Running an efficient kitchen
An efficiently run kitchen will prepare and cook the right amount of highest quality food for the required number of people, on time, by the most effective use of staff, ingredients and equipment.
The size and complexity of the menu and the systems used to prepare that menu, will determine the success of the efficiency.
A kitchen with a large brigade of chefs can offer an extensive dinner menu as long as the majority of the mise en place is prepared during the day. At service time, a number of skilled chefs will then be able to carry out the final preparation and cooking of fish, meat and vegetables quickly and efficiently.
The kitchen will require plenty of refrigerators for holding perishables and partly prepared food, adequate cooking facilities and bains-marie for holding sauces.
A kitchen with a smaller brigade will need to offer a smaller menu with dishes that can be assembled quickly in a clear-cut fashion. This will ensure that even chefs with few skills will be able to work efficiently in a systematic manner.
Escoffier’s partie system
In the late 19th century Auguste Escoffier devised the partie system, in which different sections of the kitchen were delegated to carry out specific jobs, whether it be preparing or cooking the fish, meat or vegetables.
Some kitchens today – particularly in large hotels – still adhere to Escoffier’s traditional partie system, while others have had to adopt their own systems to accommodate smaller brigades of chefs and less elaborate menus.
It is now more likely for chefs to work across different sections. This will work as long as efficient working methods are adopted.
Effective work flow
To ensure a kitchen runs effectively, from the time supplies are delivered to the kitchen to the point where completed dishes are delivered to the customers, distinct areas should be delineated.
Goods coming into the kitchen should be stored as quickly as possible into the cold store (all perishables), vegetable store, dry goods store, equipment store or cleaning store.
The main food preparation area where meat and fish are prepared should be close at hand and kept separately from vegetables and salads. If room allows, a separate pastry area should be designated with its own baking oven.
If the kitchen is large enough, all cooking at point of service will be in another area again, where all frying, roasting, grilling, steaming and boiling is carried out.
If the preparation and cooking areas occupy the same space, there is a greater necessity for the completion of an efficient mise en place.
Dirty dishes should be taken from the restaurant direct to the wash-up area, avoiding the food preparation and cooking areas.
An efficient kitchen is one in which the chefs prepare and cook the food in the minimal time to the highest standard with the least effort. To achieve this, it is essential that a kitchen adopts a methodical and economical method of working by:
- Ensuring all kitchen equipment is fully operational. For instance, a sharp knife is more efficient than a blunt one.
- Using electrical equipment only when the quantities you are preparing will ensure that you will save time. So, don’t use a mechanical potato peeler to prepare four portions of potatoes as it will take longer to clean the equipment than it will to peel the potatoes with it. But, it will probably be worth using it when preparing for 100 covers.
- Working systematically. In preparing fish cakes, for example, prepare the fish and mashed potato in advance. Lay out the flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs used to coat the fish cakes and assemble them in a methodical manner.
- Avoiding fatigue when standing for long periods of time by standing correctly, with the weight evenly balanced on both legs. Take care when lifting heavy items; always bend the knees, not the back.
- Ensuring all necessary equipment is available and ready at hand at the start of each working session – don’t waste time hunting for a ladle in the heat of service.
- Positioning all work-tops, sinks, stores and refrigerators within easy reach to eliminate unnecessary movement of chefs during service.
- Storing all ingredients as close as possible to the practical work area, with the most frequently used items close at hand.
- Preparing the mise en place thoroughly to ensure the follow-on of a smooth and efficient service.
- Following a clear, continuous work plan, as opposed to a haphazard one. Dishes requiring long preparation or cooking should be started first.
A kitchen will only operate efficiently if it has clear leadership from the head chef, or in his absence, the sous chef, and, where appropriate, chefs de partie.
The head chef must be able to communicate, co-ordinate and delegate, motivate, organise, initiate, mediate, inspire and make decisions. If he can achieve all these, the kitchen should work smoothly and effectively.
Source: The Theory of Catering, 10th edition, by David Foskett, Victor Ceserani and Ronald Kinto