Chef Diaries: My First Night on the Line

Chef Diaries: My First Night on the Line - Chef Works

Author: Chef Perry  

I remember my first day on the line after culinary school

I showed up early, feeling like a bad-ass as I changed into my new starched whites and checks, I was the love child of Iron Man and Tony Bourdain. Between my shiny new degree and a (slightly terrifying) childhood growing up in my father and grandfather's restaurant kitchens, I was ready, I was a legacy.

I was, to put it humbly...the bomb!

It took a whole hour to come to the humbling realisation that, despite all of my “experience” … I couldn't find my backside with both hands...

Here are just a few of the ways I crashed and burnt that day, and this is just a list of the highlights, the whole night would require a novel!

In the first hour I managed to swing too close to the six-burner and caught my bar-mop (which I had stylishly tucked into my apron string…just like the pros) on fire. I didn’t even notice that I was facing emollition until the girl working the grill station casually reached over and pulled the flaming towel from my waist with a pair of long tongs and dropped it in a nearby sink.

Cooler than a penguin’s rear, she grinned at me and said, “Watch your ass, buddy”, before turning back to her steaks.

Halfway through my shift, with the kitchen deep in the weeds, Chef needed a stockpot, which he’d called for twice, and we were out. Seeing my deer-in-the-headlights expression, he pointed to a nearby range and barked, “Empty that one!”

The pot he pointed to was half full of simmering chicken stock, and (I swear to God this is true), I bellowed “Yes, Chef” grabbed the pot, dashed to the sink…and dumped two gallons of beautiful stock down the drain.

The entire kitchen froze, staring at me like I’d just taken a dump on the flat-top, as I ran the now-empty vessel to the chef before the level of my f*ck-up dawned on me.

Chef, to his credit, chose not to kill me on the spot and simply commented, “Next time, find something to put that in…”

Seriously, if I'd been paid a small commission for every time I stammered, "Yes Chef! Sorry Chef!" that night, I could have retired on the spot.



By the end of the shift I was burned, blistered (like a dumbass, I’d worn a brand-new pair of clogs), humiliated, and questioning all my life choices, not just the really stupid ones.

Let’s put it this way…instead of taking my breaks smoking camels and busting balls with the rest of the crew out back (something I had REALLY been looking forward to) I spent each of those brief 10-minute recesses from Hell hiding in the locker room, rubbing my feet and trying not to cry.

(Don’t get me wrong, looking back I realise that under all the stress and embarrassment, as tired and footsore as I was, I loved every minute of it. And I still do.)

When the last of the meez was back in the walk-in, knives cleaned and rolled up, and the last station had been wiped down, Chef asked me to step into his office for a moment before I left. I followed him out of the kitchen like a whipped pup, tail between my legs, and fully understanding that I was about to be fired.

Seated at his desk he murmured, “Rough night…”, to which I muttered a pathetic, “Yes, Chef.”

“Are you coming back tomorrow?”

Incredulous, I looked up from the floor and stuttered, “Yes, Chef…”

After a long pause, I stuttered… ”I’m…I’m not fired?

Chef chuckled, leaning back in his chair.

"You showed up on time, you didn't make excuses, and you didn't quit. We can teach you everything else."

That moment changed my life.

Decades later, when I was running my own kitchens, and some first-night kid started a fire, or dumped the stock, or looked like he (or she) was praying for the sweet release of death, I’d remember what my chef told me that first night and watch out for the things I couldn't teach rather than focusing on all of the slip-ups. 

Putting on a Chef Works jacket for the first time is a moment all chefs remember and cherish. We have you covered from that first shift right through to reaching Exec Chef status. Check out our jackets for the job here.

About the author: Chef Perry P. Perkins, is a third-generation professional chef, instructor, and cookbook author.

At Chef Works, we are driven by those who are inspired by all things culinary. Fueled by the belief that every culinary professional deserves the right apparel and tools to enhance the work they do. We understand that the recipe for excellence goes far beyond simple ingredients.

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