Home' Hospitality Business : HB JUNE 2017 Contents The kitchen-hand is an unsung hero of the hospitality industry.
They can make or break a service, they know the kitchen
like the back of their hand and they have eyes and ears
everywhere. Sure, turnover is usually quite high and finding
motivated and reliable workers can sometimes be tough, but when a
restaurant strikes gold, the impact can be enormous.
Rene Redzepi, part-owner of Noma in Copenhagen rewarded his
kitchen-hand of some 14 years recently by giving him a share of the
business. Ali Sonko, a 62 year old for mer farmer from Gambia, says that
despite his promotion he'll still be manning the dishwasher -- at least
some of the time -- when the acclaimed restaurant relaunches in a new
location at the end of the year.
No doubt there are plenty of other stories like Sonko's.They might not
be as high profile, but they send the same message that when nurtured and
respected, the kitchen-hand can bring real value to a restaurant.
"For instance, we currently have a chef in the restaurant who has been
with us for six years, initially as a cleaner, then as our part-time kitchen-
hand," said Patty Streckfuss, head chef at Andre's Cucina & Polenta Bar in
Adelaide. "We sponsored his immigration and over the past three years his
skills have developed. Now he plays a crucial role in our team as a chef
de partie and capably cooks for 200 people every weekend.The same can
be said about our junior sous chef; he has been with our team for almost
three years and he too began his journey with us as a kitchen-hand."
Warren Flanagan, head chef at Gemelli Café and Grill in Point Cook,
Melbourne, admits that it doesn't happen often, but when restaurants
are able to find a kitchen-hand willing to upskill the long terms
benefits can be huge.
"These people have a far deeper respect for the entirety of the kitchen.
Every single rank, they've worked through," he said. "It's really good to hear
these stories where people grow organically through the ranks and don't
just go to chefs' school, do an apprenticeship and get a head chef job, which
in this day and age you can do because chefs are in such high demand."
The first and most important thing for a head chef to do when
welcoming a new kitchen-hand, Flanagan said, is to ask questions.
"Some of them are just there for a job while they're busy studying
-- it's always interesting to find out what they do. I've worked with
a kitchen-hand who was studying to be a rocket scientist.You never
know unless you really ask questions, because they're generally quite
quiet and they just get on with their work, come in when they're
supposed to and leave when they're supposed to ... [but] you can
really build someone up who wants to be built up."
SINK OR SWIM
Once you've established how willing your kitchen-hand is to listen and
learn, you can then diversify the role as much or as little as you like.
"Depending on the set-up, layout and dynamic of your kitchen, the
kitchen-hand can evolve to be much more than someone who stands
in the corner doing dishes," said Streckfuss. "He becomes someone
you rely on, grabbing back-up prep in the middle of service, or
assisting with prep -- peeling potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots; grating
cheese; cleaning mussels -- all the staples of the kitchen that we require
on a daily basis. Breaking down boxes, taking the bins out -- all things
that can easily be taken for granted."
Flanagan adds that kitchen-hands can weigh out recipes, pick and prep
herbs and make spice mixes. "The role is as diverse as the chef wants to
make it," he told Hospitality. "The position is a jack of all trades. As long
as the chef can trust him, the chef can give him jobs to do."
Like most back of house roles, Flanagan said organisation and
cleanliness are indications of a kitchen-hand worth holding on to.
"If they're quick, organised and on time then you can automatically
assume that they would make good hands in the kitchen. If they can
organise a dish pit then they can organise a section.
"If you give them pasta or something to weigh out and there's
just containers everywhere and it's a mess, you know that guy is not
going to be good in the kitchen. But then if you get a guy who's
just meticulous; they start on one side and they finish on the other
side and everything's nice and neat, then that's someone you can
A COG IN THE WHEEL
The kitchen-hand role is probably the easiest one in the kitchen to fill,
"What I've found in the past is that you can pretty much get
kitchen-hands to organise their friends if they can't make it. I
remember when I was at Fifteen Melbourne, our kitchen-hands were
Korean guys and we used to have lots of new faces because they'd
come in, they'd work for three months and then they'd just replace
themselves. It was like a never-ending pod of kitchen-hands -- when
one finished another one started.
"Gumtree is also a fantastic way to get kitchen-hands. If I put up an
advertisement today saying that I need a kitchen-hand, and I put in
the hours and the rate of pay, by the end of the day I could have one.
It's very, very easy."
Rene Redzepi warmed hearts around the world when he announced that his 62 year old kitchen-hand had been
promoted to co-owner of the highly acclaimed Noma restaurant. Sure, stories like this are few and far between,
but there are steps you can take to get added value from this vital back of house role. By Danielle Bowling.
Sink Or Swim
- meticulous dish pits
28 | June 2017 | Hospitality BUSINESS
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