(assembly) line cook

Line Cook is a title that most of us recognize.  The “line” is a battery of stoves, fryers, grills, and ovens, and the “cook” is the agent operating them.  The first link shows the American (and here I mean ‘of the USA’) style of line.  Applebee’s IHOP, Denny’s, and Spago all have this style of line.  Its construction allows for massive amounts of food to leave the kitchen at once because often, the amount of plating and pickup surface area is as capacious, or nearly so, as the cooking surface area.

I don’t mean to compare Denny’s to Spago as regards anything other than layout.  I cite Spago because I had a memorable meal there in 2015 and was impressed by the fact that they used a huge, American-style line to put out complex, detailed and delicious food.

The American line cook is often a one-man team:  the grill cook, for instance, cooks his proteins on the grill, scoops his starches and vegetables out of a steam table onto plates that are laid out on his station, adds the cooked proteins to the plates, applies sauces and garnishes, and puts the plates up in the window.  Higher-end American-style layouts may add a second cook to each station–one does the cooking, one does the plating.

Western European kitchens, instead of that American-style line, often have an island battery, or two else two or more cooking lines that run vertically to the observer’s line of sight (whereas the American line runs horizontally).  This setup is reflective of an ideology that seems like teamwork but is actually more of an assembly line, and dates back to the early/mid 20th century and the time of Chef Auguste Escoffier.

Each cook in the brigade commands a certain set of equipment and ingredients, and has his own reflective title (poissoner, saucier, rotisseur, entremetier, garde-manger). Each adds his own ingredient to the plate, or passes the ingredient down to his supervisor (chef de partie, sous chef, chef de cuisine, etc.) for the composition of the finished plate.  It’s akin to Henry Ford’s breakthrough in creating an assembly line (as opposed to workers who each would put together the whole car himself), and in fact one of Eric Ziebold’s favorite trick questions when he mentored me at The French Laundry was, “What was Henry Ford’s greatest invention?”   The correct response is not the car, or the Model A, or the Model T; it’s the assembly line.





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