal pans that cooks use to braise meat, carry vegetables, and roast things in are called “hotel pans,” which can be deep or shallow. There are many pans of different sizes and shapes that relate in volume to the hotel pan: three ⅓ pans can fit into a hotel, six ⅙ pans make up one hotel, eight ⅛ pans, etc.

BEHIND/ATRAS

In the fast-paced ballet of cramped kitchen spaces, cooks let their co-workers know they are moving behind them so there are no unnecessary collisions. When carrying knifes, heavy hotel pans, and pots of burning liquid, the usual call is, “HOT BEHIND!” Atrás is Spanish for “behind.”

CHARPY

A mispronunciation of Sharpie, the permanent markers cooks use to label containers of ingredients for their mise. It comes from our Mexican friends’ thick accents.

LEFT-HANDED SPATULA/BACON STRETCHER/LONG STAND/GRILL EXTENDER

These items do not exist. But tell a green cook to grab a “left-handed spatula” for you and watch the frantic search begin. Hilarious!

GETTING A PUSH

During service, work on the line usually comes in waves. When the tickets start printing faster and the restaurant is getting busier, the kitchen is “getting a push.”

TRAIL/STAGE

A “trail” is the kitchen equivalent to the second-interview. After interviewing with the chef, a cook will come in to “trail,’ to try out the kitchen, so the chef can see how the applicant works under fire. A “stage” is a longer-term trail for a designated period of time—a couple of weeks, or a month or two. It’s meant to be a learning experience for the cook, and free labor for the kitchen.

CROPDUSTING

Cropdusting is farting, intentionally or accidentally, while moving down the line. Also works for wait staff, as in, “Goddamn table 17 is the fucking worst! When I drop their check I’m going to try and cropdust them.”
kitchenlingo battersby Kitchen Slang 101: How to Talk Like a Real Life Line Cook

BURN THE ICE

Disposing of the ice in the ice machine, under your mise, or at the bar by pouring hot water over it.

SOS

Sauce on the side.

ALL DAY

This refers to the total amount of dishes a cook is cooking in one specific pick-up. It works as a clarification system between the chef and cook. The cook might say, “Chef, how many linguine am I working?!” or “Can you give me an all-day, Chef.” The chef would reply, “You’ve got 4 linguine, 3 spaghetti, 2 cappelletti, and 2 kids pastas, all day”

WAXING A TABLE

Giving a table VIP treatment.

Scarlett Lindeman spent a decade cooking in kitchens in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and New York. She hung up her apron last year to pursue a Ph.D in Sociology.

  • nameless

    “Soigne” is predominantly a FOH term, which explains the deep and broad understanding shown above. That’s where you lost me..

  • Godweiser

    Burr mixer, all day, walking in.

  • dangergirl

    buffalo chopper, hot box

  • SUTHNR

    “On The Fly” – when a dish was forgotten/dropped/miscooked/etc whereby the kitchen must get that dish out first / as quickly as possible.

    • DoctorTaco

      Also the FOHs favorite way to say, “oh yeah, btw I forgot to ask for/ring in ____________” it’s like a magic fucking spell to those dipshits. “I need a fish and chips on the fly!” and it magically appears.

      • shiyatt

        We used to have this huge bartender who would forget stuff all the time. She’d come back and ask for whatever “flying”. That irratitated the shit out of me. Not only can’t your fat ass do your job, you don’t even know how to ask correctly. So glad she’s gone.

  • John R Rybock

    I’ve had fun with the Bacon Stretcher one, but there actually are left handed spatulas now (http://www.knifemerchant.com/product.asp?productID=3938), especially fish spatulas, since they’re angled, so handed-ness can make a diff.

    • Nick

      “left-handed curry stretcher” was often used on green cooks at the Waldorf in the 70s…

  • kyle

    Kitchen Slang, heard!

  • Albert

    Heard that! A la mosca!

  • Occupy Medic

    “burn the Ice” is rarely used. Where ghat term is used is when your bar Ice stash is ‘burned’. When you break a glass behind the bar & near the ice well: the well is “burned”, meaning everything stops untill the well is emptied, washed with hot water & refilled. Thereby keeping you from serving guests drinks laced with glass shards.

    • Barmaid

      “Burn the ice” is used every night in the bar, and not just when you break a glass in the well… But every night at closing you have to “burn the ice”.

      • Occupy Medic

        I’ll take your word for it. I got out of bars & into fine dinning many years ago. It’s not one I hear in High end dinning.
        My favorite slip up (happened years ago). I’m doing the ‘features’ speech at a table. The boss walks up and whispers in my ear. She obviously meant to give me 86 info, but what she SAID was: “69 the lamb”.

        • Chef Kathryn

          I totally want to change “86″ to “69″ now. Yes, my perverted humor was cultivated in kitchens of the finest fine dining restaurants.

          • Occupy Medic

            I’m now picturing a situation where a chef shouts out “Six lambs all day! 69 ‘em!”
            The mind boggles….

  • moo

    Soigne is used so you can talk about a vip table loudly without guests knowing.
    Mise also includes tools, pans, plates etc… no point in having all your food ready if you aren’t prepared to serve it.
    Cooks don’t run the food. Servers or runners run the food. Typically a chef will scream something like “will someone run this fucking food please?!” at the front of house staff.
    You can be in the shits before service starts. Sometimes there is more prep to do than a cook can handle. A good cook will always tell their chef and get some back up, even though they will be taunted for the rest of the night.
    Most restaurants don’t actually have an interview before a trail.
    My favorite code for a hot lady guest was snatchetorini.

    • AlineaCook

      How is soigne about a VIP? Soigne means elegant. Like finesse. Soigne is the MD.

  • werweis

    In my day SOS was SHIT ON A SHINGLE

  • John

    old school, “wheel please”,all checks were on a wheel and the server had to ask the head cook to hang her check, the cook would respond take it. “wrapped wheel was when you were slammed and there where no more spaces left on the wheel, the last check was hung backwards and the others slipped under the backwards check so the cook would know where his first and last checks were,the wheel had 16 clips to hold checks, that’s 16+ tables on a wrapped wheel.

    • Hoover

      It’s funny, not everybody even knows what a wheel is anymore. My chef is always asking me to run the pass during service, so he can do some more involved prep for the next day. Outside smoking preshift the other day one of our prep kids(he’s like twenty) asks me what station I was working that night, I said, “Wheel,” he said,
      “Huh?”
      I had to explain about old diners, etc….the whole nine yards.

    • Occupy Medic

      ahhh, the wheel, back in the days of servers writing out hand bills & restaurants with manual tills & tip jars. These days, younguns freak out at the idea of doing a service without a POS system. “When I was Young…. mumble, mumble, something, mumble…….”

  • Marmaduke

    When the FOH is bitching about why its taking so long for their food when its slammed I tell them…. “You’ve got a 4 table section…..I’VE GOT AN ENTIRE FUCKING RESTAURANT, NOW RUN SOME FUCKING FOOD!!”

  • Carlos Barco

    BHD Black hawk down lol
    When a station or the whole kitchen is crashing bad

    • comeoncomet

      “Fire the Board” usually means we’re going under

  • Alexmia

    I would also like to add an additional reason for the use of the term “86″. When you die (or gone) you are buried in a grave 8 feet long by 6 feet wide. Therefore when an item is gone it is 86ed.

    • nickyveranos

      86 comes from a ln old restaurant in New York that had a huge menu and were always selling out of the 86th menu item.

      • Brian

        Chapter 86 of the UCMJ (universal code of military justice) is AWOL. WWI soldiers referred to dead combatants and comrades as being 86′d instead of KIA to maintain morale

    • comeoncomet

      I heard the term 86 began in Las Vegas with the Mafia…whenever you would have to “whack” someone you would take them 8 miles out into the desert and put them “6″ feet under…hence 86′d

  • Dre

    A couple things to add, considering this post may attract many new or “green” cooks.
    Garde Manger (or sometimes Garmo) – the cold station. Responsible or picking up salads, most cold apps, and on occasion; desserts, raw (tartar, crudo, ect.), and any Amuse Bouche. If you are newer in kitchens you will most likely be working garde manger, prep, or work as a commis under the chef de parte of another station. Note that not all kitchens will use these terms, if you are going to work at TGI Friday, or Ruby Tuesdays, I would first study Spanish.

    Plating terms
    Micros – short for micro greens, tiny little leafy greens or bitter greens used to accentuate a plate.
    Micro plane – hand grater for cheese, can be prepped ahead of time but some chefs may require you to grate cheese anything else a la minute.
    Quenelle – A technique for making certain solids into an egg shape by using a spoon. This could be an icecream, sorbet, ganache, mousse, tartar, or chutney. Most commonly seen on desserts but it’s good for everyone to learn. It’s also important to learn both one, and two handed quenelles; and when it’s appropriate to use either over the other. Check out photos from 11 Madison park’s desserts to see some real nice one handed quenelles.

    I could write forever but haven’t got anymore time. Hope this helps a few people.
    Cheers!
    -dre

    • Hoover

      A restaurant not using terms like “Garde Manager” or “Chef de Parte” isn’t necessarily of an ilk with Applebees. All that means is they don’t have as an involved hierarchy. A Garmo beomes a Pantry cook(whom almost certainly will pick-up all the desserts, as well as the rest) and any chef de parte is simply a Lead. Mind you these are the kinds of places that aren’t large enough for a chef de cuisine, either.

      • Guest

        I am a pantry cook. Here are a few terms left out of this article:
        On the Hee-Haw… right now
        Stacking tickets….the servers are sending them all at once
        Haggis…the free food up for grabs when a dish is not needed.

    • Joe McConville

      It’s just referring to slang. none of those terms you mentioned are slang.

  • recovering chef

    86′d comes from delmonico’s steakhouse back in the day. Item 86 on the menu was the delmonico steak that they would run out of every night, so whenever they ran out of something it was 86′d.

    • billstreeter

      That’s another theory. Nobody really knows for sure.

  • fred

    My restaurant kitchen always (chet) said “die die, pokodio, katso, wat the fuck they(customer) want ??, food take time to cook haaa, this is not fast food restaurant….when customer keep asking about their food( full house/slamed)

  • Jas

    Having the waitstaff running to find “cans of steam” because the soup was getting cold. We would pul this one out on a full rail night.

    • comeoncomet

      sending the new starch/veg guy down to find the sesame seed splitter works just as well

  • charlie brown

    Looks very much like something like a cute restaurant superfly customer got very close to the chef or head cook and got to a bit of a taste of bad’aas special attention!!

  • Tyler Paquette

    Bacon stretcher made the list…..awesome. But not antiquing?

  • Gypsy

    Best part of this entire article was stumbling upon a picture of my sister under “Crop Dusting.”

  • Hoover

    Dre touched a bit on this earlier in the comments, and I guess that got me on a tangent but; one of the things I’ve always found myself explaining to non-kitchen folk is the difference between what a “cook” does (or is) and what a “chef” does (or is). People have this odd preconceived notion that anyone wearing white back there is a chef. I guess the point is: the things we call ourselves in our positions of hierarchy, are just as much slang to most people as the rest of our strange lingo.

  • Mike

    We used to send new dishwashers and servers for cans of steam and left-handed dish towels.

  • mrfuzzynutz

    The term “yes chef” on a expo line means “check out the tits on the chick passing expo” lol

    • PIbber Seventy

      i was always taught that “yes chef” means “fuck you chef”, depending on the situation :D

      • Violette.Crime

        Just like Ma’am means BITCH when sales ladies say it to you? Love this article, I am intrigued by Bar Rescue and all the filth.

  • Chris

    I’ve always used, “I’m cooking with fire, not magic over here!” When FOH askes about tickets.

  • billstreeter

    First nobody really knows for sure where 86 came from. Lots of stories, but none are verifiable. Best guess by Snopes is that it’s rhyming slang for ‘Nix.’ Also never called a food processor a Robocop. We had a food processor called a Robocoop at a few places I worked. We sometimes called it the coop but never called it a robocop.

  • Chefsquatch

    When I was in Charleston there was a running game to see how many restaurants you could get a greenhorn to go to for non-items. Some included parsley essence, liquid bacon (just pour it on the sheet pan, bake and slice!), dehydrated water, and my favorite, a pound of flavor!

  • Nick

    When did the “slide” become the pass? When I worked in France in the 70s the head chef would man the “passe” and literally pass the plates and platters to the commis who came to pick them up. In New York, someone from the stewarding department was the “expediter” and manned the slide…

    • PIbber Seventy

      terminology changes. in the last fifteen years i’ve heard window, hot plate, slide and pass. could just be the chef, the area…who knows….

  • PIbber Seventy

    what’s that? expo just picked the entire board? playing that game, eh?

  • DaddyO

    Pubes =micro greens
    Nice snatch =good catch
    Green truffles = weed
    Sissy tongs= saute tweezers
    Oaf tongs= regular size tongs
    Daddy spoon= your personal basting spoon
    Baby killer= large cambro
    Cock ring = ring mold
    Meat cannon= sausage stuffer
    Chin strap= when you fold your apron over and the neck strap hangs between your knees

  • Bigchickentaco

    RoboCop is a movie from the 80s. You process food in a Robot Coupe.

  • Thomas Lindenzweig

    My favorite prank on the green cooks/FOH staff was to tell them I needed a box of Right Handed rubber gloves. We only ordered size Large so all the boxes had the L logo on them or as I would say Left Handed. They would spend hours looking. I highly recommend it.

  • Fish Cook

    Another origin of the term “86″ – one restaurant in France apparently had 85 items on their menu, thus, item 86 did not exist.

  • SA.

    Behind in Spanish is “detrás” – not “atrás.”

    • Jamie Harding

      At least as far as restaurants are concerned, it’s atras

  • Jay

    Egg peeler. When I was in second year culinary I would get the first year rubes looking for it. That or a box of carbohydrates. That tradition I still use and it never gets old. Also I wish normal people would use behind as it’s a very useful word in everyday life. But when you say behind at the grocery store and people think yer a dick.

    • Jason

      I catch myself saying it on the bus, in drugstores, and even on the sidewalk.

  • MO JO

    Worked at one place that called pre cooking heavy usage items during peak periods- Sandbagging. Maybe its not a popular term?

    • jesse

      Fine dining restaurant I work at uses that term frequently

    • comeoncomet

      Sandbagging also refers to servers holding multiple checks and ringing them in all at once

  • Ol chef

    You forgot the most important part. Safety meetings in the walk in and trading the bar for food.

  • Anifian

    Best prank to play on new foh is to tell them to empty the coffee maker. I’ve seen servers take 10 gallons out before they ask how much it holds

  • CB

    Yo that

  • the puig

    Pick that shit up, put it in the window…

  • Al24

    Life is good ah ! When people are hanging n you walk by n said , they will break out n start to look for something to do

  • Stm

    Chick parm= hot chick
    Veal parm= underage hot chick
    Shepards pie= not hot chick
    ” check out the chick parm on 103″ “looks like veal parm to me” ” Shepard pie is sittin next to her at 104″
    Ship it= put up the food to the window
    2 minutes= whenever you ask a cook how long an item will take. “Checking a haddock?” “2 minutes”. Even if it just went in.
    Heard. As in “ordering in….””heard”
    Dehydrated water goes with bacon stretcher and the plate making machine when you ask a lazy dishwasher for dinner plates”go out back and push the green button on the wall and turn on the plate making machine!”
    Bucket pick up= dirty dishes and sauté pan dumping ground

  • Lynette

    what the fuck is an 1/8 pan?

  • chef alex

    Ok folks top ten sayings you hear on Mother’s Day in the BOH
    10. HOW LONG ON TABLE 10, I GOTTA GO
    9. WE DON’T HAVE GLUTEN FREE HAM, WHO RANG THAT IN.
    8. THE TICKET SAYS SAUCE ON THE SIDE, WTF
    7. GOOD JOB GUYS ONLY 6 HOURS TO GO!
    6. WOULD YOU SERVE YOUR MOM THAT
    5. GUYS WE ARE ON A 2 HOUR WAIT AND RUNNING 30min checks
    4. Chef, JOSE IS ON THE PHONE I THINK HE’S CALLING OUT.
    3. WE ARE OUT MASH
    2. Table 10 WANTS THE VEGGIES CUT UP,SHE’S OLD CHEF
    1. NEXT YEAR I’M REQUESTING OFF

  • Cliff

    Let’s not forget the term shoemaker or just plain shoe.

  • Aaron

    I always like being called the weed wacker. “Holy shit we have over 70 checks on saute better call Aaron up to the line!” I loved when it was truly busy.

  • Dan Thilman

    what’s the order/sequence behind these?

  • nickyveranos

    Heard?

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