You have a passion for cooking, but don’t have the experience to open your own 5-star restaurant in New York. Don’t fret—that’s what the line cook job position is for!
Being a line cook is not just a job, it’s also an opportunity to learn and grow, priming you to become a chef (if that is, indeed, your aspiration). In the words of Cody Chao, a San Francisco line cook, his work is “a science.”
Cody Chao is an Oakland, CA native and student in the San Francisco Art Institute’s Culinary Program. His dream is to one day open his own restaurant, but for now, he’s focused on learning as much as he can from his job as a line cook at Vintage Golden Gate’s restaurant. He’s worked there for over a year now, serving over 500 customers on a regular day and over 1,000 on holidays.
Here’s what Cody had to say about being a line cook:
1. Be early
This one is pretty straightforward, but still very important. Cody tries to get to work about 30 minutes before his shift starts.
2. Be focused
We’re talking both mentally and physically. “Don’t go out partying the night before,” says Cody. “Being a line cook means working 8-12 hour shifts many days. That takes a toll on your body if you’re not well-rested.”
3. Be clean & organized
No one else will clean after you. A clean space to work will save you time and be appreciated by your team. (One of Cody’s personal pet peeves is a messy head chef, the one who normally directs kitchen activities and demonstrates new dishes.)
You’re part of a team — prep cooks, servers, and a head chef -- and good communication will help you avoid weird team dynamics (Cody maintains a good relationship with his team by spending time together regularly outside of work.)
5. Practice good time management
With several meals to prepare every day and hundreds of customers to serve (depending on the venue), learning to manage your time wisely will make this fast-paced job much more manageable.
6. Buy a sharp knife
“You can have a bad knife, but if it’s sharp, you’ll get done what you need to get done,” says Cody. He recommends buying your own.
7. Be patient
Cody started as a dishwasher and worked his way up through the ranks in a year to his current line cook position.
8. Don’t be greedy
Chefs are in high demand, so if you ask for a high salary right off the bat, it might rub your employer the wrong way. For reference, PayScale reports that the national median of a line cook’s salary is $26,390 (though Cody states that he has seen line cooks make between $30,000 and $50,000).
9. Expect to work holidays
Anyone can guess that during the holidays, people eat out more. Cody says his work brings in nearly twice as many customers. With only six staff members in the kitchen, an all-hands-on-deck attitude is necessary that time of year. So make plans to stay close to home during these peak times!
10. Find a workplace with a good head chef
If you’re becoming a line cook to learn, you’ll need a good teacher. That’s why a good head chef is important.“If you have a lazy head chef, you won’t learn as much because you’ll have more work to do.” Cody’s current head chef takes the time to walk his cooking staff through new dishes at least once, allowing for a good balance of challenge and support.
11. Be creative
Cody says that it is important to push the boundaries of simple foods to make them better. He cites Jell-o stating, “You find it everywhere. As a line cook, you ask yourself how you can make something as basic as Jell-O even better. What ingredient would do that for you?”
When it comes down to it, being a line cook is really about a passion for food. Cody says that "some places even prefer no prior experience, so they can teach you everything from scratch.”
Before saying goodbye, we asked Cody what he’s been working on lately.
He said he’s currently trying to perfect blueberry cookies. It’s been a month, and so far, they only taste like blueberry pancakes.“It’s a slow learning process,” he says. “You learn a lot from your mistakes, but once you get a dish right that you’ve been trying to perfect for a while...you feel like the happiest person alive.”