Kitchens are opening up everywhere. Restaurants are trading in the swinging doors for clean, crisp counters that aren’t just displaying the final dishes guests are ordering, but also showcasing the entertainment of the 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 the chaos into a seemingly smooth symphony in an open kitchen that proves to ourselves – and the guests – that we aren’t all crazy.
So what is it like for a cook to work in an open kitchen? Is it preferred to working behind closed doors? Here are four crucial lessons that every cook will learn while working in an open kitchen. Whether they stay for five days or five years – and 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 visible to every guest 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 is key. 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, the guest’s imagination doesn’t go to a good place when they see angry people making their food!
- Fresh product comes 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’s 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.
- Regular wipe-downs provide comfort. With clean vessels and tools comes a clean station. When you think you can’t wipe down your workstation any more – wipe it again. There is something about watching the act of wiping down that relays to the guest that 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 great examples in unlikely places and they always increase the value and expectations of the experience.
Ray Camillo – CEO, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting