Line Cook Advice: How to Get Through the Worst Shift Ever

Sometimes the kitchen line can feel like a firing line, especially for a new or aspiring line cook who is trying to break into the industry. The frenetic pace and high level of pressure can leave newly minted line cooks feeling depleted. When you need to 86 a dish during the dinner rush and your chef isn't happy when plates keep getting returned to the kitchen, you might feel like quitting. But before you cut ties and bail, take a minute to reconsider. Here's what a few seasoned industry professionals had to say about how they cool the fires of frustration when they burn brightest.

Stop, Communicate, and Reevaluate

Steve Fernandes, co-owner of Toronto's Mata Bar and Made In Brasil food truck, has worked in various kitchen and front-of-house positions in the restaurant industry for years. He admits to being philosophical in nature, and always looks for the "why" behind what happened. This is why he deals with frustration by stopping, verifying the problem, and attempting to rectify it. "If the problem persists, communicate to see where the breakdown is coming from," he says. He adds that taking a step back, along with a deep breath to rein in tempers and slowing down gives cooks clarity they lack in the heat of the moment.

In his experience, Fernandes says that by the end of the night, the storm has usually passed after all events are replayed over and over in a communal venting session by everyone involved. This usually happens over a drink, or a smoke, in order to take down stress levels. The idea, says Fernandes, is to assess what happened and why, and usually ends up in a few jokes. "This helps to neutralize negative feelings toward someone else or the job in general, especially when there's a whole week of service left ahead," he says.

Take an Emotional Break

Vanessa Yeung, caterer and cooking school owner/teacher of Aphrodite Cooks, says that sometimes the best thing to do is to take an emotional break. "If I've had a tough day on the line, I think to myself that I will be stronger because I survived this difficult situation," she says. And when that's just not enough, take a brief break in the bathroom "because it is the only place for privacy, and have a cry." She says that for her, an emotional release is the best way to deal with a tough day, and letting it out is better than keeping it in.

Look at the Bigger Picture

Therese De Grace, executive chef of The Good Earth Food and Wine Co. in Niagara's wine country, always takes a minute to think about the challenges she's had and the goals she's achieved along the way. "That helps me to remember that this is just a moment." She adds that looking around at her younger colleagues, including a new line cook under her charge, also helps remind her that she has a duty not only to deliver a positive experience to guests, but also to set an example for young cooks. "I also count my blessings, including the fact that I can make a living creating the edible art that I love," she adds.

The truth is that cooking, even at the best of times, is a hard job and can be stressful. For many others chefs and restaurant workers, their love for what they do helps them get out of a tight spot and into a better mental place. Start with these tips and use the advice of these industry leaders to cope after a tough day in the kitchen.