At a fine restaurant, your meal comes to the table looking scrumptious and delectable. Everything is cooked just so, and it’s all warm and ready to be devoured. But how does the food go from the restaurant’s refrigerator all the way to your plate?
Well, first, the Executive Chef creates the menu. Then, the Sous Chef orders the food and other inventory and makes sure the cupboards are well stocked. After that, well, it’s up to the Station Chefs.
Why “Station Chefs”?
They are called Station Chefs because they work a single station. This doesn’t mean they only cook a single thing—not at all. Station Chefs may, literally, have over a dozen irons in the fire at any given moment, sometimes including other line cooks they are responsible for. But Station Chefs stay in one area throughout the day, and that, of course, becomes their “station.”
A Station Chef’s day begins early, but not as early as the Pastry or Sous Chef’s. They usually arrive a few hours before the first meal (usually lunch or dinner), and the first thing they do is gather everything they need for the day—this is called the mis en place. Each Station Chef has his own mis en place, and it is untouchable by the other chefs. As one chef put it, “You would no more take a chef’s mis en place than you would walk into his house and take his stereo.”
After the mis en place is established, sauces are finished and portioned for the day’s use, vegetables and starches are stocked on the line; meats and seafood are divided, rotated, and stocked for the evening’s business. The Station Chef stocks the “low boys” (line coolers) with backups of that day’s product. Universally found in any kitchen on any station are pitchers of oil for sautéing; wine, for deglazing and thinning sauces; bouillon cups of salt and white pepper; tongs; clean rags; garlic; shallots; and two or three knives for slicing, mincing, boning and trimming meat. All of these things are considered to be an extension of the Station Chef, and most are highly protective and territorial of the product that they use. That station belongs to that chef, and no one else.
Once the orders begin coming in to the kitchen, the Station Chef becomes the world’s most organized multi-tasker. Consider, for a moment, what ordering your meal entails. The server tells the kitchen what to fire, the head chef/sous chef/expedieter (depending on the size of the restaurant, these can be multiple postions or all filled by one person) has to call out the orders to the Station Chefs in such a way that one person’s rare steak arrives at the same time as someone else’s well-done pork chop, and yet another person’s salad. But none of it can be done before you’ve had a chance to finish your appetizer.
The Station Chef—usually confined to a tiny area of the kitchen equivalent to only about two square feet—is juggling not only your orders, but also the orders of everyone else in the restaurant. The Station Chef working at the grill can have as many as two dozen steaks, chops, chicken breasts and cuts of fish all cooking at once—and all of them have to be done to a specific temperature, either for safety reasons or to the customer’s specifications. Next to the grill chef you may find the Station Chef in charge of the sauté station, who is busy trying to remember how many of each type of pasta he or she has working at once—all the while receiving new orders and working in a 110-degree environment surrounded on all sides by other cooks, open flames, and sharp knives.
In the midst of all of this, the Station Chefs not only have to cook your food properly to your specifications—while juggling a dozen other orders—but they have to make it look beautiful too.
Dinner & End of Day
At the end of the final meal of the day, the Station Chef has to put away any extra product in the low boys, wash all the knives, the grill, and any other tools they use for their station. They then have to clean their stations within an inch of it’s life—kitchen hygiene is crucial, and you never know when a health inspector may drop by.
The Station Chef works a long, hard day in grueling conditions—on their feet, in high heat, and confined to a tiny bit of space. But every Station Chef feels immense job satisfaction when they hear the compliments of the customers, and see the content faces of those leaving the restaurant.
How Do I Become A Station Chef?
While line cooks are often trained on the job, a Station Cook in a fine restaurant needs a culinary degree. Often, those working as a Station Chef are aspiring to become either a Sous Chef or even an Executive Chef, and work as a Station Chef as part of an internship or apprenticeship. If you find the kitchen calling to you, a career as a chef may be just the thing! Learn more about the Culinary Arts Education you’ll need at this website!