When you’re a sous chef, a line cook, a patissier, or any other professional who works in a commercial kitchen, you may feel you have to work at top capacity in order to keep up. However, safety is always the first consideration. It’s important to keep up, but how quickly can you be expected to work? That’s up to your specific kitchen, but here are tips how to work faster in the kitchen whilst maintaining safety.
Practice and Experience
One of the natural progressive ways to get faster at your job is just with practice and experience. The more you do the same tasks over and over, the more experience you will have and the easier it will be.
For example, you may make crème brûlée everyday, and when you first made the recipe, you may have been slower in measuring out ingredients and referring back to the recipe. When you whisked the egg yolks and sugar, you may have taken your time adding it to the hot cream as not to get scrambled eggs, but on your 50th day making crème brûlée, you’ll be much faster since you'll naturally get a feel for timings and you may memorize the ingredients and the amounts.
The same goes for any dish that you perfect over time. Practice and experience count for much when working quickly. It’s important to remember that pace will increase in time, but you should only work at a rate in which you feel you can accomplish tasks safely. If you’re burning your thumb when you’re bruleeing the sugar because you want to shave off a minute of time, then you’re compromising safety for time.
Mentally prepare yourself before you begin each dish or series of dishes. Take a minute to do a mental walk-through of your shift's tasks. It's best to have a gameplan when you have multiple dishes on the go. What can you do whilst you're waiting for something to cook? Do any quick prep ahead of time - put water on to boil, heat the ovens, place all of your ingredients (gathered from the fridge and pantry) for each dish in a big tray so everything is accessible, pull out any cookware and appliances you'll need beforehand too. Any prep you can do before you get going will save you time because it's all at arm's length, and you won't waste time going to the stock room, or reaching underneath for the exact pan you need.
Ingredient Wash and Prep
Another way to save time in the kitchen is to prepare ingredients ahead of time - as much as can be reasonably expected. Most kitchens do have a before-service prep time to chop vegetables, and prepare stock, and so forth; you can chop fresh herbs and garnish, make sauces, and do many tasks ahead of time, so when food service is up, you simply have to assemble ingredients - and cook the fresh ingredients as needed. Trim your veggies before washing, so there's less to wash as well - and you can wash what you need in one go.
Good preparation will make you faster in the kitchen and safer because if you’re rushing mid-service to chop an onion in a hurry, you may be at risk for cuts. Nothing in the kitchen should be done in too much of a hurry. Yes, the food needs to be out on time, but never at the cost of personal safety.
Expertly written recipes list ingredients in order of use, and can be used as a prep order guide; however, new chefs should just focus on cooking and prep ahead of time, but as you gain more experience, you'll know that it takes time to caramelize and onion, so you'll learn to chop that first and prep other ingredients as you're waiting for them to brown.
Other tricks to save time is grating frozen butter for baking recipes as the grated butter can come to room temperature in the time it takes for the oven to heat up. Few chefs have time to wait for an entire block of butter to come to room temperature. Learning time saving methods in the kitchen can really help.
If you want to save time in the kitchen overall, know that thinly sliced meats, and finely diced veggies will cook faster than thicker pieces. Quick stir frys can be made in minutes flat, so keep that in mind when making menu changes too. You want to have a variety of dishes than can be cooked in minutes with those that take a little longer.
Composting is important, but if the compost bin isn't near you, use a bowl that you keep on your prep counter to store food waste and toss any unwanted food waste in it so you won't keep having to make several trips to the waste bins. It also minimizes hazards because the fewer trips you take the the trash, walking across the kitchen, means the less opportunity for slips and trips and for spilled and dropped food bits to get on the floor since you aren't walking around constantly.
Wide, Shallow Pans
Using wide, shallow pans in the kitchen allows you to reduce liquids faster - since the pan has more surface area in contact with the heat - and to brown more food at once in a single layer. As with the tip on cutting food into smaller pieces, these little expert tips will help you save time in the kitchen, causing less stress overall (which means fewer safety concerns).
Knife Skills and Sharp Knives
To be faster in the kitchen, all chefs should have the highest level of knife skills. Most of these will be gained in culinary school, but if you are an on-the-job chef, have someone show you the correct techniques in dicing, slicing, julienne, brunoise, batonnet, chiffonade, and other key cuts. Knowing the correct technique will shave time off your day. Proper technique will make you faster and safer overall. But the most important safety trick with your knives is keep them sharp. A dull blade is a danger. You shouldn't have to apply lots of force when chopping, say, a tomato - if you're applying force your knife is at risk of slipping and cutting you. Keep it all sharp to reduce (and, hopefully, eliminate) accidents.
Searching for spices takes up time in the kitchen, so make sure that your spices are alphabetized (and the shelf is clearly labeled so they can be put back), so that any chef who goes to the pantry for the spice will know where it goes, and you'll learn the placement in time and practically be able to find what spice you need with your eyes closed. Also, if your spices are alphabetized you won't have too many duplicate spices. How many times have you bought another jar of cinnamon at home only to discover you already had two but they were hidden? In the commercial kitchen, you don't want to over buy, run out, or waste minutes searching for what you want.
Move Efficiently, Announce Your Whereabouts
Any time you pick something up and put it down, it's considered a move. Make sure you learn to work efficiently. A newbie chef can easily be spotted if they run around the kitchen like a figurative chicken with their head cut off. Think through your actions (as stated before) and move only with purpose.
When moving, however, make sure that you're aware of your surroundings. Kitchens are crowded, hectic, and potentially dangerous. Let other chefs know where you are. If you're walking around a corner yell, "corner." If you're walking behind someone, say, "behind you." When walking with something sharp say "sharp," and with a hot pan say, "hot." Breaking these rules or forgetting them is dangerous and rude - and lets other chefs know you haven't been working in a professional kitchen for long. Call outs are second nature to the seasoned professional. It has happened that a new chef has been accidentally pummeled into the ovens if he or she didn't yell "behind" when they were behind someone and that person moved from their station.
When moving about in the hustle and bustle of a kitchen, slips and trips are the most common workplace accident - especially when there are potential spills like in a commercial kitchen space. Having the best, most comfortable, slip-resistant shoes is vital to keeping safe when going fast. Having safe footwear means you can move from station to station quickly, saving you time whilst saving you from falling.
Why can’t you wear your high-street trainer in the kitchen?
For chefs, wearing an everyday trainer to work is a bad idea. It won’t keep you safe and secure, and it’s far more expensive than a shoe that is designed to provide comfort, slip-resistance, and more.