The Language of the Kitchen
“Holy crap we were slammed last night! 319 covers, multiple 10 tops, tons of walk-ins, a 22 top in the middle of the push, VIP’s everywhere. Our expo and one of the table jockeys called in so plates were slow leaving the pass. By the time the big top ordered the board was full and Sauté got totally weeded and almost sank. The whole line came to a standstill for a few minutes just so they could dig themselves out of the shit. Then the new gal Alice sandbagged us on the second turn and somehow forgot about a VIP deuce so we had to rail that right in the middle of everything else.”
If you’ve worked in a professional kitchen then you know that we have our own language and sub-culture. Most of our verbal expressions are short, curt phrases which have the simple purpose of communicating intent and a sense of urgency with as few words as possible (after all, we are in the middle of a busy shift and there’s no time for detailed explanations or stroking someone’s tender feelings).
And I think that the language of the kitchen is riddled with testosterone in an effort to reduce stress and make light of the mental & physical hazards which surround us. It is a way to make an otherwise difficult day or dangerous situation a little more light-hearted. For example, telling someone “6 stitches to go home early” is our way of saying to be careful with that knife. And if you cut yourself with it don’t come whining to me!
Although “Kitchen speak” is a common tongue with many shared terms by cooks & chefs everywhere, each establishment will have their own specific “dialect” with their own additional phrases and meanings which have come from the comradery of pulling through difficult shifts or sharing laughable moments.
Here are some of the more common phrases of kitchen language, but please comment and share the “dialect” of your kitchen! If “off color” language or profanity is offensive to you then do not read the rest of this page…you will be offended!
Lets everyone in the vicinity know that you are opening a hot oven door…be careful!
“How is your mise?” “Don’t touch my mise!” Mise is short for “mise en place”. Mise en place is the single most important philosophy of the kitchen, the ethos of the kitchen. It is French for “everything in its place” and to Chefs it means that you have EVERYTHING prepped and ready for service. Not only your food prep, but also your plates, utensils, towels, back-ups, sauté pans, foodservice gloves…everything! And that includes your mental attitude and focus as well. You are the Spartan warrior ready in every possible way to slay Medusa herself should she try to stop you from a perfect dinner service.
And as for Murphy’s Law…if that bastard shows up you have all your bases covered and you’ll tell him to sit the fuck down!
Announcing that you’re coming around a corner. This phrase prevents many collisions in the kitchen because it is a very busy place with people walking very fast, often with hot ingredients, knives, or arms full of something. Using this phrase is such a habit that cooks/chefs find themselves using it even when they are dining out in another restaurant, or in the grocery store saying, “Corner!” as we go from one aisle to the next, often with a hurried pace!
Hot behind! Behind you!
Walking behind you with something hot, or simply walking behind you. Both have a possible sexual innuendo.
Table Jockey — Table Monkey
Showmaker — “B” Team — From Billy Bob’s Choke & Puke
A lousy cook
Hall of Famer
A lousy cook who thinks they are great.
When a ticket is called every station is expected to “call back” their portion of the order. If a station does not reply the chef/wheelman will say “Call back”. If the cook is too busy being preoccupied talking or something then the chef will use the cook’s name (perhaps in a derogatory fashion) and demand a call back. This may be followed with an assignment to clean garbage cans at closing.
Call backs are an essential part of a well organized kitchen team. It signifies that an order was accurately communicated and heard by all stations, and by extension it means that each station will have that order up when the chef expects it to be.
“We just sat a bunch of walk ins.” Walk ins are guests who do not have reservations and have just “walked in” off the street.
Walking in — Ordering
“Walking in (or Ordering): 3 Bounty Bowls, 2 Fillets MR, 2 grilled salmon.” A phrase used by the wheelman or chef. It means that a new ticket is being called. Sometimes it means this is to be “fired”, other times it means it is to be “staged” or prepped for firing. It depends upon the kitchen, or sometimes it depends upon the circumstances.
“Fire table 23.” Or, “Fire 1 venison, 3 halibut, and crab mac.” Sometimes “Walkin in, Ordering, and Fire” are used interchangeably. However, “fire” always means to start cooking the order, whereas “Walking in” and “Ordering” may mean to stage it for firing.
Wake the fuck up! — Pull your head out! – Get your shit right! — Focus!
All mean to stop screwing up and get it together. The kitchen is a team and every member needs to equally pull their weight…if not then everyone suffers.
Balls – Nuts — Legs
In the language of the kitchen this means you’re opening a reach-in door below the waist on someone’s station. Not to announce this can result in someone turning quickly (as is common in the kitchen) and getting a crotch full of door…followed by crumpling to the floor and much swearing.
A la minute
French phrase for “in a minute” and it refers to cooking a dish from scratch, i.e. to order.
“I’m dragging on ___”
A cook is “dragging” on something if it will not be ready when expected. It means they need extra time and is a request to slow the whole ticket down.
Push — Getting a Push — In the middle of the Push
A busy period during service. Busy nights have multiple pushes as customers come and go.
Turn — Wave
“That was a hard turn.” “The second wave was smooth.” Similar to a “push”, it refers to the completion of a busy period, usually indicated by the time when a full board of tickets has been put out and now there are very few tickets or even a completely “clear board”.
The board is clear
This means there are no tickets. At the end of the night it’s good. But a full restaurant in the middle of the shift with no tickets on the board is an ominous thing because it means that you are about to have to bend over and hold your ankles. You’re about to get slammed. The calm before the storm. The eye of the hurricane. Break-out the K-Y Jelly because you’re going to need it.
Refers to the total number of dishes a specific station has from all tickets/orders. “Chef, can you give me an all day on steaks?” “All day you have 7 Fillets: 2 medium, 3 MR, 2 rare, and 3 New Yorks, both rare.”
The Window — The Pass — The Pass ThroughThe area, usually a heated shelf, where plates are placed when they are ready to be served. It is the “pass through” from the kitchen to the front of the house, the shelf or table where back of the house meets front of the house.
The Rail — The Board — The Wheel
“We’re slammed…the rail is full.” The metal bar, or a circular wheel, which holds tickets as they come into the kitchen. The “wheelman”, “expo” or chef takes tickets from the printer and arranges them on the board in the order in which they will be executed in the kitchen.
Fucking FOH table monkey
A derogatory expression about a server who has made a big mistake…or is just plain bad.
Spooge — Dog Food — Dog Shit
“What is this spooge?!” Derogatory comment about food which is improperly prepared…do it over.
86’d — 86 it
“86 the special!” We ran out of something and now it is 86’d. Or perhaps the chef is unhappy with the quality of a dish and chooses to 86 it.
Dying — Dying in the Pass — Dying in the Window
Usually means that food is plated, in the window and ready to be served but the server is either not present or not ready to serve the dish. Thus, it is dying under the heat lamp. Or in the case of salads it is wilting.
Wipe and sell
Means to clean the edges of the plate and put it in the window for the server to pick-up.
Rubber finger cot which looks like a condom and covers a cut finger.
On the fly — Rail it — 911
“Fire a grilled salmon on the fly!” “Rail a grilled salmon!” “Grilled salmon 911!” To put out a dish ASAP with the highest priority. Usually because it was forgotten/miss-fired/miss-ordered/whatever.
Stacking Tickets — Sandbagging
When a server takes multiple orders and then turns in all their tables at once. Bad monkey! They are supposed to take an order and turn it in, repeat ad infinitum. To do otherwise is lazy, making their life easier while making things more difficult in the kitchen. Plus, then their food comes up all at once for all their tables and they are unable to cope.
“Fire a filet mignon…kill it.” A well-done steak. This is frowned upon by all cooks because it is culinary blasphemy. It’s like taking a Lamborghini to a demolition derby.
“Chef, what’s the garni on the special?” Short for garnish.
Dupe – Dupes — Tickets
Dupe is short for “duplicate”. Tickets rung into the kitchen often are printed on duplicate or triplicate paper so they can be shared or used for keeping track of multiple courses.
“I’m short one fillet!” Means that an order was missed and now it needs to be “railed”. Or it can mean that your supplier “shorted” you on shallots and now you have to go to the store yourself.
In the weeds – Weeded – Buried – Slammed — In the Shit – Hammered — Bent over
“Sauté is in the weeds.” Extremely busy and falling behind.
“Sauté was in the weeds, then the 22 top hit the kitchen and they sank.” Worse than in the weeds…they sank. Much worse than being behind…they were broken, crushed, ruthlessly raped by either too many orders or being too poorly prepared… they experienced the titanic. Typically a very painful experience accompanied with extreme frustration, crushing pressure, a strong visceral urge to either run and hide or quit…hyperventilation is not uncommon.
What are some of your favorite kitchen slang phrases?