’86’ your old vocabulary if you plan to work in a kitchen

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Terminology is what separates the boys from the men (and women) in the kitchen. It's easy to tell who's new and who's a seasoned kitchen employee based on their words. If you're not prepared, you're bound to get bombarded and overwhelmed by the phrases that colleagues shout during dinner rush. Whether you're a budding chef or a veteran, knowing the slang is just one part of the territory. 

Not for the weak of heart
Before learning all of the terms, it's important to understand that kitchen talk is typically raw. Ask any of your buddies in the industry, and they'll tell you that you need a thick skin to endure the often vulgar language that's effortlessly exchanged behind the scenes. Even culinary mastermind David Chang tells it like it is – and he happens to own an open-kitchen hot spot in New York City. He explained in an article posted to Eater.com that "clean" kitchen talk is only found in kids' movies.

"When I see a PG-13 movie about a kitchen, I know that it's not going to be realistic," Chang explained. "Kitchens are not PG places."

It's no secret that kitchens are no place for the weak of heart.

Turn on any movie that's not PG-13 and you're bound to get a glimpse of what it's like to be back there in the trenches. You'll see for yourself how culinary experts have the ability to feed mass amounts of people come peak hours. These realistic depictions of chef life capture a number of old-school and up-and-coming vocabulary terms that might seem foreign to the outside world. 

'86' your job if you can't keep up
Don't worry – it's not all "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares." In addition to curse words, chefs have their own way of communicating. Anyone within earshot might hear phrases riddled with kitchen code, for example, "86 short ribs because the four-top bought the last order." You could make a glossary of quips used by chefs of all expertise, but here are some of important ones:  

  • Dying/dead food: If you ever hear someone say that food is "dying in the window," it means it needs to go out immediately otherwise it can't be served to the guest. You better move your feet. 
  • 86'd: This is one of the oldest phrases in the book, and quite possibly most important. If someone says "86 meatballs," it means that the restaurant is fresh out. May all have mercy on the poor sap who puts in an order of them. 
  • The board: You'll hear the words  "board" or "rail", which reference the metal holder where chefs and kitchen expeditors post the food orders. If the board is full, you'll be in the weeds! 
  • In the weeds: Anyone who says this is trying to politely tell you that he or she feels like a chicken running around with its head cut off. Don't push your luck with these busy bees. 
  • All day: Chefs will shout, "I need five orders of fries all day," which means altogether. This is an important phrase that'll prevent a six-top of guests from receiving their entree sides at different times of the meal. 
  • Heard: The way the seasoned vets respond to chef is simple and clear. Once a command is given, most executive chefs wait for "heard" to know the staff understood what's required of them. 

Time for Rosetta Stone

"In addition to certain words and phrases, kitchen staff is increasingly using what's been commonly known as 'kitchen Spanish.'"

In addition to certain words and phrases, kitchen staff are increasingly using what's known as "kitchen Spanish." It's essentially a blend of Spanish, English and kitchen phrases – pretty much an entirely new language. Why is this important? Well, because it's not only widely spoken in restaurants, but all over the country.

As stated by the Pew, more than 37 million people speak Spanish in the United States. Some of the coolest chefs pick up a few phrases here and there so they can communicate with non-English speaking staff. Spanishdict.com can be a great resource for basic kitchen vocabulary in Spanish, as is just immersing yourself in a kitchen. 

Whether you're just starting out or you've been at it for years, the English and Spanish language is always growing. Staying on top of the lingo is a way to be efficient and keep your cool in the kitchen. 

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