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.
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.
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.
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.”
A “12 Top” refers to a table with 12 diners. A “4 top” has four diners. A “duece” just two.
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.
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.
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.
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…
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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, ⅙ 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.
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.”
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.”
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 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.”
BURN THE ICE
Disposing of the ice in the ice machine, under your mise, or at the bar by pouring hot water over it.
Sauce on the side.
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.