Culinary Phrases Translated: Chef Lingo You Might Overhear From a Restaurant Kitchen Staff by Chef Gigi
Have you ever sat close to a busy or open kitchen and overheard the back-of-house team talk in weird code and wondered what it's all about? (Or during an episode of Hell's Kitchen!) These kitchen terms will ensure you know exactly what's happening to the food in that restaurant's kitchen or during that food cooking show.
- A la minute: Many items on the menu would take way too long to prepare without this technique. Certain items are from scratch right when you place your order, and many are made a la minute, French for "to the minute." For example, they might sear off your steak, deglaze the pan and make a quick sauce to serve. Items like soups are an excellent example of recipes made in advance; they probably would have no flavor if cooked a la minute.
- All day: During a busy service, the chef or expeditor (the person reading off the orders) might call out something like, "Two halibuts all day," meaning that there are two orders of that dish currently in the queue. This a quick way to ensure no missed charges and all of the cooks know what they are working on.
- Behind you: The kitchen is so fast-paced sometimes you need to move without looking. Many times, if a coworker walks behind you, they will tell you so you don't turn and bump into them. This could be dangerous in many ways. The inside joke is if you really need people to move, you say "hot behind," which means you are carrying something hot and dangerous and to move FAST!
- Bon (bonn): This means YES! You will often hear this when perfection is attained.
- Chit: This is just another name for the ticket the kitchen receives for each table, indicating what they have ordered. Chefs will surely hear these coming with the click-click noise they make as they are printed out of the machine.
- Covers: The number of tables a restaurant has served during service is also called the number of "covers." Kitchen peeps love to brag about how many covers they do on a busy night because the volume of food a kitchen produces depends on the size of the restaurant and the complexity of the food they serve. It tells others how well and efficiently they are trained.
- Deuce: Just a table of two guests. Knowing this helps a cook balance the timing of other tables and space in between the tables courses.
- Equipment: Robot coupe, salamander, combi, etc. Who wants to use a dinky little crème brûlée torch when you can bust out a full-on industrial one? Some terms to know are Robot coupe, just like your food processor, but the motor can go hard, fast and forever. A salamander? Don't worry, it's not a lizard. I salamander just the broiler, and combi is a fancy "combination" oven with convection and steam features.
- Fire! When you hear this, it is time to start cooking! Sometimes orders are fired or made right when they are received, whereas other times, they must be delayed to ensure that the timing is spot on. For example, if a table orders appetizers and entrees, the appetizers are fired first so that they will be served before the main course. Then the mains are fired while eating or when they are done, depending on how long they take to prepare.
- Heard: An acknowledgment that a request or order has been heard. Go figure! From my experience, people have a love-hate relationship with this word. I have worked in a kitchen where no one used it, but I have also worked with someone who used it every five seconds, and everyone just wanted him to shut up. We get it, you heard, we hear, now let's all be quiet!
- In the weeds: It happens. Cooks have so many orders thrown at them from the expediter or lead chef at some point during service that it's a surprise if the operation does not go down in flames. You are slammed with orders, and now you are paying for them. Some people get an adrenaline rush from the chaos, but I have only one word: stress. Well, two words: stressful and meltdown.
- The line: This is the front of the kitchen that the waitpersons face to pick up the food, and the head chef will stand during busy service times to orchestrate the team just like a conductor at a symphony. Except it's a chaotic place to stand. It also is there the waitpersons have last-minute items they will need to accompany the dish.
- Mise: Short for mise en place. Without your mise, you are nothing. French for "everything in its place," mise en place is what cooks live or die by. It includes all the ingredients you need to assemble your dishes on an evening. You better ensure you have everything ready to go because the last thing you want to do during a busy service is started mincing up more garnishes.
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