Working as a chef can mean sometimes using certain kitchen codes/words on an everyday basis that, for other people, might mean something else but is a code language to communicate with each other while in service or working in the kitchen in general. I thought I’ll share some of those common words with you all and tell you the meaning behind them……
Mise En Place
This is a culinary french term that means ‘everything in its place.’ It’s a term used for the preparation of food for service and includes everything that needs to be prepared and put in place during the preparation time. We have all got a to-do list when we start our shifts in the kitchen, and the first sentence you would hear from the head chef when starting your shift is, get your mise en place ready, which in layman’s language means start with your preparation for the service. Now, if your chef friend complains to you about too much mise en place at work, you know what they mean.
Yes, it is a number and perhaps not used commonly here in the UK, but it is a worldwide kitchen term that generally means ‘Out of Stock’ or ran out of a certain food on the menu. If a chef says 86 regarding a certain item from the menu, they mean we are out of stock, and the front-of-house staff also understands it because they do hear us saying that a lot. It is more American slang, but somehow, it has become a common kitchen term worldwide. Unfortunately, if you want to know the story behind it, I don’t have one as I am not aware either how this number came into place, sorry! But if someone else knows about it, please let me know; as for us, what it means is the only thing that matters to us while conversing in the kitchen.
Fire! or On the Fly!
No, it’s not safety protocol and doesn’t mean the kitchen is burning down, these terms are kitchen code for immediate action required, or a certain dish for an order is needed immediately. These terms both could be used interchangeably depending on the chef for indicating to other chefs for quick working. Maybe to make an order on a priority basis due to it being delayed within all the checks or the customer may have complained about the dish and demands a fresh one. Though it’s not actual fire, it is an immediate emergency if these words are used.
If you hear a chef using these words, we are not playing ‘pass the parcel’; it’s a term used for the station where the food is served and is ready to be taken by the servers and ready to be served to the customer. It is the front of the kitchen where all final plated dishes would be put up and usually equipped with hot lights to keep the food warm till the servers come and usually have one chef in charge to inspect the food and put up the final garnishes over it. The pass also has the food cheques/ticket aligned to know how many covers are left to be cooked and needs preparing.
Now this a safety code in the kitchens to avoid any hazards, especially with a whole team of chefs working together. If you are walking in the kitchen and going to pass through a chef working, you always shout ‘backs!’ to make them aware you are passing them as if at that point they turn and might have a hot pan or knife in their hand you both could be injured, so always shout ‘backs’ to avoid bumping into each other as it could save both chefs an accident. We, chefs, get so used to saying this word that in many instances, even when I am cooking at home and have my friends with me, I would shout ‘backs’ to make the others aware, which at home cooking is not really necessary but eh safety is safety 🙂
These are some of the kitchen codes we use daily, so if you meet a chef in the future and they accidentally use these terms, you know what we mean. Might share some more soon…