Cooking at home can be a therapeutic escape from reality. There’s only the stove, the ingredients and you. A professional chef’s reality is less Zen and more hectic, as beads of sweat drip down his face while he moves with laser-guided focus. There’s no time for breaks, let alone proper words and full sentences. Here’s a short guide to what chefs actually mean when they are speaking in the kitchen:
The line: a row of stoves with different individual stations where chefs cook.
Cover: a customer. As in “We did 50 covers tonight shorthanded and we still haven’t broken even.”
Expo: the person who coordinates all orders between the dining room and the kitchen. He takes orders, brings them to the chefs, organizes the food and sends it to the customer.
On the fly: make it as quick as possible. As in “We missed a ticket, now we need two salmon entrées on the fly.”
Mise: short for mise en place, which is French for “everything in place.” It refers to a chef’s entire pre-service preparation including tools, seasonings and ingredients. As in “Do you have your mise in order for dinner tonight or are you just happy to see me?”
Behind: shorthand for cooks to let other cooks know when they’re moving behind them in a tiny kitchen with hot food. As in “Hot behind!”
In the weeds: used when a chef is drowning in tickets and needs help. Most chefs try to avoid this.
Fire: unless you’re working with Gordon Ramsay, this is an order given by the head chef to his line cooks to begin preparing a dish. As in “Fire those beef wellingtons.”
SOS: sauce on the side.
86’d: refers to when a dish has been sold-out or if chefs choose not to serve it. As in “These halibut aren’t fresh, we’re going to have to 86 the special.”