The Basics on Becoming a Line Cook

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Line cooks are typically in the middle of the kitchen hierarchy, below the sous chef and above the prep cook. Line cooks must show proficiency in a variety of cooking methods, adhere to stringent health and safety standards, and maintain endurance and an even temper in the heat and hectic atmosphere of a kitchen running at full speed. Some cooks train in culinary academies and start higher up the food chain when they land their first job---others start from bottom and work their way up.

Learn the Basics

  • Become skilled as a prep cook. Most cooks start in the prep cook position, cutting vegetables and meats, making soups, sauces and salads and preparing portion-sizes of menu items. Don't get stuck in a rut. Some prep cooks only prep salads, or bake or make the soups. Ask the souf chef for different assignments and do your best with all of them. A good prep cook works quickly without wasting food by burning or otherwise ruining a recipe. A line cook or sous chef recognizes sloppy prep work. Get recognition from higher-ups by doing your work consistently well---and not the other way around.

Study on the Job

  • Study your craft. Start with the menu in your restaurant and take a meal from start to finish in your own kitchen, practicing as many cooking methods as you can from poaching and broiling to frying and roasting. Learn from experienced people on your team by asking questions about cooking methods. Understanding why salmon is poached in one instance, and baked in another. Learn why certain foods are paired with others. Pay attention to what seasonings are going into the dishes and what seasonal foods are showing up on the menu. Understanding the basics of cooking is essential to being a line cook.

Teamwork

  • Be a team player. Show up on time, in a clean uniform and ready to work the entire shift. Cooks often work brutally long hours, on their feet with little time for breaks. Line cooks in a busy restaurant can show up to work at 4:00 and not stop moving until midnight. A cook who cannot keep up, or does not perform consistently well will never move up the ladder. A good attitude and willingness to pitch in when needed is the sign of someone ready to advance. Show initiative if a line cook calls in sick by offering to fill in until a replacement shows up.

Formal Training

  • Take cooking classes at a local college or enroll in a full-time culinary academy. Some restaurants today require formal training from their cooks. A culinary education provides the foundation of cooking and baking methods in an atmosphere more conducive to learning for some people. As further benefit, schools often offer job placement upon completion.

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  • Photo Credit cook work image by Alexander Zhiltsov from Fotolia.com
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