Breaking down at night

After every service comes to an end, and the cooks have been there for at least 8 hours, one thing is certain; they want to leave.What ever they want to do, have a beer, go home to their cat, go see their partner, go out for the night, they definitely don’t want to be in the kitchen any more. So putting everything away, packing up, or as we say, “breaking down a station” can be the only thing between you and what ever else it is you want.

Too often, this process is rushed, things are put away as quickly as possible. I was told very early, that it is a mark of you as a cook how well you break down your station. It takes more time to do it right, and giving up the extra time, showing restraint and not rushing to get out of the kitchen marks a better cook.

This means…

Make sure everything is wrapped, covered, encased in some way. The refrigerator is food’s enemy. It destroys it. However, if wrapped, covered, encased, the refrigerator preserves food.

Dont’ store ANYTHING in pots and pans.

Change out every container, putting food in clean vessels for storage overnight.

Rewrap anything that is stored covered in plastic wrap. Do not leave dirty plastic wrap covering anything. Dirty plastic wrap is garbage. Don’t leave a piece of garbage on your food.

Wipe down everything. Inside the fridge, outside the fridge, the walls behind your counter, the front of the stove, the handle to anything. Use hot soapy water, not just a wet side towel.

Throw away any bits of food you aren’t going to use. Don’t leave scraps of a cake you cut with the cake. Don’t leave a portion of meat you aren’t going to use with the meat you are going to use. Again, if you aren’t going to sell it, it’s garbage. Don’t leave garbage with your prep.

Inventory everything, and make your prep list the night before. You don’t want to set your station up before service the next day and say, “uh, I think I need hazelnuts.” It’s too late to do something about it before service. Make it a habit to do it as you break down.

Organize everything in the walk in, the freezer, your shelves, the low boy you keep your station set up in. Make it look like a grocery store.

Label things. Don’t leave until every container is properly marked as to what is inside it, and when you made it.

Live with this. If you are conscious of a better way to do it, and you aren’t doing it, then you aren’t doing it right. You are cutting corners, and the great chef’s out there don’t get there by cutting corners.

I know it takes more time than you want. I’ve been there. But if you truly want to excel in a kitchen, want to be an awesome cook, a great chef, then break your station down as best you can. It will mark you as a better cook, and show everyone around that you have a great respect for your station, the food, and your craft.

2 Responses to “Breaking down at night”

  1. Richie says:

    The worst is when you start to trust a cook, stop checking their clean down at the end of the night, and realize that they’ve let their standards slip weeks later. This happened to me recently with my lead cook…and after keeping her and another guy there cleaning until almost 2am, I think they learned their lesson. Silly that something as easy as washing and wrapping and changing containers is often the part that many cooks let slide. Even sillier that I never see cooks help each other wash down…so they can all leave together.

  2. Flávia says:

    Dear Dana ,
    I am a chef from Brazil .
    I have been read your old and new blog and love !!! I would you like your help , i am about to do a tage at Fat Duck o January and i am a little concerned about it ,because after did a lot of very nice stage with a prestigious chefs and work about a year with Chef Alex Atala in Brazil( the best chef in Brazil from DOM RESTAURANTE – http://www.domrestaurante.com.br )I did not want to disappoint me to leave here to make a stage only to cut vegetables , cleaning and all this stage jobs find in a lot of places , i would like a stage for learn a litlle bit more about the molecular gastronomy . And i would like to know your opinion aboit the stage at fat duck . I also read in you blog about your stage at WD50 , do you have any sugestion from how to apply for a stage in the kitchen at WD50 ? And wich one ( fat duck or WD50 do you recomend for a real opportunity to learn ?

    I´ll apreciate your attention.
    Best Regards
    Flávia