Congrats on your new line cook job. What follows is insight for the first day in a new kitchen, not the first day as a cook; the latter would require more than a scant few hundred words. Assuming that you have some working knowledge of cooking, here is some insight to point your first shift in the direction of wanting to return for the second day.
Be nice, dammit!
A pleasant, open-minded, energized line cook is an asset. I don’t care if you are unsure of which end of the knife to hold, I’ll teach you if—if—you aren’t an ass. I will share the knowledge, but I am stuck working with the conduct, until I am not. If you can deliver a pleasant demeanor that jives with kitchen leadership and the others facing the fire, your tenure will be more amiable.
Know the menu
Homework before an interview is essential. Knowing the layout of the dining room, the ebb and flow of service, chef’s style, and a glimpse of what people are saying online is all good recon work before an interview. Do the same as the first day approaches. Dig into the menu. Visit for a few meals. Eat with objectivity and explore the plate-ups, the portions, the knife work. Each kitchen has different principles. How will you fit in? What will you expect as your first day approaches? It is worthwhile to know the level at which the kitchen operates before taking the first step.
Hand washing, setting up a clean station, and keeping tools sleek makes sense, but can be easily overlooked when nerves set in. Make safety and sanitation part of your work ethic and you will never forget. Like a clean apron, side towels and knives, preparing for the first day is getting into a mindset of setting a good example and getting a nod of professionalism from those around you. They may not know you, but they know how you work.
Bring tools for day one
A permanent marker, notebook, and pen are part of your gear, today and every day. Scratching out recipes, purveyor phone numbers and the names of the people you meet is a meaningful strategy to appear that you are taking this gig seriously. Also, at some point, you are doing paperwork. Show how prepared you are by bringing your driver’s license, social security card, and bank information. Bring along your food safety certification to score an extra gold star or two. Being proactive demonstrates a certain level of professionalism as well as avoids frustrating management when processing documentation.
Shut up your face
Listen more, talk less. Be personable, but these people don’t know you. Leave your crew at the end of the day with a handshake rather than a headache. Be notable without being notorious. There are plenty of days to voice opinion, use the first day to listen. Know the audience before offending them. Strutting like a know-it-all impresses nobody and, even worse, makes me want to drop a hot saute pan on your cheek.
Leave frustrations at the door
It takes a minute to get paperwork right. And keys. And scheduling. And the avalanche of other paperwork that it takes to onboard an employee. Perhaps the nice, back-office lady that handles direct deposit is away for a few days. Your paycheck will get handed. Don’t let the frustrations of being new creep in to block your view of the learning that must take place over the next few days. You’ll find the dirty linen bin, the hidden stash of truffle oil and the recycling bin. It may not be today, but you will map the terrain and the awkwardness of standing in the walk-in scouting the arugula will soon seem like a distant memory. But not today.
Day one is not much different than the expectations for day 101. Do ask questions. Don’t assume. Work with intent. Stay off of your phone. Rid, burn, bleach, wipe away from your lexicon, “At my last place, we used to do it this way…” Be pleasant. Don’t complain. First impressions matter. Why? Because there is more work to do on day two, three, four, if you make it that far.
Jim Berman is a kitchen lifer. A career
cook, Jim orchestrates new menus, works on staffing solutions and manages food purchases. He received his formal culinary training in New Mexico, and has done stints in kitchens in Pittsburgh, Santa Fe, and the Delaware valley. Jim’s writing is regularly found on Foodable, Toast and Kitchen Grit.