Cooking for the show: why you should hire a cook that has worked in an open kitchen

Kitchens are opening up everywhere. Restaurants are trading the swinging in-and-out doors for clean, crisp counters that aren’t just displaying the final dishes guests are ordering but showcasing the entertainment that is chopping, slicing, sautéing, and saucing. When some people think of a functioning kitchen they think of scattered chatter, “yes chef!”, sizzling pans, and inevitable chaos. What is refreshing for some of us restaurateurs is breaking down all of that chaos to a seemingly smooth symphony that is an open kitchen that proves to ourselves, and the guests, we aren’t all crazy.

What is it like for a cook to work in an open kitchen?
 Is it preferred to working behind closed doors? Here are four things that every cook will learn while working in an open kitchen. Whether they stay for 5 days or 5 years, whether they hate it or like it, putting on a show will certainly heighten their skills in the long run.

A white coat goes a long way. It’s impossible to keeping your uniform spotless during a shift, but knowing that you are out for every guest to see certainly encourages managers and cooks to stress the importance of a clean, pressed uniform. For the guest, it’s pretty impressive to see a cook slaving away at the stove without becoming a hot mess. It increases the value of the chef, and therefore the value of the meal.

Communication.  Screaming down the line for an order of chicken translates to either a tap or polite request when the walls are gone. Some cooks are very vocal, some aren’t. Either way, being on display forces everyone to put on a show displaying that not only do they work together to get the food out but they also like working together. Let’s face it, guests’ imaginations don’t go to good places when they see angry people making their food!

Fresh product, straight from the source. No, the guests cannot actually watch a chef pick kale from the garden or take an egg from a hen’s nest…but it is reassuring to a guest to see the vessel and location of the kitchen that their ingredients are being pulled from. Fresh, clean, bright containers and tools really make a lasting impression. Training the cooks to keep these clean vessels will make a big difference in the stations they work in the future.

Wiping down all the time. With clean vessels and tools comes a clean station. When you think you can’t wipe down your work station any more – you wipe it again. There is something about watching the act of wiping down that relays to the guest the cook cares about their station and the food they are making. Clean towel, clean cutting board, clean-clean-clean.

Admit it, a restaurant becomes much more exciting when its industrial heart is right in front of you.

It all boils down to cleanliness and professionalism, the two main traits developed by working in an open kitchen. It might not work for everyone or every restaurant, but I’ve seen some examples in unlikely places and they always increase the value and expectations at restaurants.

Ray Camillo

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